State Scenic Waterways

The Oregon State Scenic Waterways Act

The Oregon State Scenic Waterways Act can be seen as a counterpart to the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, in which the state codifies the recreational and aesthetic values of a waterway by prohibiting hydropower development and certain types of mining activities within the designated reach.

The act was originally passed into law in 1970 with a public vote through a ballot initiative, and received wide support, passing at a 2:1 margin. A goal of the Oregon State Scenic Waterways Act is to protect the state’s most treasured waters, while striking a balance with the needs of the riverbank property owners.

Until recently, Oregon had not established any new Scenic Waterways for several decades, despite it’s many great waterways across the state. In 2014, Governor Kitzhaber revitalized the act and with the help of the state legislature directed the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to begin a new approach to designate State Scenic Waterways, which require the agency to now review three river segments every biennium for inclusion in the program.

Current Candidate Segments

Starting in early 2017, after a preliminary public process to determine eligible river segments, the State Department of Parks and Recreation has narrowed a list to 3 rivers and segments as candidates to begin the process for potentially designating these river segments as Scenic Waterways and will review these candidates for more study on a possible recommendation to the governor:

These river segments were chosen based on a variety of factors including surveys in the State Trails Plan, existing recreation, relative free-flowing nature of the river (determined by the State Water Resources Department) and input from agency staff, nonprofits, groups with agricultural, environmental, and municipal interests.

Note: Each area segment is approximate and will be refined as study progresses.


River segments are eligible for designation if they meet the following criteria –

  • Free-flowing nature of the waterway;
  • Scenic quality, as viewed from the river; and
  • Natural and recreational resources, including the ability of the waterway and its setting to sustain recreational use.

Current Oregon State Scenic Waterways

Oregon’s network of Scenic Waterways currently includes 22 river segments totaling 1,178 miles of the state’s most beloved rivers including sections of the John Day, Deschutes, Umpqua and many others. (More information from the Department of Parks and Recreation on their website here)

Map: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

Next Steps

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff periodically studies candidates for the program as per ORS 390.855. The Department submits recommendations to the governor through the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission and Water Resources Board.

Studying candidates is a year-plus long process and doesn't automatically mean a waterway will be recommended for designation. After determining whether a waterway is eligible for the program, there will be thorough conversations with communities and landowners along each river segment that is being considered before writing the eligibility report and sending it, along with the department’s recommendation, to the Governor in early fall 2018.

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