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Lummis: It’s Time to Sink the Blueways Order

Posted: Wednesday, Jul 24th, 2013

This column is an open call for Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to disavow the National Blueways Order.  If you are wondering what a “Blueway” is, you are not alone.  Few in Wyoming knew until word spread that the Department of the Interior wanted to designate the Yellowstone River Watershed as a “National Blueway” under Secretarial Order 3321.

So what is a Blueway?  According to Interior official Rebecca Wodder, a Blueway is a “pat on the back” that will bring “recognition to big river systems.”  The consistent message from Interior is that the program is voluntary, collaborative, and non-regulatory.  Over the last several months, however, this message has turned out to be patently false.

First, consider the source.  A Secretarial Order is an executive order that comes from a cabinet secretary and not the President.  It is not a law passed by Congress.  New federal land and water designations created by secretarial fiat smell fishy from the start. 

Moreover, Ms. Wodder is the former CEO of American Rivers, a litigation-happy organization where she took policy positions so far on the fringe that she was forced to withdraw from her presidential nomination to an appointed position at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  From her consolation perch as a “senior advisor” to the Secretary, her new rivers project is the Blueways Order.

Second, listen to the experts from Wyoming who traveled to Washington to oppose a Yellowstone River designation.  Shoshone Conservation District Supervisor Russell Boardman testified in April that the Order’s objectives will undermine local conservation efforts, as the Order ignores agriculture, municipal water delivery, hydropower and the many other demands on Wyoming’s scarce water resources.

Just this week, Cheyenne property and water rights expert Karen Budd-Falen testified that she had examined the order and found no basis in law for Interior to claim this massive designation authority.  She found flaws in the Order too numerous to list, including the potential for regulatory and litigation burdens produced by the Order.  More litigation and regulation on Wyoming water and land users is the last thing our State needs.

Third, notice the secrecy under which Interior pursued the Blueway designation of the White River in Missouri and Arkansas.  Instead of conducting an open, public process, Interior cherry-picked a handful of local supporters, promised more federal dollars, and made the designation while keeping the majority of local governments and stakeholders in the dark.  Once residents knew what hit them, and realized that the designation would have real impacts on their ability to use land and water in their backyard, the public outcry forced Secretary Jewell to withdraw the designation.

Enter the Yellowstone River Watershed.  About half of the watershed, or 22 million acres, is in Wyoming.  Yet the Department of the Interior did not approach a single Wyoming official or water user—not a one—about Interior’s desire to slap a new federal designation on Wyoming’s river systems, the lifeblood of our communities.  This lack of an open process is eerily similar to the White River experience and legitimized the concerns of Wyoming residents that a Blueways designation could be foisted on them over their objection.  When you take away the flowery rhetoric of the Blueways Order, all signs point in one direction: more Washington control over land and water in Wyoming. 

Over the last several months, the Wyoming delegation, Congressional Western Caucus, and House Natural Resources Committee have waged an aggressive oversight initiative over the Blueways Order.  In response, Secretary Jewell has announced that she will “pause” the Blueways Order in order to educate herself about it.  My message to Secretary Jewell is that the education should already have occurred.  The results are in.  The Blueways experiment has failed.  If Secretary Jewell or Ms. Wodder wants a voluntary, collaborative, non-regulatory rivers program, they already have it in the form of the hundreds of state and local conservation efforts already underway and already supported in Wyoming and the west.

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