On January 9, 2013, officials who represented state agencies in Arkansas and Missouri, along with federal government officials, announced the designation of the White River and its entire basin—or watershed—as a “National Blueway.” The White River is the second watershed in the United States to receive this Blueway designation; the Connecticut River was the first.
The Connecticut River is a 410-mile long river with a 7.2 million acre watershed that flows across four northeastern states—Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The White River begins in Arkansas’ Boston Mountains and flows north into Missouri before turning south and flowing through the Arkansas Delta, making its way to the Mississippi River. The White River Watershed covers 21 counties in Missouri and 39 in Arkansas. It encompasses 17.8 million acres along its 722-mile run to the Mississippi River, and more than 1.2 million people live in 273 communities within this watershed.
The National Blueway System is part of a larger federal initiative known as America’s Great Outdoors. President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative in order to develop his 21st century conservation and recreation program. Then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salizar, with Secretarial Order 3321, first designated the Connecticut River Watershed, followed by the White River Watershed as National Blueways, a term he coined. The secretarial order appears to allow any watershed in the U.S. to be designated as a National Blueway, going around Congress and the American voters. This is an infringement on American’s private property rights, and federal bureaucrats gave no initial notification, nor requested any input from local county government or private landowners before taking action.
The National Blueway designation brings together unelected environmental stakeholders and organizations, as well local, state, federal, and even international officials to determine environmental issues for local regions. Some of these groups have aligned themselves with the United Nations Agenda Twenty-One movement.
The U.S. Department of Interior, in an effort to promote conservation and outdoor recreation, has gone around the traditional legislative process by creating this initiative through federal agency order.
Critics are saying that the federal government has other motives in mind besides conservation and recreation. They feel that the government means to ultimately control all the waters of the United States, including streams, lakes, and ponds. Under the current Clean Water Act, federal regulators only have control of navigable waters, but they have been trying for years to remove the word “navigable” from the act, and thus claim control of all the waters of the United States. Water laws vary from region to region and state to state, but most smaller non-navigable waterways fall under the management of the state and not the federal government, while the larger and navigable waterways fall under federal government control.
The National Blueway System is potentially massive in scope, especially when one considers the size of our current watersheds. For example, the Columbia River Watershed covers over 144 million acres; the Mississippi River Watershed covers over 300 million acres; and the longest U.S. river, the Missouri River that flows over 2,300 miles, has a watershed that covers over 338.5 million acres. Should these areas be designated National Blueways, they would all be controlled by the federal government.
Because the National Blueway watershed system went around the legislative process and was created by federal agency order, this has left property owners and state legislators concerned about the federal government ignoring individual state’s sovereignty and concerned about the impact this program will have on American landowners, businesses, and people who live and work within these watersheds.