Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission has voted to designate Crater Lake and Waldo Lake as Outstanding Resource Waters. The special recognition provides state protections by preventing activities that could potentially harm water quality at either lake.

The commission, which oversees the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, voted 4-0 Thursday for the new designations.

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 Crater Lake in the winter months.

Crater Lake in the winter months.

Ian McCluskey / OPB

In announcing the recognition, Oregon DEQ Director Richard Whitman said “Crater Lake and Waldo Lake are unique and invaluable treasures for Oregonians and the world. Their crystal clear clean waters represent the best of Oregon’s natural beauty. By designating the lakes as Outstanding Resource Waters, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission is assuring that these special places will remain unspoiled for present and future generations.”

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EQC Chair Kathleen George added that “it’s an honor to grant additional protection to two of Oregon’s natural wonders, Crater Lake and Waldo Lake. This special recognition will preserve the natural habitats, cultural and recreational benefits of these amazing places for future generations.”

The Outstanding Resource Waters designation prohibits permitted discharges, except for short-term stormwater permits for construction. It also prohibits any new discharges, with the exception of discharges resulting from public health or safety emergencies or restoration and improvement projects. Existing recreation and tourism activities will continue at both lakes.

This is only the second time that the commission has granted the special status to waters in Oregon. Crater Lake and Waldo Lake join the North Fork Smith River in Southwest Oregon as Outstanding Resource Waters. The commission designated that remote river in 2017.

The DEQ said the latest vote came in response to a citizen petition submitted to the commission by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in 2019. The nonprofit called for protections only for Waldo Lake and the commission later added Crater Lake to the proposal. The ruling last Thursday amends Oregon’s water quality standards “to ensure the current high water quality and exceptional ecological characteristics and recreational values of these waters are protected.”

Both lakes are known for their vibrant blue color and exceptional clarity. Waldo Lake and Crater Lake have an average visibility of more than 100 feet. For comparison, most lakes in the United States have visibility of less than 30 feet.

Waldo Lake is located in the Willamette National Forest. Crater Lake is part of Crater Lake National Monument.

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