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WA Wild Awarded $25,000 Grant to Protect Three Washington Rivers

In support of Washington Wild’s ongoing efforts to establish Washington’s first-ever Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW) designations, The Conservation Alliance has awarded our organization $25,000. We would also like to thank our business partner, GRAYL, for nominating us to apply, which made receiving this grant possible. 

While the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act may be the most utilized tool to protect our rivers, Washington Wild is also leading the conversation regarding Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW). Established by the Clean Water Act, ORW designation is an opportunity for states to identify high-quality waters that constitute an outstanding state resource due to their pristine water quality, statewide ecological importance, and unique recreational value. Once a waterway is designated as such, it prohibits future degradation of water quality.

Although Washington has many eligible rivers, streams, and lakes in need of protection, the WA Department of Ecology (Ecology) has yet to designate a single ORW. Washington Wild believes this needs to change, as do local stakeholders.

We simply cannot afford to not take advantage of this effective conservation tool. As we continue to grapple with a booming population, increased urbanization, the plight of our endangered salmon and orca, and in the face of our new climate reality, Washington must ensure that the last of our pristine waterways and fish habitat remain so while we simultaneously invest in restoration efforts. 

The grant funding awarded by The Conservation Alliance will support our staff’s efforts to secure support from Tribes, elected officials, and local stakeholders supporting the designation of three rivers as ORW rivers.

Washington’s ORW Candidates 

Since 2021, Washington Wild has played a key leadership role in a coalition that includes the Pew Trusts, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Wild Salmon Center, and Cascade Forest Conservancy.

Our coalition spent a year reviewing two dozen potential candidates across the state with specific care taken to ensure transparency and local stakeholder input. Feedback from Tribes, hunting and fishing groups, key local elected officials, and recreation leaders addressed concerns and values associated with each potential nomination. Based on this feedback, the coalition ultimately settled on three rivers for nomination with each crafted to exclude private housing developments, industrial timber lands, and state trust lands operated as working forests.  

The Cascade River – 149 miles of streams and tributaries in Skagit County

Photo: A kayaker on the Cascade River, Tom O’Keefe

As a tributary to the Skagit River, an ORW designation of the Cascade River would further protect against water quality degradation of this wild and intact upper watershed beyond the prohibition of new dams as a designated Wild & Scenic River. Additionally, many local stakeholders involved in the four-year effort to stop mining and logging threats in the Skagit Headwaters have recently weighed in on protecting values like salmon habitat and clean water. The Cascade also provides popular whitewater paddling opportunities as well as recreational fishing. It also contributes to treaty rights and lifeways for the Upper Skagit, Swinomish, and Samish Tribes.  

The Green River – 44 miles of streams and tributaries in Lewis and Skamania Counties

Photo: Fishing on the Green River, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

The Green River’s water quality is among the highest in the Toutle River subbasin. The Green River flows through a prized backcountry horse camp and Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument which draws 500,000 hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and other recreationists annually. Additionally, an ORW designation will be an important step toward permanently protecting the Green River from 15 years of pending mining threats which have been thwarted to date by a coalition led by Cascade Forest Conservancy including Washington Wild. The river flows through land that originally belonged to the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Nation and Cowlitz Indian Tribe. 

Napeequa River – 35 miles of streams and tributaries in Chelan County

Photo: The Napeequa River Valley, Pew Charitable Trusts / Richard Droker

The Napeequa River is an excellent candidate for ORW designation based on its pristine condition in a wilderness setting, its high-water quality and recreational value for hikers and climbers, and its ecological value as a source of cold water for downstream salmon and trout.  

ORW Designation Timeline

The process for Outstanding Resource Waters designation—which has not yet been attempted in Washington but has been successful in several other states such as Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Arizona—does not require legislative approval. Instead, it relies on an administrative decision following an eligibility confirmation of nominations and a public comment period held by Ecology.

  1. June 24, 2021 – the coalition formally submitted the three nominations for the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa Rivers.
  2. August 30, 2021 – the agency confirmed all three rivers’ eligibility and initiated a public process toward ORW designation.

  3. November 2022 – the first phase of the public process included two informational webinars. Concurrently, WA Wild coordinated three different comment letters signed by 137 stakeholders that we finalized and sent in mid-December.

  4. Summer 2023 – we expect Ecology to provide a specific designation language for each river followed by a formal public comment period lasting 60 days.

After reviewing these comments the agency will make a final decision on whether to grant ORW designation for each river, likely before the end of 2023.