Secure Outstanding Resource Water Designation
The North Fork Smith in Oregon has been designated as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW) – the first in the state of Oregon.
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 in the Smith River National Recreation Area and the North Fork and its tributaries are designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. The proposed designation would be 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 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.
The North Fork Smith River is an outstanding candidate for several reasons:
The outstanding clarity of its water and habitat for Coho salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and other salmon species. Moreover, its Darlingtonia wetlands support five rare species of plants protected by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Agreement.
The waters of the North Fork Smith River in Oregon are critical to supporting unique botanical ecosystems, fisheries, drinking water supplies in California, and recreational and tourism activities. In particular, DEQ finds that the North Fork Smith River is a river of exceptional recreational significance.
The remote location and lack of access to the North Fork Smith River watershed, as well as management plans by the U.S. Forest Service, makes protection of the outstanding water quality and habitat value of the area technically feasible.
There would be no near-term impacts of ORW designation for grazing, mining and forestry, as these activities do not currently occur in the watershed, and the designation would likely benefit recreational businesses and users.
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.