The Act provides a national policy and program to preserve and protect selected rivers, or segments of rivers, in their free-flowing condition in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.  Section 1(b) of the Act states:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and...

Agency land use or resource management plan records should include documentation of the eligibility criteria, inventory process, evaluation, and outcome. Agency field offices retain the administrative record and documents related to an assessment of the free-flowing condition and identification of outstandingly remarkable values.

Timber management activities on federal lands within wild and scenic river corridors must be designed to help achieve land-management objectives consistent with the protection and enhancement of the values that caused the river to be added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Management direction needed to protect and enhance the river’s values is developed through the river planning process. Wild and scenic river designation is not likely to significantly affect timber management activities beyond existing measures to protect riparian zones, wetlands, and other resource values...

No. The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act specifically prohibits the federal government from expending funds on Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, except to manage federal lands or to provide technical assistance to local managers.

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...

Once determined eligible, river segments are tentatively classified for study as either wild, scenic, or recreational based on the level of development of the shoreline, watercourse and access at the time of river is found eligible. If designated by Congress, the river’s enabling legislation generally specifies the classification.

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.

Eligibility findings are made as a part of a congressionally authorized study under Section 5(a), or pursuant to agency inventory and planning under Section 5(d)(1).  For Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, the National Park Service will make an eligibility determination under authority delegated by the Secretary of the Interior following application by the governor(s) for federal designation.

Yes. River-administering agencies have an affirmative duty to evaluate pre-existing uses on federal lands to determine whether such uses are protecting the values for which the wild and scenic river was designated. Grazing may continue when consistent with protecting river values. If grazing practices are determined to be inconsistent with wild and scenic river management objectives, then changes in grazing practices may be required.

On September 7, 1982, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior outlined in the Federal Register (47 FR 39454) eligibility and classification criteria, the evaluation process and content, and reporting requirements for potential wild and scenic rivers and management guidelines for designated wild and scenic rivers. These guidelines were formulated to provide a uniform evaluation and consistent management approach in the identification, evaluation, reporting, and management of wild and scenic river segments. These replaced earlier guidelines developed in 1970.

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...

As provided in Sections 4(a) and 5(c) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the following factors should be considered and, as appropriate, documented as a basis for the suitability determination for each river.

  1. Characteristics which do or do not make the area a worthy addition to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. These characteristics are described in the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (see factors 2 through 7) and may include additional suitability factors (8 through 13).

  2. The current status of land ownership and use in the area.

  3. The...

The economic impacts of implementing various alternatives should be addressed through the evaluation process to determine whether a river is a suitable addition to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System or through the river management planning process, or a designated wild and scenic river. Economic issues, such as development and ecotourism, both inside and outside of potentially designated river corridors may be considered.

Congress declared its intent to protect the water quality of rivers added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System in Section 1(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Congress further specified that the river-administering agencies cooperate with the EPA and state water pollution control agencies to eliminate or diminish water pollution (Section 12(c)).

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.

There are three instances when federal agencies assess eligibility: 1) at the request of Congress through specific authorized studies; 2) through their respective agency inventory and planning processes; or 3) during National Park Service evaluation of a Section 2(a)(ii) application by a state. River areas identified through the inventory phase are evaluated for their free-flowing condition and must possess at least one outstandingly remarkable value.

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.

Timber management activities on non-federal lands outside the corridor are guided by state and local authorities. The river manager may provide technical assistance and/or work with state/local governments to protect river values.

The government typically provides technical assistance to find ways to alleviate or mitigate the actual or potential threat(s). Purchasing a partial right (easement) or the property in fee title is usually the last resort. If an easement is purchased, the owner would sell certain development rights and receive a payment, yet retain title to the land.

Rivers designated under Section 3(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, and most designated under Section 2(a)(ii), are classified in one of three categories depending on the extent of development and accessibility along each section. Designated river segments are classified and administered under one of the following, as defined in Section 2(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act:

...

No. The designation does not supersede existing, valid water rights.

 

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.

Yes it may. Once water rights are adjudicated, the federal reserved water right may affect future water development projects, depending upon the impacts of the new proposal on the river’s flow-dependent values. Adjudications have been completed or are in process on 15 designated wild and scenic rivers. To date, existing flows have been sufficient to protect current and future demands and to meet the purposes for which the river was designated. River-administering agencies can work with local and state agencies to negotiate solutions that accommodate future water needs and that protect wild...

Due to the dams, diversions, and water resource development projects that occurred from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, the need for a national system of river protection was recognized by conservationists (notably Frank and John Craighead), congressional representatives (such as Frank Church and John Saylor), and federal agencies.  The Act was an outgrowth of the national conservation agenda of the 1950’s and 1960’s, captured in the 1962 recommendations of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission.  The Act concluded that selected rivers be preserved in a free-flowing...

The federal wild and scenic river-administering agency is responsible for implementing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’s requirements, including the development of a comprehensive management plan for each river within three full fiscal years from the date of designation. It is also responsible to protect and enhance a river’s values, through its authorities on federal lands and through voluntary, cooperative strategies developed with other governments, tribal nations, and landowners on non-federal lands, and to evaluate water resources projects under Section 7(a).

Should the purchase of land become necessary, condemnation is typically a last resort and only used when:

  1. Land is clearly needed to protect resource values, or provide necessary access for public recreational use, and a purchase price cannot be agreed upon.

  2. Clear title to a property is needed, in which case condemnation is merely a legal procedure that has nothing to do with government/landowner differences.

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...

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.

Corridor boundaries are established to protect the free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values for which the river was designated. Generally, the corridor width for designated rivers cannot exceed an average of 320 acres per mile which, if applied uniformly along the entire designated segment, is one-quarter of a mile (1,320 feet) on each side of the river. Boundaries may be wider or narrower, but are not to exceed the 320 acre average per mile per Section 3(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act without approval by Congress. The acreage of any islands...

Yes. Such projects may be constructed to protect and enhance fish and wildlife. In-channel structures (e.g., placement of large wood to replicate natural stream conditions) and in-channel activities (e.g., dredging to protect listed species) are acceptable, provided they do not have a direct and adverse effect on the values of the river (its free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values. Similarly, in-channel habitat projects may also be constructed below/above a designated river so long as they do not unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish...

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.

Yes. Congress has frequently added wild and scenic river status to rivers flowing through national parks, national wildlife refuges, and designated wilderness. Each designation recognizes distinct values for protection, and management objectives generally designed to not conflict. In some cases, wild and scenic river designations extend beyond the boundaries of other administrative or congressional area designations, thereby providing additional protection to the free-flowing condition and river values of the area. Section 10(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act addresses potential...

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...

The Act (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271-1287) was signed on October 2, 1968. It has been amended many times, primarily to designate additional rivers and authorize additional rivers for study for possible inclusion.

River-administering agencies must evaluate proposed water resources projects under the appropriate standard of Section 7. The evaluative standard for projects located within a wild and scenic river corridor, Section 5(a) study area, or qualifying Section 2(a)(ii) application area is whether the project would have a “direct and adverse effect.” The evaluative standard for projects located downstream, upstream, or on a tributary to a wild and scenic river corridor or Section 5(a) study area is whether the project would “invade the area or unreasonably diminish” for designated wild and scenic...

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.

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.

In many cases, there may be no practical effect. However, laws like the Wilderness Act do allow certain activities in designated wilderness which may be incompatible on a wild and scenic river, e.g., water resource developments if authorized by the President. In addition, wild and scenic river designation prohibits federal participation in, or assistance to, water resource developments upstream or downstream of a designated river (potentially outside the wilderness area) which may adversely affect the designated river segment. Agencies are required by policy and law to evaluate potential...

Wild and scenic river designations generally cause property values to remain stable or increase. For example, see Economic Benefits of Conserved Rivers: An Annotated Bibliography (Porter, B., Collier, S., Becerra, N., and Schultz, J. 2001. National Park Service – Rivers and Trails Conservation and Assistance Program, Washington, DC. 27pp.).

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...

(*For some rivers, Congress has directed the river-administering agency in Section 3(b) to determine which classes “best fit the river or its various segments.”  These administratively segmented rivers should reflect on-the-ground circumstances and, therefore, are unlikely to require subsequent amendment.)

Yes. In a very few cases, the legislation designating a river erroneously describes a segment division and needs to be amended to fit on-the-ground circumstances. For example, the designating language for the Upper Rogue Wild & Scenic River...

Upon congressional authorization for a study (Section 5(a)) or by federal agency initiative (Section 5(d)(1)).

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...

Generally, existing livestock grazing practices and related structures are not affected by designation. The Interagency Guidelines state that agricultural practices should be similar in nature and intensity to those present in the area at the time of designation, and that grazing may be compatible with all river classifications (wild, scenic or recreational). Grazing and other public uses may occur in a wild and scenic river corridor as long as the uses do not adversely impact or otherwise degrade the values for which a river was designated.

Section 6(a)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act states:

The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture are each authorized to acquire lands and interests in land within the authorized boundaries of any component of the national wild and scenic rivers system designated in Section 3 of this act . . . but he shall not acquire fee title to an average of more than 100 acres per mile on both sides of the rivers.

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act authorizes fee title acquisition to the equivalent of about a 400 foot wide strip of land...

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....

Yes. The “equal footing” principle of the Constitution and the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 afford each state the ownership of lands and natural resources under navigable rivers. These submerged lands generally extend from bank-to-bank or to the mean or ordinary high water mark.

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...