Yes, a CRMP is developed in compliance with the NEPA. The purpose and need for the proposed action is to protect and enhance the values for which the river was designated (free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values), within its classification(s). The proposed action establishes appropriate goals, objectives, and/or desired conditions to meet those purposes. Alternative courses of actions are developed and analyzed relative to achieving overall goals and desired conditions within the wild and scenic river corridor. A “no action” alternative, representing the...

Most current uses and activities on rivers and adjoining federal lands may continue. Of primary consideration in any river or land-use limitation is the protection and enhancement of the free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable value(s) that resulted in the river’s designation. Those uses that clearly threaten these values will be addressed in the planning process, or through site-specific environmental analyses on a case-by-case basis where federal lands are involved.

Yes. Section 7(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act provides the same protection to study rivers authorized by Congress, except that the qualifying word “unreasonably” does not appear before “diminish” for projects located above, below, or on a stream tributary to the study segment’s boundaries. The intent and effect is to provide greater protection for study rivers from proposed hydroelectric facilities or other federally assisted water resource projects during the time-limited study process. Identical protection from water resource projects also applies to rivers that were previously...

WSR designation seeks to protect and enhance a river’s current natural condition and provide for public use consistent with retaining those values. Designation affords certain legal protection from adverse development, e.g., no new dams may be constructed, nor federally assisted water resource development projects allowed that are judged to have an adverse effect on designated river values. Where private lands are involved, the federal managing agency will work with local governments and owners to develop voluntary protective measures.

Section 4(f) refers to the original section within the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Act of 1966 (49 U.S.C. Section 303(c); 23 U.S.C. Section 138). The DOT Act was enacted to ensure that transportation plans and programs include measures to maintain or enhance the natural beauty of publicly owned public parks, recreation areas, wildlife/waterfowl refuges, and historic sites of local, state, or national significance transversed by highways.

A range of projects are allowable to restore natural channel processes and habitat, including placement of limited rock and wood, native plantings to stabilize streambanks, and the removal or addition of fish barriers. Such projects are most likely to protect river values, including a river’s free-flowing condition, provided they: 

  1. Mimic the effects of naturally occurring events such as trees falling in and across the river (including the formation of wood jams), boulders tumbling in or moving down the river course, exposure of bedrock outcrops, bank sloughing or...

For 5(a) studies, the study report, planning document and combined National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis are submitted to the agency head for review and subsequent transmittal to Congress, which decides the final disposition of the river.

For 5(d)(1) studies, the study report and combined NEPA analysis (if conducted as a separate study), or study report prepared from the underlying land management plan, are submitted through the study agency and its respective department for review. The final study report is transmitted by the appropriate Secretary to Congress, which...

Yes. Under Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the public is involved in the study of rivers authorized by Congress. The report associated with a congressionally authorized study addresses subjects such as current status of land ownership and use in the area; reasonably foreseeable potential uses of land and water which would be affected by designation; the federal agency to administer the river if designated; and the ability of, and estimated costs to, state and local agencies to participate in the administration of such rivers. The public and state, local and tribal...

Yes, a federal reserved water right is generally adjudicated in state court (e.g., basin-wide adjudication) in the western United States. It is less clear how federal reserved water rights are adjudicated in the eastern United States. Contact a staff expert and/or legal counsel when trying to protect water quantity.


Water law is a complex legal area, and water rights are a highly contentious issue. Whenever a water allocation issue arises, a river manager should consult with staff with water rights expertise and, as necessary, seek legal counsel....

The requirement for a comprehensive river management plan (CRMP), does not apply to state-administered, federally designated rivers. Federal land managers are responsible for protecting river values in all agency planning and management actions for any portion of a 2(a)(ii) river that flows on federal lands. In some cases, the petitioning state has a requirement for a plan. The existence of a state or local plan to protect river values is one of the factors considered by the National Park Service in its review of the 2(a)(ii) nomination for the Secretary.

Any federally assisted construction project—by loan, grant, permit, license, or otherwise—which would affect the free-flowing condition of a wild and scenic river. This includes any hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)  under Part 1 of the Federal Power Act (36 CFR 297).

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...

The communities of interest are key players in the development of a CRMP. They help with data collection and establishing baseline conditions, identifying issues and opportunities to be addressed in the planning process and, increasingly, in monitoring and implementation of aspects of the CRMP. Sections 10(e) and 11(b)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act anticipate the participation of federal, state or local governments, landowners, private organizations and/or individuals in planning, protecting and administering wild and scenic rivers.

Corridors may not exceed an average of 320 acres per river mile over the designated portion of the river (except on certain other rivers as specified by Congress and in Alaska, which is 640 acres for rivers located outside national parks). Agencies delineate boundaries based on natural or manmade features (canyon rims, roads and ridge tops, etc.) and legally identifiable property lines.

River-administering agencies use a variety of approaches to protect or enhance water quality including, but not limited to: developing a cooperative water quality plan with the EPA and state agencies; securing cooperative funding to assess or remediate problems; and providing technical assistance to landowners and communities, often through local conservation districts.

The study report for a congressionally authorized Section 5(a) study river is required to be forwarded by the study agency within the period specified in Section 5(b). This study report must be forwarded to Congress no matter what the outcome of the study.

Unlike the firm deadlines established for Section 5(a) study reports, the Act is silent in regard to Section 5(d)(1) rivers. Thus the river-administering agencies have considerable latitude in how and when to transmit the study report for rivers they have found suitable and are recommending to Congress for designation. The...

Yes. Motorized access allowed prior to designation will, generally, be allowed post designation, subject to congressional intent and river management objectives. However, if motorized use adversely impacts a river’s water quality or outstandingly remarkable values, or if the use is not consistent with the river’s classification the route may be closed or regulated.

The continued legality of motorized use on land or water is best determined through the river management planning process, which considers factors such as impacts on river values, user demand for such motorized...

The federal government has rarely exercised its eminent domain powers with respect to wild and scenic rivers. Of the 226 rivers in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System as of June 2022, condemnation for fee title has been used on only four rivers. Nearly all of the federal government’s use of condemnation occurred in the early years of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’s implementation when the attitudinal climate was one of federal acquisition. Similarly, the use of scenic easement condemnation has also been used very rarely, and then only on seven rivers, all designated prior to...

Section 6(c) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act states:

. . . the appropriate Secretary shall issue guidelines, specifying standards for local zoning ordinances, which are consistent with the purposes of this Act. The standards specified in such guidelines shall have the object of (a) prohibiting new commercial or industrial uses other than commercial or industrial uses which are consistent with the purposes of this Act, and (b) the protection of the bank lands by means of acreage, frontage, and setback requirements on development.

The Wild...

Timber management activities on non-federal lands within wild and scenic river corridors are guided by state and local authorities. Under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the only way the federal government can restrict private timber management is through purchase of timber rights (in easement or fee title). The river manager may provide technical assistance and/or work with state/local governments to protect river values.

Administering agencies do not have any authority to control public use of private lands. Granting of access remains the owner’s responsibility and trespass is handled by local law enforcement authorities. Federal river-administering agencies do, however, work closely with landowners to minimize problems through brochures and maps, signs, etc., and many landowners feel they are better off with the agency taking some responsibility.

The CRMP for rivers designated on or after January 1, 1986, is to be completed within three full-fiscal years after the date of designation or as otherwise specified, with a notice of completion and availability published in the Federal Register. For rivers designated before this date, Section 3(d)(2) requires review of the CRMP to determine if it conforms to Section 3(d)(1). This provision allowed ten years to update pre-1986 plans through the planning processes of river-administering agencies. Note: This 10-year period expired January 1, 1996.

Through the various federal agencies’ land management planning processes and initiatives by the public, a significant number of rivers have been identified for study as potential additions to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. For example, the Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI), maintained by the National Park Service, has identified over 3,400 river segments as potential candidates for study and/or inclusion into the National System.

Section 16(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, defines a “river” as “a flowing body of water . . . or portion, section, or tributary thereof. . . .”  “Free-flowing” is defined as “existing or flowing in natural condition without impoundment. . . .”  Therefore, any section of river with flowing water meets the technical definition of free flowing, even if impounded upstream.

Yes. Section 6(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act specifically prohibits the use of condemnation for fee title purchase of private lands if 50 percent or more of the acreage within the boundaries on both sides of the designated river is in public ownership (i.e., owned by the federal, state, or local government). In addition, Section 6(a)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act prohibits acquiring more than 100 acres per river mile within the corridor, which equates to a stip of land about 400-feet wide along both sides of the river. Fee title condemnation is allowed to clear title or...

Yes, if they are consistent with management objectives for the river and do not degrade water quality or the outstandingly remarkable values for which the river was designated.

Prior to completion of the CRMP, proposed projects and new decisions (e.g., issuance of a special-use permit) on federal lands are evaluated by the wild and scenic river-administering agency to ensure they protect and, to the extent possible, enhance river values (free-flowing condition, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values). The necessary evaluation framework is a detailed description of the existing conditions of these values at the time of designation. Absent this information it may not be possible to evaluate the effects of an activity relative to the non-degradation and...

Existing powerline or communication transmission rights-of-way may continue to be used and maintained. New proposals would be evaluated for impacts to river values based on state and local zoning.

No restrictions to private lands may be applied under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Comprehensive river management plans may establish goals for new construction consistent with classification. There is a wide range of uses compatible with these classifications so long as the overall values and character of the river corridor is maintained. Any effect on private lands would be through state or local zoning. Federal acquisition of lands or development rights would require landowner compensation.

No. Federal agencies do not have the authority to reimburse landowners for damage to their lands as a result of public use. However, wild and scenic river designation is unlikely to increase or invite vandalism. Granting access remains the owner’s responsibility and vandalism is handled by local law enforcement authorities. Federal river-administering agencies do, however, work closely with landowners to minimize problems through brochures and maps, signs, etc., and many landowners feel they are better off with the agency taking some responsibility.

No. The United States determines the quantity necessary to protect flow-dependent outstandingly remarkable values.


Water law is a complex legal area, and water rights are a highly contentious issue. Whenever a water allocation issue arises, a river manager should consult with staff with water rights expertise and, as necessary, seek legal counsel.

Camping is often important to the enjoyment of wild and scenic rivers. As appropriate, and when private interests do not provide sufficient facilities, the federal managing agency attempts to provide them on federal lands. As a condition of use, consistent with river classification and the management objectives for the river area, the managing agency may specify that camping will be permitted only in designated locations. Enforcement of camping restrictions and limitations can be through indirect means (brochures, maps, signs, etc.) and/or direct means (permits, enforcement personnel, etc...

A river authorized for study under Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is subject to the conditions and restrictions specified in Sections 7(b), 8(b), 9(b), and 12(a) of the Act.

The river is protected for the duration of the study plus up to three years after the required report is submitted (along with the President’s recommendation) to Congress. Should Congress not act within the three-year time frame, the river is no longer afforded protection by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. In cases where a study has not been submitted to Congress, the statutory protections...

Prior to 1986, Section 3(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act required the river-administering agency to “prepare a plan for necessary developments in connection with its administration in accordance with such classification.” Through a generic amendment of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1986, Section 3 was amended with a new subsection requiring a “comprehensive management plan . . . to provide for protection of the river values” (Section 3(d)(1)). The comprehensive river management plan (CRMP) must address:

  1. Resource protection;

  2. Development of lands...

There are a number of steps that federal agencies use in their evaluation process:

  • Assessment of free-flowing condition and resource values.
  • Finding of eligibility or ineligibility.
  • Inventoried or tentative classification based on the development of shoreline, watercourse, and access.
  • Establishment of tentative, preliminary, or proposed boundaries and/or river areas.
  • Establishment of protective management requirements for eligible rivers.

No. The public’s right to float a particular river does not change with designation. Neither does designation give river users the right to use, occupy, or cross private property without permission.

Wild and scenic river study reports are prepared in three instances:

  1. When Congress authorizes a study pursuant to Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

  2. For eligible rivers that have also been determined suitable by a federal land management agency pursuant to Section 5(d)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, when the agency deems it appropriate to forward the recommendation.

  3. For state-nominated Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, the National Park Service prepares a report determining whether the candidate river meets the requirements of...

Rivers in Alaska outside of national parks and Elkhorn Creek in Oregon (640 acres per river mile) exceed the 320 acre average.

Once such a river has been found eligible, the federal study agency should, to the extent it is authorized under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and subject to valid existing rights, ensure the river and the surrounding area are protected as a potential wild and scenic river pending a suitability determination.

No. Non-indigenous species need not be removed unless they are degrading other important resource values. Practical considerations, such as the effort or expense of eradicating a non-indigenous species and its importance (e.g., game species), should also be considered. This issue is generally addressed in the management plan.

There are more appropriate and cost-effective ways to ensure resource conservation along wild and scenic rivers than using the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’s condemnation authority. (Refer to Protecting Resource Values on Non-federal Lands (1996).)

Agencies may acquire properties using appropriated funds under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act or other authorities. Owners are contacted in order to see if an exchange or voluntary purchase can be negotiated.

Under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, designation neither gives nor implies government control of private lands within the river corridor. Although many rivers include private lands within the boundaries of the designated river area, management restrictions would apply only to federal lands. The federal government has no power to regulate or zone private lands under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act; however, administering agencies may highlight the need for amendment to local zoning (where state and local zoning occurs). People living within a river corridor may use their property as...

Section 8(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act withdraws public (federal) lands within the authorized boundary of a designated component from entry, sale, or other disposition under the public land laws of the United States.

When Congress proposes a bill to designate an eligible river for which a suitability study has not been completed, the potential river-administering agency should endeavor to:

  1. Describe the resource and social factors typically evaluated in a study;
  2. Identify potential issues; and
  3. Assess its ability to manage the recommended component as a wild and scenic river.

This information provides the basis for the Administration’s decision to support or oppose the proposed designation.

Yes. Water may be secured through a variety of protection strategies, in the interim. Ultimately, the United States should secure a federal reserved water right in state court or the appropriate forum. Interim measures may include, but are not limited to: state instream flow programs, reservoir operation schedules, endangered species flow recommendations, conservation techniques, cooperative agreements, and water right purchases from willing sellers.


Water law is a complex legal area, and water rights are a highly contentious issue. Whenever a water...

Agency officials are required to coordinate when their responsibilities relevant to wild and scenic rivers overlap.  Officials should determine the level of study to be conducted, who will lead the study, and, to the extent necessary and feasible, prepare a joint document for submission to Congress or congressional delegations.

There are two ways rivers are designated in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System:

  • By Act of Congress
    This requires legislation to amend Section 3(a) of the Act.  Rivers designated by Congress are listed in Section 3(a) of the Act.
  • By the Secretary of the Interior
    This requires...

In agency parlance used for planning purposes, river “areas” include the entire length of a study or designated river and its adjacent lands, an average of 320 acres per river mile (except on certain other rivers as specified by Congress and in Alaska, which is 640 acres for rivers located outside national parks). A river “segment” is a portion of the river area which has been delineated for evaluation and planning purposes. Its subsequent classification is dependent upon the level of development of the shoreline, watercourse and access at the time of designation. Significantly different...

No. The river study, enabling legislation, and subsequent management planning process will consider how best to protect river values while recognizing private property rights.