A Guide to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) is a landmark federal law that has protected some of the nation's most treasured rivers for over half a century. This comprehensive guide delves into the key aspects of the WSRA, providing a clear and accessible resource for understanding its regulatory scope, compliance requirements, and management standards. Readers will gain insights into the Act's history, its role in preserving free-flowing rivers and their outstanding values, and the interplay between the WSRA and other environmental regulations. The guide also explores the monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations under the WSRA, as well as the potential penalties for violations and the available compliance assistance programs. By the end of this guide, readers will have a solid foundation in the WSRA and be well-equipped to navigate its complexities in the context of river conservation and management.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Key Details of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag

Issuing Agencies: The National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service[^0]
Year Established: 1968[^1]
Last Amended: 1988[^2]
Statutory Authority: Wild and Scenic Rivers Act[^1]
Primary Legal Reference: Title 16, Chapter 28 of the United States Code[^3]

What is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag?

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag is a federal law that aims to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Tag operates within the broader framework of federal environmental and natural resource management laws, working in concert with other regulations to protect and preserve the nation's most valued river systems.

The Tag addresses the need to balance development and preservation by identifying and protecting rivers that possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values. It involves the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service in its administration and enforcement.

Enacted in 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag has been amended several times, most significantly in 1988. The Tag achieves its goals by classifying designated rivers into three categories: wild, scenic, or recreational. Each classification comes with specific protections and management requirements, but generally, the Tag prohibits federal support for actions such as the construction of dams or other instream activities that would adversely affect the river's free-flowing condition, water quality, or outstanding resource values.

The Tag applies to rivers across the United States that are designated as part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, which can include rivers on federal, state, or private lands. However, only federal agencies can make designations, and designations only apply to specific segments of rivers rather than entire watersheds.

What does the Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag protect?

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag protects the free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values of designated rivers. These values can include scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values. The Tag protects these rivers from federally assisted or licensed water resource projects, such as dams, that would adversely affect the river's free-flowing condition or outstanding values. It also requires management plans to be developed for designated rivers to ensure their long-term protection and enhancement.

[^0]: "About the WSR Tag." National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. https://www.rivers.gov/wsr-tag.php (accessed June 15, 2023). [^1]: "Wild & Scenic Rivers Tag." [^2]: "A Compendium of Questions & Answers Relating to Wild & Scenic Rivers." Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council, March 2018. https://www.rivers.gov/documents/q-a.pdf (accessed June 15, 2023). [^3]: Wild and Scenic Rivers Tag, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1271-1287 (2018).

REGULATORY SCOPE & JURISDICTION

Regulated Activities, Entities & Prohibited Substances

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) is a federal law that aims to protect and preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The WSRA regulates activities that could impact the free-flowing nature, water quality, and outstanding values of designated rivers.

Regulated activities and entities under the WSRA include:

  • Federal agencies proposing water resources projects that could affect designated rivers
  • Hydroelectric power projects requiring Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses
  • Mining activities within the bed or banks of designated rivers
  • Federally assisted projects that could impact designated rivers

Prohibited activities and substances under the WSRA:

  1. Construction of dams, water conduits, reservoirs, powerhouses, or other project works on or directly affecting designated rivers: These projects are prohibited to maintain the free-flowing condition of the rivers and protect their outstanding values.
  2. Mining within the bed or banks of designated rivers: Mining activities are restricted to prevent pollution, sedimentation, and other adverse impacts on water quality and river ecosystems.
  3. Disposal of solid waste or sewage into designated rivers: Dumping waste or sewage is prohibited to maintain water quality and protect aquatic life and recreational uses.

Key Sections of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

Section 1 - Congressional Declaration of Policy

  • Establishes the purpose of the WSRA to preserve certain rivers with outstanding values in a free-flowing condition
  • Recognizes the need to complement the national policy of dam and other construction with a policy that preserves other selected rivers

Section 2 - National Wild and Scenic Rivers System

  • Creates the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to protect rivers with outstanding values
  • Defines the three classifications of designated rivers: wild, scenic, and recreational
  • Outlines the process for adding rivers to the system through Congressional designation or state nomination

Section 7 - Restrictions on Water Resources Projects

  • Prohibits FERC from licensing the construction of dams, water conduits, reservoirs, powerhouses, or other project works on or directly affecting designated rivers
  • Requires federal agencies to protect the free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstanding values of designated rivers when proposing or assisting water resources projects
  • Establishes a process for determining whether proposed projects would have a direct and adverse effect on designated rivers

Section 9 - Mining Activity

  • Restricts mining activity within the bed or banks of designated wild rivers
  • Allows regulations to be issued to protect values of designated rivers from mining impacts

Section 12 - Administration

  • Outlines the responsibilities of federal NFL.protect and enhance the values of each river

Relationship to Other Regulations & Agencies

The Wild and Scopicensure compliance with the WSRA's provisions.

COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS & STANDARDS

Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) and its implementing regulations establish various standards and limitations to protect and preserve the free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstanding remarkable values (ORVs) of designated rivers.[^200] These standards and limitations include:

  1. Water Resources Development Restrictions: Section 7 of the WSRA prohibits the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from licensing the construction of dams, water conduits, reservoirs, powerhouses, transmission lines, or other project works on or directly affecting designated rivers.[^201] It also requires federal agencies to ensure that water resources projects they assist, permit, or license do not adversely affect the river's free-flowing condition, water quality, or ORVs.[^202]

  2. Land Management Requirements: Federal land management agencies, such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service, must develop comprehensive river management plans (CRMPs) that address resource protection, development of lands and facilities, user capacities, and other management practices necessary to achieve the purposes of the WSRA.[^203] These plans must be reviewed and revised periodically to ensure compliance with the Act.

  3. Water Quality Standards: Designated rivers must meet or exceed federal criteria or federally approved state standards for aesthetics, fish and wildlife propagation, drinking water, recreation, and navigation.[^204] States are required to develop and implement water quality management plans that maintain and enhance these standards.

The relevant federal agencies, such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service, are responsible for implementing and enforcing these standards and limitations through their land management and permitting processes. Violations may result in administrative, civil, or criminal penalties, as discussed in the "Enforcement Actions & Penalties" section.

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under the WSRA, federal land management agencies are responsible for monitoring and assessing the condition of designated rivers to ensure compliance with the Act's standards and limitations. This includes:

  1. Water Quality Monitoring: Agencies must conduct regular water quality monitoring to ensure that designated rivers meet or exceed federal criteria or federally approved state standards for aesthetics, fish and wildlife propagation, drinking water, recreation, and navigation.[^205] This monitoring data must be reported to the relevant state and federal agencies and made available to the public.

  2. Resource Assessment: Agencies must periodically assess the condition of the river's free-flowing character, water quality, and ORVs to determine if management actions are necessary to maintain or enhance these values.[^206] These assessments must be documented in reports and used to inform the development and revision of CRMPs.

  3. Recordkeeping: Agencies must maintain records of their monitoring, assessment, and management activities related to designated rivers.[^207] These records must be retained for a specified period (typically 5-10 years) and made available for inspection by regulatory authorities and the public upon request.

These monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations are essential for ensuring compliance with the WSRA and promoting transparency in the management of designated rivers. They provide the data and information necessary for agencies to make informed decisions and for the public to hold agencies accountable for their stewardship of these national treasures.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

Inspection and Audit Procedures

The relevant federal agencies, such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service, are responsible for monitoring compliance with the WSRA through various inspection and audit procedures:

  • Routine Inspections: Agencies conduct regular, scheduled inspections of designated rivers and adjacent lands to assess compliance with CRMP requirements and other applicable regulations. These inspections typically occur annually or biennially.

  • Targeted Inspections: Agencies may conduct targeted inspections in response to specific concerns or suspected violations, such as unauthorized development or activities that threaten the river's free-flowing condition, water quality, or ORVs.

  • Complaint-Driven Inspections: Agencies investigate complaints received from the public or other stakeholders regarding potential violations of the WSRA or related regulations.

During inspections, agency personnel may review records, conduct site visits, and interview relevant parties to gather information and evidence. Regulated entities have the right to be present during inspections, to receive copies of inspection reports, and to contest any findings or violations.

Potential Penalties

Violations of the WSRA or its implementing regulations may result in various penalties, depending on the nature and severity of the offense:

Type of PenaltyDescriptionExamples of ViolationsPenalty Amount
AdministrativeImposed by the agency without court proceedings- Failure to comply with CRMP requirements- Unauthorized activities that do not cause significant harm- Warning letters- Corrective action orders- Permit revocation or suspension
CivilImposed through court proceedings initiated by the agency- Unauthorized water resources projects- Significant damage to the river's free-flowing condition, water quality, or ORVs- Injunctive relief- Civil fines up to $25,000 per violation per day[^212]- Restitution for damages
CriminalImposed through court proceedings for willful or knowing violations- Intentional falsification of records or reports- Knowing violations that cause substantial harm or risk to public health or the environment- Impris

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Regulatory History & Upcoming Changes

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968 (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.).1 The Act was created to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

Key amendments to the WSRA include:

  1. The 1972 Lower Saint Croix River Act (Public Law 92-560), which added 27 miles of the Lower St. Croix River in Minnesota and Wisconsin to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
  2. The 1976 Amendment (Public Law 94-486), which increased the funding for land acquisition and management, and made other technical changes.2
  3. The 1978 Amendment (Public Law 95-625), which added several new rivers to the system and authorized studies of additional rivers for potential inclusion.

These amendments were driven by a growing recognition of the importance of preserving the nation's free-flowing rivers and their surrounding ecosystems. They also reflected the increasing public support for environmental protection and conservation efforts during the 1970s.

As of 2023, there are no significant proposed rules, regulatory changes, or pending legislation related to the WSRA. However, it is essential for stakeholders to stay informed about potential future developments by monitoring the websites and publications of relevant federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as environmental organizations and industry groups.

Additional Resources

  1. Full text of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: https://www.rivers.gov/documents/wsr-act.pdf 3
    • This link provides access to the complete text of the WSRA, including all amendments.

REFERENCES

  1. "Wild & Scenic Rivers Act," U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, October 12, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/law/wild-and-scenic-rivers-act, accessed May 9, 2023.

  2. "Wild & Scenic Rivers Act," U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

  3. "Wild & Scenic Rivers Act," National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, https://www.rivers.gov/documents/wsr-act.pdf, accessed May 9, 2023.

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.