Emphasizing the benefits of the Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers to Rhode Island's economy, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and a leader of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association pressed a congressional committee today to support legislation protecting the waterways. At Langevin's invitation, Association Program Director Denise Poyer joined him to testify before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands about H.R. 3388, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, which Langevin authored with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) in an effort to make the rivers eligible for federal funds and protections.
The full testimony submitted by Langevin and Poyer can be found here.
"These rivers are not only an important part of our national heritage, they are a critical part of our daily lives, especially as much of our economy relies on the health of our waters," said Langevin. "From Colonial battlegrounds to Native American fishing grounds, the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed offers diverse destinations for tourism, a vital industry to Rhode Island and Connecticut. These rivers offer exceptional trout fishing, canoeing, photography, and bird watching opportunities, with adjacent hiking and camping for our sportsmen."
The legislation mandates a study on the "wild and scenic" values of segments of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut to evaluate which portions provide extraordinary natural, cultural and recreational benefits that require special attention to maintain. Passage of the bill would allow a committee made up of state, local, tribal, non-profit, recreational and agricultural representatives to proceed with an evaluation of which parts should fit into a special classification under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. These segments would then be designated as eligible for existing federal funds. In addition to providing for better upkeep of those areas, the designation would prevent federal support for actions that would harm the rivers' free-flowing condition, water quality, or outstanding resource values.
"[These rivers] represent the core of our local economy and serve as the foundation of our culture, our history, and our identity in the region," said Poyer. "Any investment in protecting and restoring these rivers is an investment in our economy and in the future of our children and grandchildren. Local businesses depend on clean and healthy rivers to attract tourists and visitors. People are encouraged to come to our region and locate their homes and businesses here because of the natural beauty that is so close to major metropolitan centers."
Poyer also noted that the great majority of threatened or endangered species in Rhode Island are located in this watershed. She specifically referenced a study done by the National Parks Service in the 1980s identifying the Wood River as having the highest biological diversity of any river in New England.
In his testimony, Langevin highlighted the overwhelming local support for the legislation, with backing from every city and town within the boundaries impacted by the bill, as well as the state environmental departments in Rhode Island and Connecticut and Save the Bay. This coalition provides an existing network to assist the Department of Interior in moving forward with the study outlined in H.R. 3388.
"[This designation] offers the best guarantee that the Wood-Pawcatuck will be here for future generations to enjoy," said Langevin. "Adoption and passage of this study is an important first step along that path. Nothing could have highlighted the need for conservation and preservation clearer than the 500-year flooding event throughout Rhode Island and the greater New England area in 2010. Protecting these areas may be our strongest tool in mitigating the impacts of flooding."