The Potomac and portions of the Susquehanna watershed were included among the first 14 “American Heritage Rivers,” a designation intended to bring an added measure of federal coordination to restoration activities.
“Rivers are the lifeblood that connects our communities, and the lifeline that connects us to generations past and future,” Vice President Al Gore said at a White House ceremony naming the rivers in late July. Protecting America’s rivers is “not only a priority, it’s a moral obligation,” he said.
Communities along the selected rivers will receive federal support over the next five years to carry out their plans for revitalizing their rivers and riverfronts.
There is no new money for the program, first announced by President Clinton last year. The federal assistance will come primarily in the form of a designated “river navigator” — a federal employee who will help communities identify available federal programs and grants. That will help cities and towns along these rivers tap into programs to help fight pollution, build greenways and paths, and protect watersheds.
The river navigator, to be selected in consultation with the community, should be in place for each river within three to six months.
The initiative received more than 126 applications, which detailed environmental restoration and economic revitalization plans, for rivers in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Supporters cheered the Potomac River’s selection. “This will enable towns and communities along the river to continue the economic and environmental renaissance of our ‘Nation’s River,’ which has been so closely tied to the 350 years of America’s history, commerce, recreation and culture,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a strong supporter of the Potomac application.
“We’re thrilled,” said Karen Zachary, coordinator of the application submitted by the Friends of the Potomac. The organization’s 46-member steering committee includes representatives from local governments, riverside industries and environmental organizations.
In Pennsylvania, the Upper Susquehanna between Sunbury and Pittston, and the Lackawanna River which flows into it, were also designated. The combined Upper Susquehanna-Lackawanna watershed stretches 1,789 square miles and contains nearly 1,600 miles of rivers and streams.
After being rejected by a presidential advisory committee, which earlier this year nominated 10 rivers for the program, Clinton added four more — including the Susquehanna-Lackawanna — before the final selections were unveiled in late July.
Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat who pushed for including the Upper Susquehanna and the Lackawanna, praised community groups for crafting an application with a long-term and comprehensive vision.
“We recognized the importance of cleaning up the entire area for our future economic growth and emphasized planned development as much as environmental restoration,” he said. “President Clinton obviously understands how much our area can benefit from this recognition.”
In announcing the 14 picks, Gore called the waterways a catalyst for economic revitalization and cultural renewal.
“Working together as partners, we can clean up America’s rivers, create new jobs and strengthen the communities that surround them for generations to come,” Gore said.
Besides the Potomac, the original 10 that were nominated are: the Connecticut River, which runs from northern New Hampshire to Long Island Sound; the Detroit River in Michigan; the Hanalei River in Hawaii; the Hudson River in New York; the New River in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia; the Rio Grande in Texas; the St. Johns River in Florida; the Upper Mississippi River, from Minnesota to Illinois; and the Willamette River in Oregon.
Besides the Susquehanna-Lackawanna, the four rivers added by Clinton in the final selection are: the Cuyahoga River in Ohio; the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; and the Lower Mississippi River in Louisiana and Tennessee.