CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming will get a say over whether the Yellowstone River is given a special federal designation, a possibility that drew concern from the state's congressional delegation, whose members worried the designation could limit the river's use.
On Tuesday the delegation said they felt assured — to an extent — that Wyoming will get a say if the river is designated as part of a National Blueways System.
U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis had previously said the National Blueways System was a federal power grab. But in a statement Tuesday, they said that they received a letter from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that promised rivers won't get the federal designation unless states first OK it.
(Salazar's) “commitment to Wyoming is a positive step,” Barrasso said in a prepared statement, adding that he remains miffed the Blueways program was created by a federal order, which bypassed Congress.
“We plan to hold future Interior Department officials to Secretary Salazar’s criteria,” he said.
According to The Associated Press, Salazar hopes to return to his home state of Colorado as soon as next week if his potential replacement, Sally Jewell, is confirmed.
The members of the all-Republican Wyoming delegation fired off a letter to Salazar about the Blueways program on Feb. 14. They had learned an Interior Department representative visited with the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council, a group composed of a dozen conservation districts in Montana, and said the Yellowstone River could be a candidate for the Blueways designation.
The Yellowstone River flows through Montana and North Dakota, but the headwaters and watershed are in Wyoming.
“If a nominated river and its watershed include land in more than one state, the nomination process will also require a letter of support from states with a significant portion of the watershed within their borders,” Salazar’s letter stated.
According to the federal order that created the Blueways, there would be no new regulations or changes in governmental authority if a river became part of the program.
The program was created to promote conservation and recreation on rivers, “from headwaters to mouth,” according to an Interior Department website.
“What may seem like a harmless federal designation today could have significant impacts down the road on water rights, responsible development and locally-determined conservation efforts,” Lummis said in the statement. “The secretary’s commitment, if honored by his successors, will ensure Wyoming has final say over whether we allow the Blueways designation within our borders.”
Enzi will also hold future Interior Department secretaries to Salazar’s words.
“Wyoming has learned over the years that when the federal government wants to designate something, there are always strings attached,” he said in the statement.