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Close To 80 Percent Of Wyoming Waterways Downgraded

Snake River in the Snake River Canyon of Wyoming near Alpine
Joe Tordiff

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is allowing a reclassification of nearly 80 percent of Wyoming’s waterways as secondary contact recreation. That means those streams are no longer recommended sites for swimming, tubing, fishing, or recreation in general — unlike the primary contact recreation status.

The DEQ’s Lindsey Paterson said these waters don’t make sense for recreation anyway. They’re shallow with little flow and are in remote areas. The change also means those waterways are allowed to hold five times the level of e. coli, an indicator for pathogens. 

Paterson said this is finally the right classification and people shouldn't be concerned about heightened risk. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that water body will be automatically changed in those areas,” Paterson said.

Western Watersheds Project, however, is concerned about the downgrade. The switch opens up bodies of water to higher levels of pollution over the long-term. The livestock industry, for example, will be able to send more wastewater into streams. 

The DEQ said citizens can get in touch with them if they disagree with a waterway's classification and return it to primary contact recreation. But Western Watersheds Project Jonathan Ratner says it should be the government's responsibility to classify a stream.

“Whereas, it’s now the public’s responsibility to… water body by water body, provide site specific data to have those water bodies returned to primary contact.”

Ratner said he’s worried the downgrade will put more citizens at risk who do end up recreating at remote and shallow sites. 

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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