What does being a wild and scenic river mean for the Chattooga River? Let’s try to understand the answers.
Our Nation’s River Classes
First, you must know about the way the United States government classifies rivers: as recreational, scenic or wild.
If a river can easily be gotten to by road or rail, abuts shoreline development and has been diverted or stopped by humans, this is a Recreational River Area. It can also be the section of a longer river with multiple classifications.
If a river is not impounded and mostly undeveloped, though accessible in part by roads, this is a Scenic River Area.
If a river is only accessed by trail and also free of built-up, impounding features, this is a river or section of which that is classed Wild River Area.
Despite these designations, it’s important to know that only 0.33 percent of our nation’s rivers are actually protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
What It Means
Whatever the class, every river in the system is protected in some form. This protection is provided on different levels – first on a voluntary basis by local citizens and landowners. Next by city, state and federal governments. Where applicable, tribal governments are also involved. The protection does not forbid development. It does not wrest control from any private property along the rivers; so too recreation, agriculture and residential development are not prohibited. The protection does affect new plans for dams and river development by withholding federal backing for their construction. Specifically, if they threaten:
- water quality
- free-flowing water
- outstanding natural resources
How Much Area is Affected?
From December 2014, the Wild and Scenic River system gives Federal protection to 208 rivers, totaling 12,709 miles in length across 39 states, including Puerto Rico. Compare this to our country’s 75,000 dams, which have affected over 600,000 miles (17 percent) of the nation’s river systems.
The Chattooga Wild and Scenic Status
In 1974, the Chattooga became Georgia’s only Wild and Scenic River. Beginning in North Carolina, it courses into Georgia unimpeded for 50 miles. But it makes up just 7/100ths of 1 percent of the rivers in the state.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)”