Why These 10 Rivers?
American Rivers selects 10 rivers as our most endangered from a broad array of nominations from groups and individuals across the country.
We use the following criteria to determine the list: 1) A major decision in the coming year that the public can help influence; 2) The significance of the river to people and wildlife; 3) The magnitude of the threat to the river and its communities, especially in light of a changing climate
This year we selected
the Colorado River as the most endangered in America. We did so because it is so dammed, diverted and over-tapped along its 1,400-mile course that it dries to a trickle before reaching the sea.
Other rivers on the list are in danger from energy development and mining. Coal and nickel mining are not only threatening local economies that rely on the river for tourism, but are also putting communities’ clean water at risk. The coal ash left behind from outdated power plants is leaching into lakes and rivers. And one river could be buried in sediment as a result of mismanagement of reservoirs and dams along the Missouri River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Click through this gallery to see the 10 Most Endangered Rivers in America for 2013.
Special Mention: Merced River—California
THREAT: Intentional Flooding of a Wild and Scenic River
AT RISK: Wildlife habitat and recreation economy
The Wild and Scenic Merced River is a special destination for paddlers, anglers and hikers, and is home to a variety of fish and wildlife, including a rare salamander. These outstanding values are threatened by a proposal to raise the New Exchequer Dam, which would flood a stretch of river and wildlife habitat. Congress must halt legislative proposals to remove Wild and Scenic protections for the purpose of raising the dam. Removing protections would degrade this special place for a very minor amount of water storage capacity, and set a dangerous precedent for Wild and Scenic Rivers across the country.
Photo: Dan Gutwein
10) Niobrara River—Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming
THREAT: Sediment build-up and flooding
AT RISK: Property, crops, and public safety
The Niobrara River is an oasis for paddlers, anglers, and wildlife. A major tributary of the Missouri River, the lower portion of the Niobrara is protected as a federal Wild and Scenic River. The Lower Niobrara is increasingly threatened by too much sediment backing up in the upper reaches of Lewis and Clark Lake behind the Missouri River’s Gavins Point Dam. The sediment is raising the level of the Niobrara and threatening local communities with flooding. To safeguard the Wild and Scenic Niobrara and its communities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must improve sediment management within the Missouri River system and must prioritize funding for this critical issue in their Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
Photo: State of South Dakota
9) Kootenai River—British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho
THREAT: Open-pit coal mining
AT RISK: Clean water and fish and wildlife habitat
One of our country’s wildest rivers, the Kootenai River provides critical habitat for several rare and threatened native fish species, as well as wildlife like grizzly bear and woodland caribou. However, the river is threatened by runoff and waste from current mining and proposed expansions of five open-pit coal mines along the Elk River in British Columbia, a tributary to the Kootenai. The U.S. State Department must involve the International Joint Commission in order to halt the mine expansions until an independent study of the impact of current and future mines on water quality, fish, and wildlife is completed.
Photo: Robyn Fleming
8) Rough; Ready and Baldface Creeks—Oregon
THREAT: Nickel mine development
AT RISK: Clean water, wildlife, and rare plants
Rough & Ready and Baldface Creeks, tributaries of the Wild and Scenic Illinois and North Fork Smith rivers, flow clean and clear through some of the wildest country in the West. These eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers are celebrated by wildflower enthusiasts and hikers. Unfortunately, nickel mines threaten to destroy these unique, wild streams. Members of the Oregon Congressional delegation previously asked the Obama Administration to withdraw the area from mining, but the Administration did not act. Congress and the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture must now permanently protect the natural treasures of Rough & Ready and Baldface Creeks from mining before their clean water, fish and wildlife, and wild character are irreparably harmed.
Photo: Zach Collier
7) Black Warrior River—Alabama
THREAT: Coal mining
AT RISK: Drinking water quality and fish and wildlife habitat
The Black Warrior River is a valuable resource for drinking water, recreation, fishing, and rare fish and wildlife. However, the river’s Mulberry Fork is threatened by the Shepherd Bend Mine, a 1,773 acre coal mine which would discharge polluted wastewater only 800 feet from a major drinking water intake. To mine the proposed area, Drummond Company must obtain leases from property owners, particularly the University of Alabama. The University must stand up for the health of area residents, students, and drinking water customers by permanently refusing to sell or lease its land and mineral rights at Shepherd Bend for coal mining.
Photo: Nelson Brooke
6) Boundary Waters—Minnesota
THREAT: Copper and nickel mining
AT RISK: Recreation economy, drinking water, and wilderness
The 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the most popular wilderness area in the country. The South Kawishiwi River, which flows into the Boundary Waters, is threatened by copper-nickel mining proposals by Twin Metals Minnesota and others on adjacent unprotected public lands. If mining is permitted, the Boundary Waters and its clean water will be irreparably harmed by acid mine drainage containing sulfates and heavy metals. President Obama, Congress, and Minnesota’s Governor Dayton must block proposals to mine and efforts to weaken water quality standards in this sensitive and well-loved area.
Photo: River Point Resort & Outfitter
5) Catawba River—North Carolina & South Carolina
THREAT: Coal ash pollution
AT RISK: Drinking water and recreational enjoyment
Millions of people in the Southeast depend on the Catawba River for drinking water and recreation. However, storage ponds for coal ash, a byproduct of power generation, are threatening the river and local water supply with pollution. North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources must require Duke Energy’s Riverbend power plant to ensure the coal ash ponds are sufficiently maintained in perpetuity to safeguard the river and water supply for future generations.
Photo: Jeff Cravotta
4) Little Plover River—Wisconsin
THREAT: Outdated water management
AT RISK: Fish habitat and water supply
The Little Plover River flows six miles from clear, cold headwater springs before joining the Wisconsin River. However, dramatic increases in groundwater withdrawals have reduced river flows. Once prized for native brook trout and popular with anglers, the river’s flow has decreased to levels that threaten the persistence of fish populations. In the past decade, portions of the Little Plover River were repeatedly sucked dry, making the river the unfortunate poster child for Wisconsin’s inadequate groundwater management. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources must adequately manage high capacity water wells to safeguard the Little Plover and other rivers and lakes across the state.
Photo: Amy Thorstenson, courtesy Friends of the Little Plover River
3) San Saba River—Texas
THREAT: Outdated water management
AT RISK: River flow for ranchers, citizens, and lakes
The San Saba River is a scenic waterway located on the northern boundary of the Edwards Plateau in Texas. Flows of sparkling, clear water course through limestone bluffs and hills, supporting fish and wildlife and recreation. Through wasteful water use and unregulated pumping, irrigators are transforming a vibrant, pristine river into a dried up riverbed. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must enforce the law to ensure adequate flows are maintained. Further, the Texas Legislature should appoint a watermaster on the upper stretch of the San Saba River to better manage flows and protect the river long-term.
Photo: Loren Granstaff
2) Flint River—Georgia
THREAT: Outdated water management
AT RISK: Water supply for communities, farms, recreation, and wildlife
The Flint River provides water for over one million people, 10,000 farms, unique wildlife, and 300 miles of exceptional fishing and paddling. Despite being in a historically wet area of the country, in recent years many Flint River tributaries have dried up completely. American Rivers and Flint Riverkeeper are working in collaboration with diverse partners to restore the flows and health of the Flint. The State of Georgia also has a role to play and must act to protect the Flint in droughts and at all times to safeguard the river’s health for current and future generations.
Photo: Tom Wilson
1) Colorado River—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
THREAT: Outdated water management
AT RISK: Water supplies, recreation, fish and wildlife
The Colorado River is a lifeline in the desert, its water sustaining tens of millions of people in seven states, as well as endangered fish and wildlife. However, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, leaving the river so over-tapped that it no longer flows to the sea. A century of water management policies and practices that have promoted wasteful water use have put the river at a critical crossroads.
To address ongoing drought and increasing demand for water due to climate change, and to put the Colorado River on a path to recovery, the U.S. Congress must support robust funding of critical programs like WaterSmart that address water supply sustainability in the Colorado River Basin and across the West.
Photo: Pete McBride
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