Federal Reserved Water Rights and the Bureau of Land Management:

Federal Reserved Water Rights and the Bureau of Land Management:

Wilderness designations can be considered the most restrictive of the federal land management designation. Reserved water rights are set aside pursuant to the Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 USC section 1131). Development within wilderness areas is restricted, and these restrictions extend to the development of water supplies. The Wilderness Act reserves the amount of water within the wilderness area necessary to preserve and protect the specific values responsible for designation of the area, and to provide for public enjoyment of these values. Only the minimum amount of water necessary to fulfill the primary purpose of the reservation may be asserted as a reserved right.

Wild and Scenic River designations are derived from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 (16 USC section 1271). This legislation 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 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”. Designation of a stream or river segment as “wild and scenic” prevents construction of flow modifying structures and other facilities on the selected stretch. The area of restricted development can vary, but generally includes at least the area within one-quarter mile of the ordinary high water mark on either side of the river. The act also reserved to the United States the amount of unappropriated water flowing through the public lands necessary to preserve and protect in free-flowing condition the specific values which were responsible for designation of the watercourse. The act, however, does not automatically reserve the entire unappropriated flow of the river.

Pearl Rains Hewett

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