The DEQ voted unanimously to give the North Fork of the Smith Outstanding Resource Waters designation, which will protect the river, its tributaries, and associated wetlands from any activity that could degrade water quality. The rule will become state law effective immediately, but requires approval by the Environmental Protection Agency to take effect under the Clean Water Act.
It is Oregon’s first river to be protected under this designation. Trout Unlimited (TU) was an early advocate for this action, which was strongly supported by other regional and national sportsmen’s organizations.
“This is a huge win for sportsmen,” said Dean Finnerty, organizer for Trout Unlimited in southwestern Oregon. “While the agency has had this tool at their disposal for more than 20 years, the challenge of protecting the Smith — one of the best wild salmon and steelhead streams in the Lower 48 — presented an opportunity to use the designation for the first time ever. This will go a long way to protect the water quality and ecological values of a uniquely pristine system.”
The designation garnered overwhelming support during the public process. More than 1,300 comments came in with only eight opposing the proposal.
The Smith will now have multiple layers of protection. In addition, the Oregon Water Resources Department is considering a withdrawal of the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries from additional allocations, limiting water than can be withdrawn from the river.
“This proposal was brought forth by ordinary people who love to hunt and fish and play in this extraordinary place,” Finnerty said. “They can all be very proud of this result.”