American Heritage River and Clean Water Initiatives

The Loss of Our Republican Form of Government

© Michael S. Coffman, Ph.D., January, 1998, Environmental Perspectives, Inc. (207) 945-9878

The American Heritage Rivers (AHRI) and the Clean Water (CWI) initiatives are a direct product of Agenda 21 and the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD). Signed by the US during the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Agenda 21 is nothing less than a 40-chapter manifesto to reorganize the world to protect earth using pure socialist principles. The goals and objectives of Agenda 21 were developed into a US strategy by the PCSD and published in a report entitled Sustainable America in 1996.

A Fundamental Shift in the Meaning of Government

Both Agenda 21 and Sustainable America represent a major fundamental change in the role of government in social and land-use policy. Under the concept of sustainability, no longer is the primary purpose of government to serve the people. Rather, the focus of Agenda 21 and Sustainable America is to protect nature from people.

Both the PCSD and the Rivers initiative call for individuals, communities, and institutions to work individually and collaboratively as non-elected "partners" and "stakeholders" within a heritage framework based on "natural systems such as a watersheds."

All land-use programs instituted by President Clinton during his administration follow the strategy laid out by the PCSD and Agenda 21. An August, 1993, Internal Working Document of the EPA for Ecosystem Management asserts that "Natural resource and environmental agencies ...should...develop a joint strategy to help the United States fulfill its existing international obligations (e.g. Convention on Biological Diversity, Agenda 21).... The executive branch should direct federal agencies to evaluate national light of international policies and obligations, and to amend national policies to achieve international objectives." In this context, the EPA document also calls for making "ecosystem protection a primary goal of the Agency, on a par with human health."

As called for in the EPA document, the AHRI and CWI amends current environmental law to fit the goals and strategies of Agenda 21 and the biodiversity treaty. Supporting documentation of the biodiversity treaty call for setting aside up to one-half of America into totally protected wilderness reserves which would be interconnected by wilderness corridors up to 30 miles wide--primarily along river corridors! This raises the ugly specter of whether the AHRI and CWI's are but the first step in establishing federal land-use control in and along our nations rivers in order to eventually implement the Biodiversity treaty without ratification.


Executive Order 13061, which authorizes the AHRI, mandates that executive agencies "coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to preserve, protect and restore rivers and their associated resources important to our history, culture, and natural heritage." Supporting documentation in the Federal Register makes it clear that the federal focus is on preserving and restoring the river, rather than the cultural heritage of the communities along the river. Fourteen AHR were designated by President Clinton on July 30, 1998.

Likewise, the CWI (Federal Register: 11/7/97 (Volume 62, Number 216) calls for setting aside "2 million miles of buffer strips protecting waters from agricultural runoff by the year 2002." A 100 foot buffer strip along 2 million miles equals 76,000 square miles (48 million acres), a size equivalent to the entire state of Nebraska or South Dakota! To illustrate the magnitude of this effort, there are 3.5 million miles of rivers and streams in the entire U.S.

The CWI also makes it clear that entire watersheds are likely to be impacted by a designation of just a portion of it as an AHR. Since watersheds can cross many state lines, federal planning will take in enormous portions of the U.S. landscape. The US Geological Service (USGS) has divided the contiguous U.S. into 18 watershed basins or regions, including six within the Mississippi River basin alone. These eighteen basins are further subdivided into 2100 individual watersheds (see map). One thousand of these watersheds will be targeted by the CWI as "critical rural watersheds" for special assistance to "comply with applicable standards" that are consistent with goals for "watershed and basin level planning."

Since the plan for each watershed must fit within the federal plan for the entire basin or region, if a portion of the lower Missouri River is designated as an AHR, or selected as one of the 1,000 watersheds in the CWI, it could theoretically impact over 13 million people living in the states of Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana included in the Missouri River Basin! Even worse, if the entire Mississippi River Basin is included, 41 percent of the entire United States would be included as shown in the map above!

A Subversion of the U.S. Constitution

Promoted as a plan to "reinvent government", the AHRI and CWI's are touted as "ground up", "community based" efforts under the control of local people. In fact, each step is under the "top down" control of the feds. By definition, a River Community under the AHRI is "self-defined by the members of the community." It can include anyone or anything from private citizens to businesses and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations like the Sierra Club) to local and state government agencies. They are self-appointed, not elected.

The Rivers initiative totally subverts the Constitutional guarantee of a republican form of government where the real "river communities" are the incorporated towns, villages, and counties within each state. The respective governments of each level of community are accountable to the people they govern through the election process. Not so these stakeholder councils or partnerships mandated by both the AHRI and CWI. A River Community within the AHRI could theoretically be made up of nothing more than radical environmental NGOs and 'save nature at any cost' state bureaucrats.

Elected local governments no longer decide what is best for their community. Instead, they are relegated to a minority role in a team of "partners" or "stakeholders" dominated by non-elected special interests who come to the table with personal agendas that are not usually in the best interests of the community. Since team decisions will be made by consensus using the Delphi process, problems will usually be defined in a manner that leads to predetermined protectionist solutions.

If a community flexes too much independence and develops a plan that runs contrary to the wishes of the federal bureaucracy, the AHRI has yet another tool to discipline the recalcitrant government --an appointed "River Navigator." The River Navigator is supposed to function as a single liaison for all federal resources to work with a designated "River Community," thereby simplifying the delivery of federal programs and monies. But there are no checks and balances to ensure that the Navigator works for rather than against the communities. The Navigator has awesome powers to thwart communities that don't toe the federal line, while rewarding those that do.

The belief that these initiatives are not yet another federal land-use control mechanism is an illusion. They are merely old socialist dogma with fresh paint.