On December 18, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) announced new rules designating portions of three waterways, the Cascade River, Napeequa River, and Skamania County’s Green River, as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs). The new designations are the end result of a multi-year effort by several organizations, including Cascade Forest Conservancy, to safeguard some of Washington’s most exceptional waters.
Under federal law, individual states are directed to designate waterways of exceptional ecological and recreational value as ORWs. These designations provide a high level of federal protection under the Clean Water Act of 1972, but until now, Washington had never used this tool.
The Green River’s new protections are well-deserved. The upper reaches of this waterway flow from the foothills of Mount St. Helens. This section of the river is beloved by recreationists of all kinds, including hikers, mountain bikers, backcountry horseback riders, hunters, anglers, botanizers, foragers, and many others. The river also has unique ecological significance due to its role as a gene bank for wild steelhead—an area set aside for wild fish populations to protect genetic diversity and ultimately the long-term health and survival of the species.
“Protecting Washington’s pristine waters benefits all Washingtonians and is critical for the state’s salmon and steelhead,” said Molly Whitney, Cascade Forest Conservancy’s Executive Director. The Tier III A classification assigned to the Green River means that new forms of pollution along the designated portions are prohibited.
Securing these designations would not have been possible without the help of concerned citizens, including many CFC supporters! After attending an event supporting the new rule held at the beginning of September, Tara Easter submitted written comments and attended an in-person hearing in Kalama, WA.
“I felt it was important to show my support for these designations as a Washington resident concerned with the health and resilience of our freshwater ecosystems,” she explained.
The passion and advocacy of our community was a significant help in our efforts to see these new protections enacted. Thank you to everyone who submitted comments or otherwise supported this effort!
In addition to added protections for the ecosystems and wildlife of the Green River, this designation is particularly helpful towards our long-term efforts to defend the surrounding area against the threat of mining. While these new protections do not explicitly prevent mining in this area, they will make it more difficult and costly to develop a mine here. In this way, the designation of the Green River as an ORW directly compliments our ongoing work with the Green River Valley Alliance to secure permanent protections for the area through a legislative mineral withdrawal.
We are thrilled Ecology has recognized the unique values of the waterways that have become Washington’s first ORWs—especially of the Green. Keep an eye out for an in-person celebration of these designations in the new year as we mark a successful end of this multi-year, collaborative effort.