Declaring rivers "the lifeblood of our nations," President Clinton launched an effort in September to designate 10 waterways as American Heritage Rivers that will get extra federal attention.

A designation under the program will allow communities, through a liaison called a "river navigator," to tap existing federal resources and expertise in protecting and restoring the waterway. The first designations were expected to be made early next year.

"Today we are going to rededicate our country to restoring our river heritage and to reaffirm one of our oldest values, the importance of safeguarding our national treasures for all generations to come," Clinton said.

"Through this voluntary program which I first proposed in the State of the Union address, we will lend our hand of assistance to community-led waterfront projects that protect natural resources, promote economic revitalization and preserve our cultural heritage."

The American Heritage Rivers Initiative will:

 

  1. Designate 10 rivers as American Heritage Rivers within a year

     

    Any river community working to improve or protect a river will be eligible to nominate a river or river stretch for presidential designation. Private citizens, landowners, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, Native American tribes and elected officials are examples of the types of groups that will work with other members of their community to nominate a river.

    Applications are due Dec. 10. Nominations will be reviewed by a blue ribbon panel of government officials and independent experts. The panel will make recommendations to the president, who will announce the first river designations in early 1998.

  2. Support the local community's goals for that river or river stretch

     

    The program will support outstanding, community-based efforts designed to ensure the vitality of the river in community life for future generations. It is a locally driven program: Communities know best what they need; and it is the federal government's role to support those efforts. Participation is voluntary and must be initiated by the community. Designation will not impose any new regulations or other new requirements.

  3. Help cut red tape and provide focused federal support to designated rivers

     

     

    Designated river communities will have a vision of how they want to improve their waters and waterfront. It could include a new waterfront park, more opportunities for fishing and boating, better water quality, or the transformation of abandoned industrial buildings into art galleries and offices.

    The federal government's role is to help realize that vision. There are dozens of existing federal programs that could be part of a river community's menu for success. Once a community is chosen, a full-time contact, called a "River Navigator," will be available to help match community needs with available resources from existing programs. Grants and loans could be made available. Federal agencies will also make existing field staff and resources available to each American Heritage River.

    These experts will work with the River Navigator and the community to attack pollution problems, build greenway and pedestrian paths, protect watersheds, rebuild historic docks, identify native trees and plants, and seek out other economic opportunities.

    A "Good Neighbor" policy will ensure that assistance provided by government agencies fulfills community goals and does not add more paperwork, procedure or headaches. This coordinated and focused effort will reduce government red tape and the potential overlap of government services.

  4. Develop additional information for the use of all river communities

     

    Through the American Heritage Rivers web site, valuable information about our nation's rivers will become easily available to everyone. Information organized geographically on flood events, population change, road network, condition of water resources and partnerships already at work in the area will be available.

    Customized maps and environmental and educational assessment models will also be made available.

    For information about the program, and to get nomination forms, see the American Heritage River site on the World Wide Web: www.epa.gov/rivers/