Federal: What is the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System?

The Lamprey is a Wild and Scenic River as designated by the US Congress. Enacted in 1968, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (P.L. 90-542, as amended) was created to balance long-standing federal policies promoting the construction of dams, levees, and other river development projects with one that would permanently preserve selected rivers, or river segments, in their free-flowing condition.

Section 1(b) of the act states:

"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)

The original act designated eight rivers into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and specified processes by which other rivers could be added to the system. According to the National Park Service, “As of 2008, the 40th anniversary of the Act, the National System protects more than 11,000 miles of 166 rivers in 38 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; this is a little more than one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) of the nation's rivers. By comparison, more than 75,000 large dams across the country have modified at least 600,000 miles, or about 17%, of American rivers.” Of the designated river segments, only seven are located in New England: the Farmington in Connecticut; the Allagash in Maine; the Sudbury, Assabet, Concord (SuAsCo) rivers system, Taunton, and Westfield in Massachussetts; the Wildcat and the Lamprey in New Hampshire.

How does Wild and Scenic River designation protect the river?

Each river designated into the national system receives permanent protection from the building of new federally licensed or assisted dams, diversions, stream straightenings, and other water projects that would have a direct and adverse effect on its free-flowing conditions and special resources. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act explicitly prohibits any new dam or other project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on or directly affecting a designated river segment. In addition, the act requires that all other proposed federally assisted water projects in the area be evaluated for their potential impacts on the river's special features. Any project that might result in adverse effects to the designated segment is precluded under the act.

This same protection is provided on a temporary basis for rivers that are under formal, legislatively authorized study for potential inclusion in the national system. The interim protection remains in effect from the date that the study was authorized, up to three years, unless the US Congress does one of the following: (1) makes a decision on whether or not to designate the river into the national system, or (2) receives a final study report from the president of the United States.  

To ensure protection of the designated rivers, the National Park Service provides funding for administrative and other costs to the Lamprey Rivers Advisory Committee. These funds are used primarily for research, outreach, and protection of land adjacent to the river through conservation easements, the purchase of ecologically sensitive properties, and partnerships with natural resource protection groups.

For more information about the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, click here. http://www.rivers.gov/. Click here for Wild and Scenic River frequently asked questions.

How can a river be designated into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System?

To be considered eligible for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a river segment, together with its adjacent lands, must support one or more "outstandingly remarkable" natural, cultural, or recreational resource values. Such resource values must be directly related to or dependent upon the river. The "outstandingly remarkable" threshold within the act is designed to be interpreted through the professional judgment of the designation study team.  

Segments of the Lamprey were granted Wild and Scenic Rivers status on November 12, 1996 and May 2, 2000. The total designated segment extends from the former Bunker Pond Dam in the town of Epping to the confluence with the Piscassic River in the vicinity of the Durham-Newmarket town line, a distance of 23.5 miles. Due to the lack of federal lands along the Lamprey, and a presumed desire to keep it this way, designation included a strong local commitment toward protection of the river and its special values.

The Lamprey received Wild and Scenic Rivers designation based on three resource values:

  • ecology: The Lamprey River is the most important tributary to the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Its largely undeveloped and natural floodplain, shoreline, and wetlands provide an outstanding diversity of wildlife habitats. In addition, the designated segment historically has supported regionally significant populations of freshwater mussel species, including the New Hampshire endangered brook floater. For more information about what ecology is, click here.
  • anadromous fish: The Lamprey River is recognized as the state's most important anadromous fishery due to the number of species and quality of habitat. For more information about the Lamprey's fish, visit the wildlife and ecology section or click here to view an excellent article by NH Fish and Wildlife about river herring.
  • archaeology: Wadleigh Falls in Lee is recognized as one of the earliest and most important pre-colonial sites in New Hampshire. The Wiswall Falls area, centered on a former mill site, is significant for its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.