Department of Ecology News Release - July 18, 2023

New status, protections proposed for Soap Lake and the Cascade, Green and Napeequa rivers


In what would be a first for Washington state, the Department of Ecology is proposing to classify four water bodies as “Outstanding Resource Waters” – a special designation under the federal Clean Water Act that carries extra water quality protections and recognition.

The four water bodies are:

  • Soap Lake in Grant County
  • The upper watershed of the Cascade River in Skagit County
  • The upper watershed of the Green River (near Mount St Helens) in Skamania County
  • The Napeequa River in Chelan County

Outstanding Resource Waters have exceptional water quality, ecological and recreational values, or unique attributes that distinguish them among state water bodies and warrant special protection. These waters are assigned additional protections to prevent further degradation except for certain temporary projects or discharges, or to protect public health or property in an emergency.

“The Outstanding Resource Water designation is a way for us to recognize exceptional waters in our state that deserve special protection,” said Vince McGowan, Ecology’s water quality program manager. “We appreciate the work of the nominators and look forward to hearing more from communities near these water bodies as we consider this designation.”

The proposal comes after Ecology received Outstanding Resource Water nominations in 2021, then conducted additional research that found each water body met one or more eligibility criteria.

A narrow image of Soap Lake and the cascade, green and napeequa rivers

Proposed designations

Soap Lake

Ecology is proposing to designate Soap Lake as a Tier III(B) Outstanding Resource Water. This designation supports the unique qualities of Washington's largest saline lake and the recreational value it provides.

This level of protection would place extra requirements on new or expanded discharges to ensure pollution from wastewater is kept to a minimum.

Three rivers

Ecology is proposing to designate three rivers as Tier III (A) Outstanding Resource Waters –the highest level of protection states can designate under the federal Clean Water Act. Any activity that would lower water quality in a water body after it has been designated as a Tier III(A) Outstanding Resource Waters is prohibited.

The proposed designation supports the pristine water quality and exceptional recreational and ecological values each river shares.

The proposed boundary for each river includes all named and unnamed tributaries. The rivers all flow through federal land, except for the Cascade River, which flows through one private parcel within the national forest.

  • Read the nomination by the Pew Charitable Trusts, American Rivers, Cascade Forest Conservancy, Wild Salmon Center, American Whitewater, Washington Wild, and Trout Unlimited
  • Read Ecology’s focus sheets for the Cascade, Green and Napeequa rivers

Provide input

Ecology is accepting public comments on the proposed Outstanding Resource Waters designations through Sept. 27, 2023.

Submit comments online, by mail, or at a public hearing:

  • Comment online
  • Mail to:
    Marla Koberstein
    Department of Ecology
    P.O. Box 47696
    Olympia, WA 98504-7696

Public hearings

Ecology will hold one virtual workshop/hearing and four in-person workshop/hearings.  

The events will include an overview of the proposed rule and a question-and-answer period, followed by public comment.

Contact information

Colleen Keltz