Not many have heard of the National Blueways System designation, but it has lawmakers from affected districts hot under the collar this week.
The designation sounds nice enough. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a Secretarial Order last May and issued this press release. It establishes “a program to recognize river systems conserved through diverse stakeholder partnerships that use a comprehensive watershed approach to resource stewardship”. Sounds benign. But like an Executive Order signed by the President, a Secretarial Order also bypasses Congress, and the scrutiny it would get if it had been legislation.
Is it a big deal for the federal government to provide, as DOI’s Rebecca Wadder calls it, “a pat on the back” to states that are managing their watersheds “correctly”? Some say that it provides the federal government an additional foot in the door to the states. Some are suspicious because they were not consulted. At minimum, if it’s really just “a pat on the back”, doesn’t the DOI have better things to do with our tax dollars?
Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis from Wyoming is concerned about the imposition of this designation in her state without any local discussion or input. She details her concerns here.
Then at a hearing last week, Missouri Congressman Jason Smith, and Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton, expressed their displeasure with the program to the new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. You can see those animated discussions here and here. At this hearing, Jewell discusses pausing the Blueways program so she can look in to it. Both Congressmen, like Congresswoman Lummis are concerned about the lack of local input ahead of such designations. Congressman Tipton is additionally concerned about how this will impact private property rights. In Colorado, water rights are property rights. Ranchers and farmers own property along our waterways. Will they be restricted in their crop or livestock management by yet-to-come regulations that fall under the “resource stewardship” goal?
And Secretary Jewell has not released the stakeholder list to Congressman Tipton. Tipton asked in a hearing whether a New Jersey resident who once rafted on the Colorado River could be considered a stakeholder. Russell Boardman, supervisor of the Shoshone Conservation district in Frannie, WY, responded, “As I read it, yes.”
Who is really driving these designations and why? There are too many open questions that remain unanswered.
I believe that nearly every time a federal agency steps in to state affairs, things become worse. And when the Federal government bestows a “pat on the back” that the state didn’t request, there is cause for caution. Federal agencies should butt out, and leave us to our own affairs.