The University of Delaware Water Resources Center (UDWRC) worked with the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) and National Park Service (NPS) and to evaluate the potential eligibility and suitability of designating streams on the Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI) to the National Wild & Scenic River system (W&S) in Delaware. During the 1970s and 1980s, the NPS mapped the NRI that listed 41 river segments in Delaware as potentially eligible for W&S river designation (Figure 1). Since 2000, the White Clay Creek has been the sole W&S river in Delaware and after 20 years of successful management the thought is more rivers could be added to the system. UDWRC research students (Figure 2) assisted with the reconnaissance study that began in summer 2021 with delivery of a December 2021 draft report.
Eligible and Suitable Wild & Scenic Rivers: The 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provided three ways to add a W&S river system through studies of eligibility and suitability:
● Section 2(a)(ii) upon application of a governor of a state.
● Section 5(a) directs agencies to study specific rivers as authorized by Congress
● Section 5(d)(1) directs land agencies (NPS) to initiate wild & scenic river studies as planning processes.
Eligibility: To be eligible for designation, a river must be free-flowing and possess outstandingly remarkable values (ORV) that are river-dependent natural, cultural, or recreational resources and unique, rare, or exemplary at a regional or national scale. The eligibility analysis examines the river’s hydrology, including man-made alterations, and an inventory of its natural, cultural, and recreational resources.
Suitability: The final step in the river assessment process for wild and scenic designation is determination of suitability which rivers should be recommended for addition to the National System and an agency’s recommendation to Congress. The recommendation to Congress is made by the National Park Service via a document that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The UDWRC conducted the reconnaissance study in accordance with the following scope of work:
1. National Rivers Inventory: Map 41 rivers on the NPS NRI in Delaware and add Red Clay Creek and Christina River or 43 rivers total. Characterize river segment by land use, population, soils, geology, dams, demographics (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice indicators), and political boundaries.
2. Outstanding Resource Values: Identify ORVs such as scenery, recreation, geology, fish, wildlife, prehistory, history, cultural (DEIJ) and for each of the 43 rivers.
3. Local Partners: Identify local environmental committees, watershed organizations/associations, nonprofits, NGOs, and stakeholders for each NRI who may support W&S designation.
4. Eligibility/Suitability: Prioritize and recommend rivers for further Phase I study of W&S eligibility by the NPS and Phase II study of suitability based on conserved land and local support in each NRI.
5. Report: Prepare report recommending NPS study of Delaware rivers most eligible & suitable for W&S river designation.