The NCSL Blog

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By Kim Tyrrell

Rivers have long served as a centerpiece of communities and support a variety of economies and purposes: urban, rural, agricultural, industrial and recreational.

Rivers, such as California’s Smith River, provide vital benefits that support human health and the conservation of species and habitats well beyond their banks. States and the federal government can harness this value by protecting river ecosystems. Brett ColeWhile their value is indisputable, their viability is in question. In a series of reports released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, river systems in six western states—Oregon, California, Washington, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado—were studied, providing data for protecting rivers, streams and watersheds.

Broadly speaking, the reports suggest the federal government, states, tribes and communities are in a position to do more to safeguard these vital natural resources. The reports identify key river segments that could be considered for new protections through a rigorous assessment based on measurable factors, such as water quality, species richness and recreational significance.

States have access to several tools or policy options to ensure the conservation of rivers and freshwater resources. In particular, state or federal designations such as those provided under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Clean Water Act, and state wild and scenic laws can offer a variety of protections including preservation of water quality, protection from oil, gas and mineral development, as well as alterations to water flow such as damming. 

NCSL has long advocated for strong state control and flexibility in managing water resources. NCSL staff track water resources and other state policy trends in the Environment and Natural Resources Database. These trends, resources and much more will be shared in the new environmental policy newsletter launching in January 2022—sign up today.

Check out the Pew reports, along with additional information.

Kim Tyrrell is a program director in NCSL's Energy, Environment and Transportation Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.