House Passes Langevin Bill to Protect RI Waterways

Jun 11, 2013 Issues: Energy & Environment, Rhode Island, Vote

Legislation sponsored by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) to preserve and enhance the benefits of the Wood and Pawcatuck Rivers to Rhode Island’s economy passed the House of Representatives today. H.R. 723, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act, could pave the way for making the rivers eligible for federal funds and protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which has not covered the South County waterways since its initial passage in 1968. This change would not increase federal spending.

“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 is a testament to the value of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed and the recognition that protections are necessary to ensure future generations will enjoy the many benefits of these rivers.”

Langevin worked with Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and watershed advocates in Rhode Island and Connecticut, including the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA), to author a bill that would best serve our communities’ needs. Last year, he 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. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has introduced companion legislation which was favorably reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 16th.

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 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.

Statement on H.R. 723, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act
June 11, 2013

Thank you, Congressman Grijalva, for yielding. And let me thank you, Chairman Bishop, and your staffs for working to bring this bill through committee and to the Floor today. I would also like to thank my good friend Congressman Courtney, who has been an outstanding partner in this effort, and our state partners, including the Wood Pawcatuck Watershed Association, Save the Bay, The Nature Conservancy, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Their collaboration has been instrumental in bringing the legislation to fruition.

As a nation, we are privileged to have access to a diverse system of wilderness areas -- from remote expanses of our country, to backyard wildernesses closer to home. The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed is such a place; its rivers are within a 45 minute drive of every Rhode Islander, easily accessible for family outings and school field trips. Passage of The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act will allow for a study of segments of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood, and Pawcatuck Rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Rhode Island and Connecticut have long been outstanding stewards of these rivers, and I hope passage and completion of this study will affirm what we Rhode Islanders already know – that the Pawcatuck and its tributaries possess outstanding recreational, natural, and historical qualities that make them worthy of the designation of Wild and Scenic Rivers. The people of Rhode Island and Connecticut have long enjoyed the recreational and scenic wealth of the Wood-Pawcatuck, and we are eager to share this natural treasure with the rest of New England and the Nation.

The Wood-Pawcatuck watershed offers exceptional trout fishing, canoeing, photography, and bird watching opportunities, with adjacent hiking and camping for our sportsmen. These rivers are not only an important part of our national heritage, they are a critical part of our tourism industry and economy. Accordingly, the study will fully engage with local government, land owners, and businesses to recognize the existing commercial and recreational activities on or adjacent to the watershed.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act offers the best guarantee that the Wood-Pawcatuck will be here for future generations to enjoy, and passage of this study is an important first step along that path. The rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed contain outstanding recreational, scenic, and natural heritage qualities that would be an excellent addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and I urge my colleagues to support passage of this bill.