Secure Outstanding Resource Water Designation
The North Fork Smith River Unanimously Designated as Oregon’s first Outstanding Resource Water
Portland, OR—The five-member panel of the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted unanimously Thursday, July 17, 2017 to designate the North Fork Smith River in southern Oregon as the first Outstanding Resource Water in the State of Oregon. The designation stems from a citizen petition to the commission in 2016.
The North Fork Smith River begins in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in southern Oregon and is a federally-designated Wild and Scenic River. It is a 28 mile tributary of the Smith River that flows south into California and the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
The decision adds protections under Oregon’s water quality standards to ensure that there is no degradation of water quality in these waters. The policies would prohibit new permitted point source discharges to the waters and would prohibit other activities that could degrade the current high water quality, exceptional ecological characteristics and values of the waters.
This is Oregon’s first designation of an Outstanding Resource Water, and the first in the Pacific Northwest. The waters of the North Fork Smith River offer exceptional clarity and a vibrant blue color. The pristine conditions are valuable habitat for endangered populations of Coho salmon, several rare plant species and other fish and wildlife, making this designation an unparalleled opportunity for protection.
The North Fork Smith River watershed in Oregon includes 57,990 acres, over half of the entire North Fork Smith River watershed. The balance of the North Fork Smith watershed is located in the Smith River National Recreation Area where the North Fork and its tributaries are all designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. The ORW designation is an important and critical step toward ensuring that the current high water quality of the Smith in Oregon is maintained.
A recently published report by the Oregon DEQ concluded that the North Fork Smith River, its tributaries and associated wetlands should be classified as Outstanding Resource Waters.
In addition, agency policy specifically identifies National Wild and Scenic Rivers and waters in federally designated wilderness areas as priorities for ORW nomination. The entire main stem of North Fork Smith River in Oregon is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and much of the upper watershed lies within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.
What is an Outstanding Resource Waters Designation?
Oregon’s water quality standards define three classifications of state waters: water quality limited waters, high quality waters and outstanding resource waters (ORWs). ORWs are defined as, “high quality waters that have extraordinary or unique character or ecological value, or are critical habitat areas, such that they constitute an outstanding state or national resource.” Oregon DEQ’s antidegradation policy requires that the special water quality and ecological values of ORWs must be protected.
The ORW designation would prohibit any activities that would degrade water quality. Surface mining has the potential to degrade water quality and, as a result, would likely be restricted or prohibited in the area of designation. However, the area has been withdrawn from surface mining as a use within the watershed for 20 years. Moreover, the U.S. Congress is discussing legislation that would place a permanent withdrawal on mining.