Over the past 20 years, river conservation interests at the local, state and federal levels have worked in loose collaboration to adapt the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act into an effective, partnership-based approach to national designations. This unique approach called “Partnership Wild & Scenic Rivers” has been recognized by the National Park Service and the US Congress as a distinct and consistent application of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers, currently consisting of nine rivers, including the Farmington River, are federally designated components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System that share the following common principles and management systems:
- No federal ownership of lands.
- Administration of the designation and implementation of the Management Plan is accomplished through a broadly participatory “Advisory Council” or “Committee” convened for each river specifically for this purpose.
- Adjacent land use continues to be governed by local communities and state statutes (as prior to designation).
- The National Park Service is responsible for implementing Section 7 of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, to ensure federal consistency in preserving identified “Outstandingly Remarkable Values.” This responsibility is coordinated with each river’s Advisory Council/Committee.
- The River Management Plan is written and implemented through a broadly participatory process involving guidance from a locally-based Advisory Council and is locally approved prior to federal designation (as a part of the feasibility study). The Plan, locally approved and endorsed by relevant state and federal authorities, forms the basis of the designation and post-designation management.
- The responsibilities associated with managing and protecting river resources are shared among all of the partners – local, state, federal, and non-governmental, and volunteerism is a consistent backbone of success.
In addition a river designated in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system qualifies for potential federal funding and technical support for actions and projects that help achieve the goals of the locally created river management plan, in turn enhancing and protecting the river’s outstanding values.
Designation also provides communities with special federal protection of the river. Section 7(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act describes the specific protections provided to designated rivers:
The Federal Power Commission [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] shall not license the construction of any dam, water conduit, reservoir, powerhouse, transmission line, or other project works under the Federal Power Act…on or directly affecting any river which is designated…and no department or agency of the United States shall assist by loan, grant, license, or otherwise in the construction of any water resources project that would have a direct and adverse effect on the values for which such river was established…No department or agency of the United States shall recommend authorization of any water resources project that would have a direct and adverse effect on the values for which such river was established…
Designation creates a specific mandate that no federally permitted or funded “water resource development project” shall be allowed that would have a “direct and adverse” impact upon the outstanding resource values that made the river eligible for designation. The National Park Service is charged with ensuring such federal consistency. However, overall river management continues to rely on local control and self-determination and allow existing river uses to continue. Designation does not establish a federal park or locally undesired federal land ownership.
It is important to note designation itself would only effect federally licensed or assisted water resource projects that would impact the river’s outstanding resource values. Other types of development would continue to be regulated by local and state land use laws. Designation will not rezone private land or change property rights. Land use controls on private land are solely a matter of state and local jurisdiction. Any changes to local or state zoning regulations stimulated by the designation would only occur through existing procedures at the town or state levels. Wild & Scenic designation also does not give the federal government any authority to infringe on an individual’s privacy or property rights.
With the funding and staff support that will likely come with a designation the communities of the Eightmile River Watershed could have access to resources that help all the partners achieve the protection of the watershed’s outstanding resource values. Such support can bring a host of positive benefits to all, including:
- Preservation of a clean water supply for local residents – The many tools recommended to protect water quality and watershed hydrology in the watershed will have a direct benefit on drinking water supply for residents.
- Protection of the rural character that defines the local communities – Opportunities to implement tools that conserve stream banks, voluntarily protect large wildlife habitats and important open space areas, and ensure that river and stream quality remain high will all help keep the rural qualities of local communities intact.
- Robust and diverse plant and animal populations that reflect a healthy ecosystem – A key component of the character and quality of the Eightmile River Watershed is the unique plant and animal life that exists. With significant populations of animal and plant species unique to both Connecticut and the region, the watershed can continue to be an important regional repository of near coastal New England biodiversity.
- Possible funding support to help towns achieve their open space conservation goals – Designation may leverage opportunities for funding that can help the local towns and state achieve their open space conservation goals, saving towns’ money.
- Current, sound scientific information and technical support to help in the decision making process for local land use commissions and their staffs – This can save the commissions and their applicant time and money, providing the information to make sound defensible decisions based on strong science and technical expertise.
- Small grants to help local schools, towns, scouts, civic groups, land trusts, private landowners and others on projects which support the purposes and goals of the plan – Often a portion of Wild & Scenic funding is offered as small grants by the local coordinating committee to support local activities that enhance the outstanding resource values and help build the partnership capacity of the grant recipient.
- Outreach and education opportunities that enhance an understanding of the watershed and its characteristics that provide a sense of place for local citizens of all ages. – Publications, programs, workshops and trainings that promote the resource values and best management practices may be offered to all different audiences from school age children, to land use commissions to local landowners.
- Financial resources to help towns with certain activities they may have had to otherwise fund on their own. – For example a town may have a badly eroding stream bank that is threatening a town road. Funding may be available to help the town restore the stream bank and secure the road.
- Promotes the natural functions of the river and its adjacent floodplains for flood control – Attenuating flood waters prevents property damage and protects public health. Funding resources through a designation may support opportunities to protect natural stream flow and floodplain functions.
- Prevents federally funded or permitted projects determined to be adverse to the watershed’s outstanding resource values. – Designation creates a specific mandate that no federally permitted or funded “water resource development project” shall be allowed that would have a “direct and adverse” impact upon the outstanding resource values that made the river eligible for designation.