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Blueways designation causes concern for agriculture and landowners

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In May of 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a Secretarial Order to establish a National Blueways System to further protect U.S. waterways.

“This Order establishes a program to recognize river systems conserved through diverse stakeholder partnerships that use a comprehensive watershed approach to resource stewardship,” reads the Order. “The National Blueways System will provide a new national emphasis on the unique value and significance of a ‘headwaters to mouth’ approach to river management.”

Blueways background

As part of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, the National Blueways System aims to encourage “community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

With goals of helping to coordinate federal, state and local partners in conservation efforts, the new system causes concern in its inclusion of entire rivers, from “source to sea,” as well as the river’s watershed under protection.

The first river to receive the designation was the Connecticut River in May 2012.

Cause for concern

Along with concern from local groups, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have expressed concern about the new designation.

In a letter sent to Secretary Salazar, the House Western Caucus said, “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and it should be managed for the benefit of the community in a transparent fashion. While water law varies by region, non-navigable water is managed by the states, not the federal government.”

“Any designation by a federal agency that directly or indirectly attempts to manage the non-navigable headwaters of many of our nation’s rivers, would be a usurpation of state authority,” added the letter.

Additionally, the House Western Caucus urged Secretary Salazar to immediately withdraw the Order, Secretarial Order 3321, adding that further proposals to create new land and water designations be brought before and considered in Congress.

“We also encourage you to bring proposals to Congress that are creating new land and water designations so that we may consider them through the normal committee process and with public transparency,” said the Caucus.

Wyoming delegation

The Wyoming Congressional delegation also expressed concern about the designation, largely because it bypassed Congress. 

“The Secretarial Order does not require that residents of impacted areas be afforded the opportunity to participate in advance of a Committee decision to recommend a designation,” wrote U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis in a letter to Salazar. “This is unacceptable.”

The letter continued, “Impacted individuals and communities should be brought into the process at the beginning, not after major decisions have been reached. We ask that upon the receipt of a request for designation impacting any watershed in Wyoming, that local Wyoming stakeholders within the watersheds be immediately notified of the request.” 

The delegation also referred to the designation as a “power grab” on a similar level as the Wildlands designation.

When addressing Wyoming Farm Bureau’s legislative meeting in late February, Lummis said, “The new designation is a way they want to oversee non-navigable water.”

She continued, “They have invented this program that is completely agency driven, with no public input and no rule making.”

“It says, ‘We are not going to take over state water law, we’re going to work with local jurisdictions to make sure that we protect the values of the watershed,’” she said. “What does that mean?”

She further continued that the committee considering the designations is made of interagency bureaucrats without local input.

Wyoming rivers

Though watersheds in Wyoming have been spared from designation as a National Blueway, some groups are concerned that such a designation may soon be granted for the Yellowstone River in the northwest corner of the state.

“Anyone can submit a request for designation as a National Blueway,” commented Bobbie Frank, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts executive director, “and the Executive Order doesn’t sound like they have to consult with local governments.”

“The current focus is the Yellowstone, the headwaters of which are in Wyoming,” added Lummis. “This is something to watch.”

“Our members from our delegation, the Western Caucus and our Boards have all voted to not support such a thing,” said Frank.

For more information on the National Blueways System, visit

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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