Omnibus bill includes key river protections, but more action needed

From American Rivers:

American Rivers is very pleased to see Congress protect and restore rivers as a part of an end of year spending bill including new Wild and Scenic River designations and studies for nearly 200 miles of rivers in Maine, Connecticut, and Florida. A bipartisan group of members of Congress championed these protections including U.S. Senators Angus King Jr. (I) and Susan Collins (R) from Maine and U.S. Representatives Darren Soto (D) and Vern Buchanan (R) from Florida.

The legislation moving through Congress is a step forward and in addition to the aforementioned, we applaud the hard work championed by Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Mitt Romney (R-UT), John Barrasso (R-AK) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Susie Lee (D-NV), Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Rosa Delauro (D-CT), Kay Granger (R-TX), Jahana Hayes (D-CT) along with Joe Neguse (D-CO), Dina Titus (D-NV), Jason Crow (D-CO) and Diana DeGette (D-CO).

The York River Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2021 (HR 1469 / S. 491) and Housatonic Wild and Scenic River Act of 2022 (HR. 7551/ S. 4122) made it onto the omnibus. The federal designation would bring federal recognition and resources to the river towns upstream and downstream to support conservation efforts. This includes enhanced recreation use, clean water, habitat for wildlife, and countless other benefits.

Additionally, Wild and Scenic studies and interim protections for the Little Manatee and Kissimmee Rivers in Florida were also included. For the Kissimmee the bill would study protection of the source of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and the heart of water supplies for central Florida. After decades of restoration and spending nearly $1 billion, over 63,000 acres of wetlands has been re-established within the watershed for fish, wildlife, and flora. This study would consider protecting that investment by authorizing a study to assess inclusion of the river in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.  For the Little Manatee, which flows 51-miles from its headwaters into Tampa Bay, the study would analyze protections for one of the most pristine blackwater rivers in Florida, which is already recognized by the State as an ‘Outstanding Florida Water’.

“Protecting rivers isn’t a luxury, it’s essential to our health, our economy, and the future of our country. We urge the next Congress to build on this bipartisan opportunity to protect rivers so we can preserve clean water, nature, and sacred values for future generations,” said Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers.

Several other provisions made it onto the omnibus which enhance resilience in the Colorado River Basin. This includes the Colorado River Basin Conservation Act, which authorizes the System Conservation Pilot Program 2023 and 2024. This is a key voluntary water conservation program that can help address drought in the region and builds on past successes to incentivize and support voluntary water conservation across the Upper Colorado River Basin. If successfully implemented, it will help keep more water in the Colorado River and in so doing advance basin-wide efforts to protect critical elevations at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Additionally, the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act (S. 3693/H.R. 5001) was included, protecting four threatened and endangered native fish species in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins. This extends conservation programs for one year to give partners and communities time to develop a long-term management plan to ensure continued recovery and protection of the threatened and endangered fish species in that region.

Time is running short. While we welcome the progress made to include river protections, more needs to be done this next Congress to protect clean water and wildlife, support local economies, and strengthen communities in the face of climate impacts. Bills have been introduced in Congress to protect 7,000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers. American Rivers will look to the 118th Congress to advance these durable and comprehensive bipartisan solutions,” said Kiernan.

The omnibus spending bill is a $1.7 trillion bill that funds federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of the Interior (DOI). EPA received a $576 million increase from current levels to support the agency’s science, environmental, and enforcement work. The bill also includes $14.7 billion for DOI programs, an increase of $574 million above fiscal year 2022 enacted levels.

Congress must pass the omnibus by Friday, December 23, 2022, to avoid a lapse in government funding. American Rivers looks forward to tracking its development and seeing the omnibus ultimately signed into law without any anti-environmental riders.


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