The late1960’s and early 1970’s were times of burgeoning awareness that our nation’s lands, waters, and wild inhabitants were national treasures. Many laws were passed during those years to protect our irreplaceable resources, like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (subjects of previous blogs in this series).
When Lyndon Johnson signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) into law in 1968, he noted that many of our nation’s rivers had been harnessed by dams, turned into sewers, or polluted with industrial wastes. Johnson said, “It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.” The goal of the WSRA was to protect free-flowing rivers of outstanding natural, cultural, or recreational value for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Written into the law was a requirement that the public be involved in developing goals for the protection of these unique waterways.
Rivers protected by WSRA are either wild (free of impoundments and generally inaccessible, except by trails), scenic (free of impoundments and largely undeveloped), or recreational (readily accessible by road or rail, and may have had some impoundment or diversion in the past). Although segments of 208 rivers in 40 states and Puerto Rico are designated as wild or scenic, the total amounts to less than one quarter of one percent of our nation’s rivers—a minuscule bit of wild water preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The WSRA is one of 48 federal laws waived to expedite the construction of a border wall (click here for a list of all 48 federal laws that have been waived). Waiving this law means that the rules created to protect this tiny fraction of our nation’s rivers can no longer protect them—from impoundment, diversion, or pollution—when the river flows near the Mexican border. The Rio Grande, for example, which crosses the Mexican border in New Mexico and hugs the border in Texas, is a prime example of a river that has lost its protection.
In 1968, an unspoiled river was a rarity. Thanks to the WSRA, that began to change in 1968, and for 50 years, we have successfully protected our wild and scenic rivers. Waiving the WSRA is a step backwards in the protection of our natural resources for future generations.
Please contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members) and let them know that you oppose waiving The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to expedite construction of a border wall. Click here if you would like to make a donation to help us fight the border wall.