Having endangered rivers in the U.S. is not new. Countless waterways have been dammed, polluted, re-routed, buried or otherwise destroyed throughout the country’s history. What is new is the level of severity and the scale of the crisis that faces many rivers in the United States.
Each year, American Rivers, a non-profit dedicated to protecting rivers and preserving clean water, releases a list and series of reports on rivers that are most at risk. This year, the Snake River and the Colorado River—both home to some of the continent’s best river rafting and dory trips—are at the top of the list. While the challenges facing each river are different, the larger issue remains: Some of the country’s longest, most iconic rivers are in danger.
“All life on this planet depends on clean, flowing rivers, so when rivers are at risk we must sound the alarm. America’s Most Endangered Rivers highlights the threats of climate change and injustice, and is a call for bold, urgent action,” said Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers, in a press release.
With the megadrought looming, the Colorado River is widely over-allocated. For the first time in history, cuts to water supplies from the Colorado have had to be made and will likely continue in the future. Lake Powell is so low that Glen Canyon will not be able to generate power and water could stop flowing to nearby towns and parts of the Navajo Nation unless upper and lower Colorado River Basin states agree to cooperate on a water management plan to save the reservoir. According to the American Rivers report, researchers expect climate change to further reduce the Colorado’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050.
American Rivers suggests the problems of the Colorado can be solved, but it won’t be easy. Previous plans do not go far enough to address the continuing decline of regional water supplies, according to the report. New plans must invest in strategies that take into account a hotter and drier future and involve the tribes that have inhabited the area for millennia and still rely on the river.
Second on the Most Endangered Rivers list, the Snake River is facing an ecological crisis. The four Lower Snake River dams turned sections of the massive waterway into little-moving warm-water reservoirs. They also decimated the Snake River salmon populations, once some of the most robust in the country. Ocean-run salmon, no longer able to reach the cold running creeks and streams upriver, failed to spawn and are now listed as endangered species. The impacts of the dams have been exacerbated by climate change.
American Rivers calls for a comprehensive solution that would ultimately replace the power, transportation and irrigation the dams provide, as well as restore the rights of native tribes that built a culture around the salmon runs.
“The dams on the lower Snake River are an ongoing source of injustice and the loss of salmon is violating the rights of Tribal Nations ensured by treaty with the U.S. government,” the report states.
The other rivers featured by American Rivers include Alabama’s Mobile River, Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers, Georgia’s Coosa River, the Mississippi River, California’s Lower Kern River, Arizona’s San Pedro River, the Los Angeles River and Oklahoma’s Tar Creek.
Read the Full Report
Photos by Katy Stephens, Josh Miller, Andrew Miller