Crater Lake and Waldo Lake have always stood out as waters in Oregon.
Crater Lake, the namesake for the only National Park in the state, has clear blue water. The deep lake fills a volcanic caldera. Waldo Lake, nestled into the Cascades near Oakridge, holds exceptionally clear water. So clear that it is like distilled water.
The value of the pristine waters held by Crater and Waldo lakes is undeniable. But now it is official and the lakes have added state protections after action taken Thursday by the Environmental Quality Commission. The rulemaking board, which oversees the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, voted 4-0 to designate Crater Lake and Waldo Lake as Outstanding Resource Waters.
“Crater Lake and Waldo Lake are unique and invaluable treasures for Oregonians and the world,” said DEQ Director Richard Whitman. “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.”
It is only the second time the commission 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 classified the remote river, which begins in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and its tributaries in 2017.
The Outstanding Resource Waters designation for Crater Lake and Waldo Lake prevents activities that would potentially harm water quality at either lake. It prohibits permitted discharges into the waters, except for short-term stormwater permits for construction. The designation also prohibits any new discharges, with the exception of those resulting from public health or safety emergencies or restoration and improvement projects. Existing recreation and tourism activities will continue at both lakes.
“It’s an honor to grant additional protection to two of Oregon’s natural wonders, Crater Lake and Waldo Lake,” said EQC Chair Kathleen George. “This special recognition will preserve the natural habitat, cultural and recreational benefits of these amazing places for future generations.”
The vote on Thursday came in response to a citizen petition submitted to the commission by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in 2019. The nonprofit called for protections for Waldo Lake and the commission added Crater Lake to the proposal. The ruling amends Oregon’s water quality standards to ensure that the current high water quality and exceptional ecological characteristics and recreational values of these waters are protected.
Both lakes offer exceptional clarity and vibrant blue waters. While most lakes in the United States have visibility of less than 30 feet, Crater Lake and Waldo Lake have average visibilities of more than 100 feet. Both lakes are treasured recreation and tourism hotspots.
Outstanding Resource Waters are high quality waters with extraordinary character and ecological or recreational value. They may also be critical habitat areas. The state has the authority to designate Outstanding Resource Waters as part of the Oregon’s water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act.
Crater Lake is at the heart of a National Park and Waldo Lake is wholly contained in the Willamette National Forest near the crest of the Cascades. The Outstanding Resource Waters designation by the State of Oregon will complement and support the protections provided by the National Park Service for Crater Lake and the U.S. Forest Service for Waldo Lake.
Among the largest natural lakes in Oregon, Waldo Lake is also one of the most pure lakes in the world, according to the Forest Service. It is a gem worthy of protection.
“The Willamette National Forest places high importance on protecting the water quality of Waldo Lake and has a history of protecting this area,” said Middle Fork District Ranger Molly Juillerat. “We also value the recreational, educational and scientific opportunities that the Waldo Basin provides.”
Surrounded by cliffs, Crater Lake is fed entirely by rain and snow. Scientists consider Crater Lake to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world. At a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. The water’s intense blue color is an indication of its great depth and purity.
Crater Lake National Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman said the National Park Service was pleased to have the opportunity to work with DEQ on the designation of Crater Lake as Outstanding Resource Waters.
“(DEQ’s) early engagement with the park allowed us to collect input from a number of experts within the NPS and Department of the Interior to ensure that the designation provided the highest level of protection for park waters consistent with the mission and mandate for the Service,” Ackerman said. “We look forward to continuing our exceptional relationship with DEQ and other state agencies in seeking to protect the park and its resources in perpetuity.”
– Dylan Darling, DEQ Western Region public affairs specialist