Legislation sponsored by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) that would preserve and enhance the benefits of the Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers to Rhode Island's economy and overall quality of life passed the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously today. H.R. 3388, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, which Langevin authored with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT), includes provisions necessary to make the rivers eligible for federal funds and protections.
"The rivers in the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed have immense value as sites for recreational activities, homes to abundant fish and wildlife, and historical and cultural attractions," said Langevin. "All of these features have the added benefit of boosting our economy through increased tourism and business opportunities.
"A federal Wild and Scenic designation offers the best guarantee that the Wood-Pawcatuck will be here for future generations to enjoy, and this legislation is necessary to obtain that label. I am pleased that all of the members of the Natural Resources Committee have demonstrated their support for this proposal, and I look forward to continuing to work with the many hardworking advocates on this issue to see the bill signed into law."
To ensure the Committee understood the significance of the bill to the Ocean State, Langevin brought the Program Director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, Denise Poyer, to Washington to testify with him in April before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands. Poyer emphasized the unique qualities of the waterways impacted by the bill and their many contributions to the region.
"[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.
Read the full testimony submitted by Langevin and Poyer at the hearing.
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.