What effect does wild and scenic river designation have on federally assisted water resources projects?

Section 7 of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act prohibits any department or agency of the United States from assisting in the construction of any water resources project that would have a “direct and adverse” effect on the values for which the river segment was established, namely its free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values (outstandingly remarkable values). It also precludes federal assistance to projects below or above a designated river that have been determined to “invade the area or unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values present . . . as of the date of designation.” The “direct and adverse” standard applies to water resources projects within the river corridor, and the “invade or unreasonably diminish” standard applies to water resources projects below, above or on a stream tributary of the designated river. Stronger protection under an “invade or diminish” standard (with the word “unreasonably” omitted) is provided during a finite study period for: 1) congressional study rivers; and 2) proposed Section 2(a)(ii) rivers that were previously authorized for study under Section 5(a).

Review of hydroelectric and federally water resources projects under Section 7 of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is complex. Please refer to Wild & Scenic Rivers Act: Section 7 (2004), a technical report of the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council for a detailed discussion.

Interagency Wild & Scenic Rivers Council