Legislation to launch an estimated $400,000 study of whether several rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut should be added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System is moving forward in Congress.
In an effort to preserve and restore Southern New England's watersheds and estuaries, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Wood-Pawcatuck Protection Act to authorize the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service (NPS) to study the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The comprehensive study would assess scenic, recreational, fish and wildlife habitats, and other attributes to determine whether the rivers may be suitable for designation as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Inclusion in the system would make the rivers eligible for additional federal funds and increased protections.
A river's classification as "wild" means there is little development in surrounding areas and "scenic" means it is still largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.
"The Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers are important to Rhode Island's economy and environment and we must protect these natural resources. These rivers and open spaces should be added to the list of protected areas and this legislation is an important first step toward achieving that goal," said Reed, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, which oversees funding for the National Park Service. "One of the keys to a National Wild and Scenic Rivers System designation is local community support. We have a very actively-engaged coalition of community conservationists that includes local leaders, students, businesses, historic preservationists, and the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association. Their strong backing and collaboration is essential to this effort."
"These rivers are important resources for our Rhode Island communities and economy," said Whitehouse. "I strongly support protecting these valuable resources for future generations and I was pleased to join Senator Reed in introducing this legislation. I also thank our colleagues, Representatives Langevin and Cicilline, for supporting the bill's successful passage in the House. I hope we can move swiftly in the Senate to get it passed."
NPS's Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance program conducted a planning and conservation study in the 1980s which concluded, in part, that the waters of the Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers corridor in Rhode Island "are the cleanest and purest and its recreational opportunities are unparalleled by any other river system in the state."
Beyond their natural and recreational importance, these rivers offer ways to explore Southern New England's heritage throughout the watershed, from Native American fishing grounds to Colonial and early industrial mill ruins. The rivers also provide a host of sporting opportunities including trout fishing, canoeing, bird watching, and hiking.
Companion legislation, sponsored by Representatives James Langevin (D-RI), Joe Courtney (D-CT), and David Cicilline (D-RI) passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week by a voice vote.
The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If the bill passes the full Senate and is signed into law, the actual funds for the study must also be appropriated.
After the study's completion, if the National Park Service recommends that the river be designated, it would require another bill in Congress to actually designate the rivers as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.