STATEMENT OF JOHN G. PARSONS, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR LANDS, RESOURCES, AND PLANNING, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, AND RECREATION OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 2352, TO DESIGNATE PORTIONS OF THE WEKIVA RIVER AND ASSOCIATED TRIBUTARIES AS A COMPONENT OF THE NATIONAL WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS SYSTEM.

APRIL 27, 2000


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interiorís views on S. 2352, to designate portions of the Wekiva River and associated tributaries as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The Department supports S. 2352 with amendments.

In 1996, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of the Wekiva River, Seminole Creek, and Rock Springs Run for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (Public Law 104-311). Black Water Creek, which links Seminole Creek with the Wekiva River, was included in the study at the request of the Lake County Water Authority. For the most part, S. 2352 is consistent with the findings of the study.

The Wekiva River Basin is located in Orange, Seminole, and Lake Counties, Florida. The basin contains some of Floridaís most valuable and unusual natural resources due to its location, where the temperate and tropical climatic zones meet. The region contains a delicate and complex ecosystem of rivers, springs, seepage areas, lakes, streams, sinkholes, wetland prairies, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, longleaf pine and wiregrass, xeric scrub oak and sand pine scrub communities, all of which are located adjacent to or in the wetland and floodplain of this water-dependent system. The basin supports plant and animal species that are endangered, threatened, or of special concern, including the American Alligator, the Bald Eagle, the Wood Stork, and the West Indian Manatee.

The section of the Wekiva River and its tributaries that were included in the study are in superb ecological condition. The majority of these waterways are currently in public ownership and managed by either the State of Florida, the St. Johns Water Management District, or Orange County. The Wekiva River has only one bridge crossing; Rock Springs Run has no bridge crossings; and Black Water Creek has three bridge crossings.

The Orlando metropolitan area has experienced rapid growth in the last two decades, and an estimated 1.3 million people now live within a 20-mile radius of the Wekiva River. The designation of the Wekiva River and its tributaries as part of the National Wild and Scenic River System would help protect the valuable natural resources associated with the system as population growth and development pressures continue to increase.

S. 2352 would designate the Wekiva River and its tributaries of Rock Springs Run, Wekiwa Springs Run, and Black Water Creek as components of the Wild and Scenic River System subject to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Secretary of the Interior would administer this river system, providing for its long-term protection, preservation, and enhancement through cooperative agreements with the State of Florida and other appropriate local political jurisdictions, interested landowners, and private organizations and individuals. The Wekiva River and its tributaries would not become a unit of the National Park System. The designated waterways that flow through publicly owned lands would continue to be managed by the agencies that have jurisdiction over the lands.

Seminole Creek would be designated as a wild and scenic river in the legislation. However, we recommend that designation be deferred at this time, which will make the legislation consistent with the National Park Service study recommendations. Although Seminole Creek was determined to be eligible for designation, it lies within a single privately owned tract whose owner does not want it to be designated.

The bill also establishes a coordinating council composed of representatives of Federal, State, and local government entities and public interest organizations to assist in the development of the comprehensive management plan for the river system. After the management plan is completed, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to review the plan biennially and report to the House Committee on Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources any deviation from the plan that could result in a diminution of the values for which the Wekiva River system was designated as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

In addition, the bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to provide technical assistance and other support for the development and implementation of the comprehensive management plan.

S. 2352 follows a recent trend in legislation designating wild and scenic rivers, where the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, is given oversight, administrative, and planning responsibilities, but the State and local public land managing agencies serve as the primary on-the-ground managers. This partnership arrangement ensures front-end planning and long-term oversight of this outstanding resource by the Federal government. However, day-to-day operations are left to the current land managers. This type of arrangement is working well in other areas where Congress has provided for a similar division of responsibilities, as it has for the Concord, Assabet, and Sudbury Rivers (Public Law 106-20), the Lamprey River (Public Law 104-333), the Farmington River (Public Law 103-313), and others. We believe this arrangement will be appropriate and effective for the Wekiva River system as well.

While we strongly support the provisions of S. 2352, we recommend some amendments to the bill. One amendment would provide for the designation of Seminole Creek if the owner requests designation and the Secretary of the Interior determines that the creek still meets the eligibility criteria. That way, if circumstances change, Seminole Creek could be designated without new legislation. We understand that the State of Florida is currently negotiating with the owner for the purchase of Seminole Creek.

We are also recommending amendments that would provide for more explicit inclusion of Wekiwa Springs Run as one of the designated wild and scenic components of the Wekiva River system. Although the bill designates the half-mile-long Wekiwa Springs Run, this small tributary lacks the visibility of the other designated segments in S. 2352. Other amendments clarify the role of the coordinating council established by the bill, remove suggested council members that are not directly tied to the resource, remove language that contradicts the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and conform some of the billís language to that used in other recent wild and scenic river legislation to insure only the actual river segments designated are made amendments to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act while the particular management prescriptions are adopted as free-standing provisions of the designation legislation. Our recommended amendments are attached to this statement.

This concludes my remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

 

 

Amendments to S. 2352, Wekiva Wild and Scenic River Designation Act

Proposed by the National Park Service

 

Page 1, line 10, strike ", including" and all that follows through "Wekiva River".

Page 2, line 8, strike "Seminole Creek".

[From page 5 through the end of the bill, strike quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph and at the end of the bill.]

Page 5, strike lines 5 through 7.

Page 5, line 8, strike " (161)."

Page 5, line 8, insert "WEKIWA SPRINGS RUN," before "ROCK SPRINGS RUN,".

Page 5, line 23, strike "45.5 miles" and insert "41.6 miles".

Page 6, line 1, insert "AND WEKIWA SPRINGS RUN" after " "(A) WEKIVA RIVER".

Page 6, line 3, insert ", along Wekiwa Springs Run" after "River".

Page 10, line 1, strike paragraph (iv) in its entirety.

Page 10, line 25, strike "Plan;" and insert "Comprehensive Management Plan for the Wekiva River System."

Page 11, line 1, strike "(II)" and the remainder of that sentence, and insert "and provide advice to the Secretary in carrying out his management responsibilities under this Act."

Page 12, line 20, strike paragraph (XIV) and all that follows through the end of paragraph (XXII); page 13, line 12.

Page 17, line 2, strike "Council" and insert "Committee".

Page 17, line 3, strike "Council" and insert "Committee".

Page 17, line 23, strike paragraph (F) in its entirety, through page 18, line 12.

Page 18, line 13, renumber (G) as (H) and insert the following new subsections:

"(F) LIMITATION ON FEDERAL SUPPORT.- Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize funding for land acquisition, facility development, or operations.

"(G) FUTURE DESIGNATION.- If the Secretary finds that Seminole Creek, from its headwaters at Seminole Springs to its confluence with Black Water Creek, is eligible for designation under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1274 (a)) and the owner of the property through which Seminole Creek runs notifies the Secretary of support for designation, the Secretary may designate that tributary. Notice of the designation shall be published in the Federal Register and shall become effective on the date of publication.".