What does the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act say about management of water resources?

The following summarizes the sections of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act related to water resources (quality and quantity):

Section 1(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act establishes that the national policy of dam and other construction be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof “in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.”

Section 10(a) states: “Each component of the national wild and scenic rivers system shall be administered in such a manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included in said system . . ..” The values of each component are its free-flowing condition, water quality and specifically identified outstandingly remarkable values. On some rivers, a hydrologic value, such as a unique flow regime, or exceptional water quality may be outstandingly remarkable values.

Section 11(b)(1) authorizes the Secretary of the Interior or Agriculture, or the head of any federal agency to provide technical (i.e., non-monetary) assistance and the use of agency funds to states, local government, private organizations, and individuals “to plan, protect and manage river resources.” This section has been used by wild and scenic river-administering agencies to enter into cooperative agreements with various entities to protect water resources.

Section 12(c) directs the river-administering agency to cooperate with the EPA and state water quality agencies to address water quality concerns. Cooperation requires active participation by the river-administering agency in evaluating existing water quality, identifying issues (e.g., violation of temperature or turbidity standards), and developing the long-term strategies to address water quality-related issues.

Section 13(c) expressly reserves the quantity of water necessary to achieve the purposes of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. This federal reserved water right is generally adjudicated in a state court (e.g., basin-wide adjudication). The designation does not supersede existing, valid water rights and establishes a priority date coincident with the river’s date of designation into the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.

Section 13(e) clarifies that interstate compacts are unaffected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

Interagency Wild & Scenic Rivers Council