U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) renewed their push today to make federal restoration and conservation resources available to the Pawcatuck River, as well as other South County and Southeast Connecticut streams. The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, which passed the House last year, would preserve and enhance the benefits of the Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers to Rhode Island's economy. Now reintroduced in the House and Senate, it would pave the way for the rivers to receive federal funds and protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which currently does not cover the South County waterways. This change would not increase federal spending.
"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. "This legislation would help develop a collaborative river management plan, which could address issues ranging from fish passage to the restoration of wetlands to assistance with flood mitigation, as well as balance the preservation of the natural resources with the recreational opportunities that contribute to the local economies."
"Our state's economy relies on the health of our waters, which have a tremendous impact on our tourism and fishing industries, offer opportunities for businesses, and increase the overall quality of life in our state," said Langevin. "The bipartisan support that this bill received when it passed the House of Representatives last year is a testament to the value of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed. I'm hopeful that the growing recognition of the essential protections provided by this legislation will allow it to be signed into law during this Congress."
Reed and Langevin also worked with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and watershed advocates in Rhode Island and Connecticut, including the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA), to author this bill in order to best serve our communities' needs. U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are cosponsors of the Senate version, while Congressmen David Cicilline (D-RI), and Courtney have cosponsored the House version.
Last year, Langevin brought WPWA Program Director Denise Poyer to Washington to testify with him before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands about the Act's significance for the Ocean State. 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 to the Subcommittee. "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."
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. Its passage would allow a committee made up of state, local, tribal, non-profit, recreational and agricultural representatives to proceed with an evaluation of the portions that would best 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.
For more information on the rivers affected by this legislation, visit the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association's website at www.wpwa.org.