Pristine waters of the North Fork Smith River
In April, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality took comments on whether to initiate a rulemaking process to protect the pristine and Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and all of its tributaries as “Outstanding Resource Waters” – a designation that would prevent any new pollution or degradation for one of our state’s cleanest and most beautiful waterways.
The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, which oversees DEQ, then decided to direct the state agency tasked with protecting clean water to move forward with a rulemaking process to formally consider the ORW designations. This is progress!
The North Fork Smith River and its tributaries flow through Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lands in remote southwest Oregon’s Curry County. The watershed includes the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the North Fork Smith River Wild and Scenic River corridor, as well as the South Kalmiopsis, Packsaddle, and Baldface Creek Roadless Areas.
In Oregon, 88% of the North Fork Smith River watershed is either a “Wilderness” or “Roadless Area” classification, but roughly 30,000 acres remain open to mining.
And of course, there are challengers.
A proposal for an industrial nickel strip mine by a foreign-owned mining company is pending for the North Fork Smith watershed, so consideration of this ORW process is timely to ensure this beautiful natural area is protected.
The proposal is strongly opposed by local communities, businesses, and anglers. With the exceptional water quality and critical habitat of the North Fork watershed under threat, WaterWatch is actively working with a team of fellow conservationists to protect this precious resource.
The Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River watershed is home to some of Oregon’s most extraordinarily high quality water as required for a designation. Two studies by the U.S. Forest Service found the North Fork Smith River to be “outstandingly remarkable” because of its exceptional water quality and pristine salmon habitat.
Other states have routinely protected their highest quality waters under the Clean Water Act as the Commission is considering. For example, California has designated two Outstanding National Resource Waters. Wisconsin has protected 254 streams, and New Mexico has protected 194 streams – all as ONRW. Oregon has never designated one.
Consistent with Oregon’s actions, California is also now considering Outstanding National Resource Water designations for the remainder of the Smith River watershed across the border from Oregon.
Support WaterWatch in our ongoing effort to protect and restore free flowing Oregon rivers, like the North Fork Smith River, by making a contribution today. By so doing, you will stand up to strip miners and send a message that our state’s natural beauty and resources are not for sale.
Rare plants found naturally by the river
Beautiful North Fork Smith waters