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Washingtonians Cheer WA Department of Ecology for Protecting Outstanding Rivers

A diverse group of community members and organizations are celebrating the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology)’s decision to designate segments of three river systems as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs). As our state’s first-ever ORWs, the designation will protect the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa river systems from any future activities or developments that would degrade water quality, protecting these critical rivers for all for generations to come.

Graphic Design by Kristen Proctor



A component of the federal Clean Water Act (1972), Outstanding Resource Water (ORW) designation allows states to identify pristine waterways that constitute an outstanding state resource due to their exceptional water quality, statewide ecological importance, and/or unique recreational value. As our state’s first-ever ORWs, the designation will protect the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa river systems from any future activities or developments that would degrade water quality. 

“My fly-fishing business is dependent on the conservation of our waters so that all of us, and those that come after us, can continue to enjoy fishing as a beloved Northwest past-time. Now, thanks to Ecology’s Outstanding Resource Waters designation, we can better ensure that we pass on a legacy of clean water and fish stocks, as good or better than was left to us.”
—Dave McCoy, owner of Emerald Water Anglers

Over the past two years and throughout an extensive public comment process, a coalition of more than 210 Tribes and local stakeholder organizations have supported the proposed ORW designations. The designations were established based on local input so they will not impact private or state timber lands. In addition, to create a more inclusive and just public process for future water quality policymaking in the state, Ecology has also announced a new rule to expand the Tribal consultation requirements to include all Tribes in the state. This change will facilitate greater participation in regulatory decisions and provide an opportunity to elevate tribal interests and values.

Meet Washington’s First-Ever ‘Outstanding’ Rivers! 

The Cascade River
149 miles flowing through North Cascades National Park and Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest 

Photo: Chris Chappell

The Cascade River is a  major tributary of the Skagit River and contributes to one of the most productive strongholds of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in Puget Sound and provides 30 percent of the freshwater that feeds into Puget Sound. As a source of freshwater and chinook salmon, the Cascade is crucial in aiding the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.

Additionally, the City of Anacortes’ drinking water comes from the Skagit River (which is fed by the Cascade). Local communities eat salmon caught in the Cascade River and swim, recreate, and earn a living from the river and its tributaries. 


“The Cascade River and its watershed are significant to the Tribe, including a historic large fishing village located at the Skagit confluence near modern-day Marblemount. This connection continues today as Upper Skagit Families still reside on the banks of the Cascade River on their historic tribal allotment properties. Ensuring that the Cascade River and its benefits to the watershed are protected as an Outstanding Resource Water is a priority for the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe.”
—Scott Schuyler, Policy representative for the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe

The Green River
44 miles flowing through Mount St Helens National Monument

Photo: Tom O’Keefe

The Green River, a main tributary of the North Fork Toutle River in the Cowlitz River Basin, is a shining example of landscape recovery and ecosystem resilience, having rebounded since the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It is an eligible Wild and Scenic River, a state-designated gene bank for wild steelhead, and provides an excellent and important spawning habitat for endangered salmon. The Green River Valley is prized by locals and tourists alike for its recreational opportunities, including the popular Green River Horse Camp, the Goat Mountain Trail, and the Green River Trail. 


“As a hiker, birder, and botanist, I value the Green River’s unique landscape, wildlife and native plants recovering from the impacts of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, and I want to thank the Department of Ecology and Governor Jay Inslee’s administration for designating it as an Outstanding Resource Water at the highest level of protection”
Susan Saul, conservation chair of the Vancouver Audubon Society 

The Napeequa River
35 miles flowing through Glacier Peak Wilderness

Photo: Thomas O’Keefe

The Napeequa River is notable for its geologic history and features. Because the Napeequa carves through a narrow, rugged canyon, a variety of ecosystems coexist—glaciers, alpine forests, old-growth forests, meadows, wetlands, and river frontage all sit side-by-side. Due to its remoteness, the river has not been impacted by centuries of human development. Its cold, pristine waters provide critical habitat for species, such as endangered Spring chinook and threatened bull trout. Both the White River and Lake Wenatchee rely on critical inputs from the Napeequa as a major tributary to provide high-quality water and habitat for downstream salmon and trout. The abundance and diversity of species present in the area underline the vital interconnectedness of the river systems.

“As a small business owner whose livelihood depends on the free-flowing waters of the Wenatchee River, the protection of headwater streams like the Napeequa is important for both my business and my family. Protecting wild waters now before they need to be restored is not only cheaper and easier but also the right thing to do.”
—Lance Reif, Owner of Wildwater River Guides in Leavenworth

Every year, Washington is experiencing more and increasingly severe impacts due to climate change. Preserving these important waterways will help mitigate these risks by ensuring that the waters are not impacted by future development or pollution. Washingtonians are thanking Ecology and Governor Jay Inslee for protecting segments of the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa rivers for generations to come.