American Rivers, a non-profit that has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers since 1973, released its annual report on the most endangered rivers in the United States on April 9, 2014. In America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014, the organization focuses on 10 rivers whose health can be determined in the coming months through key decisions.
This year, seven of the ten endangered rivers are in the western United States. The San Joaquin River in California has taken the number one spot as the most endangered river in the United States. The Colorado River was the number one most endangered river in 2013.
The San Joaquin River is heavily diverted and overused, currently it provides water to one of the most agricultural productive areas in the world, and around four million people live in its watershed. The river also generates more than 3,000 megawatts of hydropower; it supports many endangered species, and has an excellent recreational activity that generates millions of dollars in revenue per year. With more than 70% of its water diverted, it has many areas in which it runs dry— in some areas it has been dry for more than fifty years. Its salmon and steelhead populations are almost extinct. American Rivers advocates for the California State Water Resources Board to create an efficient and environmentally-conscious management plan for the river.
Also in California is the fifth most endangered river: the San Francisquito Creek. Stanford University has the outdated Searsville Dam from 1892 that damages the health of the creek and its wildlife, the steelhead population of the river is blocked from twenty miles of habitat. The dam also endangers the community in the area by leaving them prone to flooding. American Rivers encourages Stanford to create a plan that involves the removal of the dam; the Searsville Alternatives Study Steering Committee will present a recommendation to the university at the end of 2014.
Three of the endangered rivers are in the Colorado River Basin, including the second most endangered river, the Upper Colorado River. Proposed water diversions and the growing population in the Colorado River Basin are a threat to the health of the river. The Colorado Water Plan, currently in progress, would solve the issues if it doesn’t resort to what American Rivers calls “outdated, expensive, and harmful water development schemes.” American Rivers discourages the development of a plan that consists of new transmountain diversions instead of strategies for sustainable water use.
The second endangered river in the Colorado River Basin, and number four in the United States is the Gila River. This river is New Mexico’s last free flowing river. The plan to create diversions and a pipeline project, if realized, would endanger the wildlife, fish, and river health, as well as the economy and life of the communities in the area. American Rivers urges the New Mexico ISC and Governor Susan Martinez to protect the river by ensuring the implementation of a plan that protects the local economy as well as the wildlife.
Finally in the Colorado River Basin, the White River in Colorado takes the seventh place on list of the nation’s most endangered rivers. There is a plan by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to allow for 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the region. If it goes through, the impact of the plan would cause extensive environmental damage and long-term negative impacts for the community residing in the area. American Rivers lobbies for action from the BLM to “prevent a flawed and damaging plan from being adopted.”
The White River, Washington is the eight most endangered river in the United States. The river has in its waters the outdated Mud Mountain Dam and the Buckley Diversion Dam. The river’s salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations are at danger because of ineffective fish passage; fixing the situation would require the replacement of the dam and the fish passage at a cost of approximately $60 million, which pales in comparison of the yearly $150 million paid to restore salmon to rivers and streams around the Puget Sound.
The tenth most endangered river in the United States, and the last in our list of endangered western rivers, is the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, including one of its main tributaries the Lochsa River in Idaho. The development of the Canadian tar sands in Alberta require the industrialization of the corridors through which the equipment necessary for the development is going to be transported. These rivers are in danger since the primary option for the transportation of megaloads is through the Clearwater-Lochsa corridor.
Outside the west, the Middle Mississippi River is the third most endangered river in the United States. The construction of a levee at the bottom gap of the New Madrid Floodway would endanger the ecosystems of the region, and provide incentives for development in the New Madrid floodway, which would make it more difficult to open the floodway during floods. The South Fork of the Edisto River is the sixth most endangered river in the United States; during the summer months agricultural withdrawals take around 35% of the river’s water, this practice threatens the river’s health and downstream water users. Finally, the ninth most endangered river is the Haw River in North Carolina; the drinking water it provides is at risk because of polluted runoff and wastewater and the plans to clean-up the river have been consistently delayed and diminished since 2009.
American Rivers says this year’s America’s Most Endangered Rivers report “underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers” for the second year in a row and emphasizes the need to modernize water management strategies. While many rivers may face threats, those that make the annual list are at a critical junction, where imminent management decisions can have tremendous impact.
“We want a future with a healthy river and sustainable agriculture. This ‘Most Endangered River’ listing is a call to action for all of us to come together around solutions to protect and restore reliable and predictable clean water supplies and a healthy river for future generations. We’re all in this together,” said American Rivers President Bob Irvin.
American Rivers has been working since 1973 to restore and protect rivers and conserve clean water. In that time, the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report has led to many successes, including removing dams, protecting of wild and scenic rivers and preventing development and pollution that would be harmful to the river.
Written by Stratecon staff