Legislation sponsored by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) to preserve and enhance the benefits of the Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers to Rhode Island’s economy passed the House of Representatives Tuesday. H.R. 723, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, could open the way for making the rivers eligible for federal funds and protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which has not covered the South County waterways since its initial passage in 1968. This change would not increase federal spending.
“Our state’s economy relies on the health of our waters, which have a tremendous impact on our tourism and fishing industries, offer opportunities for businesses, and increase the overall quality of life in our state” Langevin said in a statement. “The bipartisan support that this bill received is a testament to the value of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed and the recognition that protections are necessary to ensure future generations will enjoy the many benefits of these rivers.”
Langevin worked with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and watershed advocates in Rhode Island and Connecticut, including the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA), to author a bill that would best serve our communities’ needs. Last year, he brought WPWA Program Director Denise Poyer to Washington to testify with him before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands about the Act’s significance for the Ocean State. Poyer emphasized the unique qualities of the waterways impacted by the bill and their many contributions to the region. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has introduced companion legislation, which was favorably reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 16.
The legislation mandates a study on the “wild and scenic” values of segments of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut to evaluate which portions provide extraordinary natural, cultural and recreational benefits that require special attention to maintain. Its passage would allow a committee made up of state, local, tribal, non-profit, recreational and agricultural representatives to proceed with an evaluation of which parts should fit into a special classification under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
These segments would then be designated as eligible for existing federal funds. In addition to providing for better upkeep of those areas, the designation would prevent federal support for actions that would harm the rivers’ free-flowing condition, water quality, or outstanding resource values.