021519 RICH Wood River views hh 749.JPG

View of a section of the winding Wood River in Richmond on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed system has recently won wild and scenic designation from the U.S. Senate. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday a public lands package that includes the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic River Act.

“These stretches of rivers support a lot of wildlife and they are critical to our communities," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island. "Securing the federal 'wild and scenic' designation is a win for Rhode Island and will help preserve the entire watershed and help more federal conservation funds flow to the state.”

The rivers in the 300-square-mile watershed, include the Beaver, Chipuxet, Green Fall-Ashaway, Queen-Usquepaugh, Pawcatuck, Shunock, and Wood rivers. The watershed is also the sole-source drinking water aquifer for thousands of people in southern Rhode Island and Connecticut. It is the first river system in Rhode island to receive the wild and scenic designation.

The act is part of a bipartisan public lands package approved by Congress last month to protect more than 1.3 million acres, 2,600 miles of new national trails, and 367 miles of new scenic rivers. Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Sens. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy co-sponsored the Wood-Pawcatuck act.

Reed noted that the overall package permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and is intended to provide access to federal funds to protect the rivers within the watershed for recreation, fishing and the protection of water quality. However, even though the president signed the authorization for the popular program, "he is simultaneously proposing to slash its funding by 95 percent," the senators said — one of many cuts that the administration is proposing across 10 major executive branches in its new budget.

Reed, in a press release, asserted that Trump's budget would be toxic for the environment. "It would essentially zero out the LWCF, take away critical conservation tools and resources, and eliminate environmental protections. I will work with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to reverse these harmful cuts and allocate funding to ensure clean air and water and protect wilderness areas and public health.” 

Supporters in the House were Democratic Reps. James Langevin, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Joe Courtney of Connecticut.

Langevin, who with Courtney introduced the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Protection Act in 2010, said: "This is a significant victory for Rhode Island that would not have been possible without the dedication of our local advocates who worked tirelessly to make this designation a reality. After years of hard work at the local, state and federal levels, we are taking a firm step to preserve the beauty and ecological value of the Wood-Pawcatuck waterways for generations to come.

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