Chelan County commissioners are skeptical of a proposal by the state Department of Ecology to assign the highest level of protection possible to the county's remotely located Napeequa River. 

The river sits in the Glacier Peak Wilderness area and is in no danger of human caused pollution or other impacts. 

Commissioner Shon Smith attended a public meeting held by the Department of Ecology last week in Leavenworth to discuss the agency’s intentions. 

He told fellow commissioners at their meeting Monday that he asked the department members why they wanted to designate the backcountry river for the designation, known as “Outstanding Resource Waters.” 

He said Ecology representatives told him they wanted to protect the river from development under the federal government. 

Smith told fellow commissioners he didn’t find the reasoning credible because the federal government is not known to seize remote bodies of water for commercial purposes. 

He said he went on record as during the public comment portion of the meeting, and speaking as Chelan County District 2 Commissioner, told the representatives from Ecology that the designation was not necessary for the Napeequa River. 

"If they are trying to get a win on the board for the Outstanding Water Resources, they should probably pick another river that has a higher impact that'll actually see a benefit from that designation," said Smith. 

Outstanding Water Resources is a special designation under the federal Clean Water Act that carries extra water quality protections and recognition. 

Commissioner Kevin Overbey vigorously supported Commissioner Smith’s position during the commissioners meeting. 

He said the designation for the Napeequa River would give Ecology license to shut down projects important to water needs in the county. 

"You start off with the Napeequa in the wilderness area," said Overbey. "And then you move to the Icicle, and then you move to Eightmile. And then you basically shut down everything there that the Icicle Workers are working on, and what the irrigation district is trying to do, and needs to do." 

The Icicle Work Group works on a number of projects, including water needs for the city of Leavenworth and Chelan County. 

The group has worked on residential conservation projects in the Leavenworth area and restoring Eightmile Lake to historical and permitted high water storage elevation, as well as Leavenworth fish hatchery infrastructure upgrades among other things. 

The Napeequa River is one of four bodies of water the Department of Ecology is proposing for the Outstanding Resource Waters designation. 

The others are Soap Lake in Grant County, the upper watershed of the Cascade River in Skagit County and the upper watershed of the Green River (near Mount St Helens) in Skamania County. 

According to Ecology, the four were selected because of their water quality, recreational value and special features that distinguish them from other waterways. 

The department is hoping to finalize all four waterways for the special status by the end of the year. 

 The classification will be the very first use of the Outstanding Water Resources designation for the state. 

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