American Rivers Names America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2012
With Congress considering drastic cuts to national clean water protections, and rivers nationwide facing threats from natural gas drilling, pollution and new dams, American Rivers today released its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. American Rivers named the Potomac River, known as ‘the nation’s river’ as it flows through the capital, the most endangered in the country. While the Potomac is cleaner than it used to be, the river is still threatened by urban and agricultural pollution—and it could get much worse if Congress rolls back critical clean water safeguards.
As our country commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year, the Potomac is emblematic of what’s at stake for rivers nationwide. American Rivers launched a national call to action, giving citizens the opportunity to contact members of Congress and speak up for clean water.
“This year’s Most Endangered Rivers list underscores how important clean water is to our drinking water, health and economy,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers. “If Congress slashes clean water protections, more Americans will get sick and communities and businesses will suffer. We simply cannot afford to go back to a time when the Potomac and rivers nationwide were too polluted and dangerous to use.”
Before the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, the Potomac was a cesspool of sewage and industrial pollution. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, the Potomac and rivers across the country are cleaner and safer for drinking, boating and fishing. But the Potomac is still suffering—a University of Maryland report card has given the river a “D” grade for water quality for the past two years.
“The Clean Water Act is the reason the Potomac River is no longer called a “national disgrace.” Most of the palpable problems are gone; however, there are many emerging threats that can't be seen. Residents of the Washington, D.C. metro area—including the president and Congress—need to realize they are composed mostly of Potomac river water and they need to protect and enforce the laws that safeguard their health,” said Ed Merrifield, president of Potomac Riverkeeper. “We need strong federal leadership as we redouble our efforts at the local level to achieve the goal of a healthy, clean Potomac,” said Hedrick Belin, president of the Potomac Conservancy. “We look forward to partnering with American Rivers, Potomac Riverkeeper and others to continue to make progress cleaning up the Nation’s River. This regional treasure contributes so much to our community’s quality of life, and our neighborhoods deserve healthy, clean streams and creeks.”
“When members of Congress fill a glass of water or drink their morning coffee, that water comes from the Potomac River. It’s time to draw the clear connections between healthy rivers, drinking water and public health in Washington, D.C., and in communities nationwide,” said Irvin.
American Rivers called on Congress to kill any legislation that weakens the Clean Water Act or prevents the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restoring protections for small streams and wetlands under the Act. American Rivers also called on the Obama administration to finalize guidance clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act and issue a rule-making to ensure that all waters get the protections Americans expect and deserve.
Now in its 27th year, the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2012:
At risk: Clean water and public health
The Potomac is the ‘nation’s river,’ rich in culture and history and the lifeblood of our nation’s capital. The river provides drinking water to more than five million people and offers abundant opportunities for recreation. However, the Potomac is threatened by agricultural and urban pollution that will only get worse if Congress rolls back national clean water protections. If Congress puts polluters before people, our nation’s river—and many other rivers nationwide—will become a threat to public health, unsafe for drinking water, wildlife or recreation.
Threat: Water withdrawals
At risk: Recreation opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat
The Green River is the largest tributary of the Colorado River, and carves some of the most iconic river canyons in the U.S. Thousands of anglers fish its glorious water and thousands of rafters marvel at the river’s majestic canyons each year, generating a robust rural economy across three states. However, a proposal to pump a massive volume of water out of the Green into a 500-mile pipeline across Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range threatens world-class recreation, rural economies, critical fish habitats and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin. The governors of Utah and Colorado must join Wyoming’s Governor Mead in opposing the pipeline and standing up for more efficient, cost-effective water supply solutions.
Threat: New dams and reservoirs
At risk: Clean water and healthy fisheries
The Chattahoochee River provides drinking water for millions in metro Atlanta, is one of America’s best trout streams, and was recently designated as our country’s first National Water Trail. However, a water war between Georgia, Alabama and Florida has spurred proposals for costly new dams and reservoirs that would harm water quality, destroy recreation opportunities, and ruin wildlife habitat. The Army Corps of Engineers must deny permits for these reservoirs and state decision makers must embrace more cost effective solutions like water efficiency in order to ensure a reliable water supply and healthy river for generations to come.
Threat: Outdated flood management
At risk: Public safety
The Missouri is the nation’s longest river, supplying drinking water, commerce and recreation, and impacting the safety and well-being of millions. However, the river and its communities suffer from outdated flood management, as evidenced by the massive flooding in 2011. In order to improve public safety, decision makers must prioritize using floodplains and wetlands to absorb and store flood waters, and Congress must fully fund the Missouri River Recovery Program and long term planning studies for the river.
Threat: Natural gas development
At stake: Clean water and world-class fish and wildlife
The Hoback River is treasured for its sparkling clear water, thriving native trout fishery and excellent paddling opportunities. Unfortunately, proposed natural gas development threatens the river and local residents with toxic pollution. To ensure the Hoback’s clean water, air quality, scenery and world-class fish and wildlife are not compromised, the leaseholder must agree to sell or donate its oil and gas leases to a conservation buyer.
Threat: Natural gas development
At risk: Clean water and public health
A State Wild and Scenic River, the Grand is a haven for rare birds and other wildlife and boasts the best water quality of any stream flowing into Lake Erie. However, natural gas development threatens the river’s clean water and public health. The State of Ohio must strengthen safeguards to ensure natural gas development and the disposal of wastewater does not harm the river, its clean water and local communities.
Threat: New dam
At risk: Habitat and recreation
The Skykomish is one of Washington’s most popular rivers for fishing, paddling and scenic beauty. However, a proposed hydropower dam would destroy the wild character of the river’s South Fork, and reduce two spectacular waterfalls to a trickle. Decision-makers should abandon this damaging project and focus on better energy alternatives to ensure those needs are balanced with the need for healthy rivers and a strong outdoor recreation economy.
Threat: Dams and water diversions
At risk: Fish, wildlife and recreation
The Crystal River provides essential habitat for fish and wildlife, beautiful vistas and recreation for visitors, and is one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in Colorado. However, new hydropower dams, reservoirs and water diversions threaten to destroy the river’s unique values. Local water districts should reject the dam proposals and support federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the Crystal River, while embracing more efficient and cost-effective water supply solutions.
Threat: Mountaintop removal coal mining
At risk: Clean water and public health
The Coal River supplies drinking water for local communities, supports fish and wildlife and boasts a water trail for fishing, boating, and other recreation. However, the river is threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining, which has already buried, poisoned, and destroyed miles of streams in the basin. Congress must restore Clean Water Act protections to the Coal’s headwater streams in order to prevent more destructive mining and permanently safeguard clean water and public health.
Threat: Sand and gravel dredging
At risk: Public health and wildlife habitat
The Kansas River provides drinking water for 600,000 people and is the state’s most popular river for canoeing, kayaking and other recreation. However, the river is threatened by sand and gravel dredging, which would cause severe harm to clean water, wildlife and recreation opportunities. The Army Corps of Engineers must complete a comprehensive study of the impacts of dredging, deny all new permit requests and plan to end dredging on the Kansas River by 2017.
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By Kang-Chun Cheng
Modoc County lies in the far northeast corner of California, and most of its 10,000 residents rely on cattle herding, logging, or government jobs for employment. Rodeos and 4-H programs fill most families' calendars; massive belt buckles, blue jeans, and cowboy hats are common attire. Modoc's niche brand of American individualism stems from a free-spirited cowboy culture that imbues the local ranching conflict with wild horses.
The History of Horse Management<p>Before the 1950s, feral horses were largely unregulated in the U.S. They were released, grazed, captured, killed, sold, and otherwise <a href="http://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/WHB-Report-2020-NewCover-051920-508.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">managed by local inhabitants</a> as they saw fit. Around that time, Velma Bronn Johnston, aka "Wild Horse Annie," started raising public awareness of the "perceived inhumane capture and treatment of free-ranging herds."</p><p>Thanks in part to Johnston's efforts, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law by President Nixon in 1971. It declared that the animals "shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this, they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands."</p><p><a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6148/847.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">This act</a> has been amended four times since its conception to accommodate the fluctuating opinions and conditions around maintaining a "thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands"—an admirable although highly subjective goal. Achieving it involves juggling competing interests: those of local residents, permanent grazers, hunters and fishers, advocacy groups, conservationists, and Indigenous tribes.</p><p>The Bureau of Land Management must manage these many conflicting interests. Modoc County's <a href="https://www.fs.fed.us/wild-horse-burro/territories/DevilsGardenPlateau.shtml" target="_blank">Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory</a> epitomizes the challenges of this task. Officially deemed wild horse territory, the garden consists of 258,000 acres and is wholly within permitted livestock allotments. It is also home to wildlife such as cougar, antelope, migratory birds, and aquatic species dependent on delicate high-desert riparian areas.</p><p>The presence of wild horses has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014019631530094X" target="_blank">decrease native wildlife species diversity</a> for both birds and mammals. Pronghorn antelope are an icon in Western grasslands, known for their annual 350-mile migration along historic routes estimated to be 5,800 years old. This awe-inspiring trek is one of the longest large-mammal migration corridors remaining in North America, but 75% of <a href="http://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00548.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pronghorn migration routes</a> have already been lost because of disturbances from the accelerated leasing of public lands and energy development. Horses also affect the pronghorn's yearly migrations by <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014019631630218X" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">monopolizing watering holes</a>, thus preventing native species from drinking.</p>
Indigenous Support for Ecological Balance<p>Ken Sandusky, a public information officer who has worked for the Forest Service in Modoc County for 13 years, lives by his station's mission statement: "Caring for the Land and Serving People." In his work, Sandusky aims to include the broad range of stakeholders and often acts as a tribal liaison. Sandusky himself is a member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, but as a Modoc native, is more culturally in touch with the local Klamath tribe.</p><p>When it comes to rangeland health, he says, there's a tangible split in what that actually means. "It depends on what you are measuring the outcome against," Sandusky explains. Range managers may perceive progress from a year-to-year basis, but to many Indigenous tribes, the baseline for "progress" goes back generations, to pre-contact times. "They have long memories," he says. "Tribes see damage that is a hundred-plus years in the making."</p>
A Willingness to Try New Things<p>"Americans don't know what's happening on these lands," says Suzanne Roy, the executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, an advocacy organization. The Bureau of Land Management, she says, "is run by and for the livestock industry. They come from a ranching background. The term 'rangeland' management itself illustrates how livestock management is the dominant perspective."</p><p>Roy is particularly concerned about how resources are being allocated: "Policies of land management agencies don't reflect the desires and interests of the public." To illustrate, most Americans associate public lands with national parks and environmental conservation; only 29% of respondents to a recent poll considered livestock grazing an acceptable use of those lands.</p><p>Grazing on public lands certainly aligns with the financial interests of cattle ranchers and helps explain why they insist on increased wild horse management. Cattle can <a href="http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS21232.pdf" target="_blank">graze on public lands</a> for $1.35 per animal per month, while grazing on comparable private land costs ranchers $23 per animal per month (American taxpayer dollars make up the difference). To be fair, though, small-scale ranching would not be viable without public lands.</p><p>The campaign hopes to work toward more equitable resource allocation and improvements to overall habitats for horses and wildlife generally. "There are workable solutions to this issue," Roy says. "Common pushback from rangers is that new conservation strategies will 'destroy our way of life,' but change doesn't have to be bad."</p><p>The <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0362331994900264" target="_blank">social conservatism</a> intrinsic to human cultures makes change seem daunting and people reluctant to try new tactics even in the face of suboptimal systems. Roy uses a case in adjacent Marin County to illustrate: Until 2001, the county ran a USDA program focused on killing apex predators (e.g. coyotes, mountain lions, and cougars) in defense of livestock. Unfortunately, this strategy fails to take into account the science of predators. Killing one mountain lion, for example, creates a vacuum and will eventually lead to increased competition for this newly available territory. In 2001, Marin introduced a country-run program that promoted nonlethal methods such as fox lights, guard dogs, and fladry to deal with predator incidents while compensating ranchers for sheep and lambs lost to predation.</p><p>Ranchers were initially livid, concerned that bans on shooting and trapping hindered their rights, making them defenseless against livestock predation. But 15 years later, a majority agreed that this form of humane <a href="http://www.projectcoyote.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Camilla-Fox-Thesis-FINAL-January-2008.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">adaptive management </a>has successfully reduced both livestock losses and the total number of predators. Ensuring its continued success, the program requires active participation on behalf of all stakeholders and long-term commitment from the local government for support.</p><p>As one fifth-generation sheepherder, Gowan Batiste, explained in an interview to the <a href="https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/mendocino-county-rancher-and-others-calling-for-non-lethal-wildlife-management/ar-BB16CJ8g" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ukiah Daily Journal,</a> "Livestock is a food of desperation for predators; the more you harass them and make life difficult for them, the more likely they are going to come into conflict with humans."</p>
Keeping Wild Horses in Check<p>When it comes to wild horses, many solutions are already in the works. Through annual autumn wild horse roundups, known as gathers, the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals has become one of the U.S.'s most successful adoption sites. The California Cattlemen's Association, a nonprofit trade association and organization popular among ranchers in Modoc, urges its members to support the wild horse gathers in Devils Garden, saying they are humane, good for the horses themselves (since competition for scarce water and forage resources may instigate aggression and <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1439-0310.1981.tb01930.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">herd violence</a>), and necessary to support local ranchers and Modoc's agriculture-reliant economy.</p><p>Another popular solution for controlling wild horse populations is a fertility-control vaccine called PZP, given to female horses on the range <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur7w3UPTCsk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">using dart guns</a>. Mares are tracked on foot or with game cameras while drones are used to locate more elusive herds. The PZP vaccine has been endorsed by the American Wild Horse Campaign as the "<a href="https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/fertility-control" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">most promising strategy</a>" for managing wild horses in their habitats and is also recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. Importantly, a dose of the vaccine only costs $30.</p><p>Lastly, land acquisition and <a href="https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/equitable-share-resources" target="_blank">grazing lease buyouts</a> can promote equitable sharing of public lands and available forage. Acquiring key pieces of land adjacent to or within federally designated wild horse habitat areas can reduce conflicts over resource allocation.</p>
A Global Search for Solutions<p>Pastoralists all over the world face similar land-use conflicts, despite huge variations in climate and culture. The ongoing situation across rural California resonates with that of Fulani cattle herders in Niger and Sami reindeer herders in the Arctic.</p><p>Herders everywhere are accused of having too many animals or are perceived as selfish and irresponsible by their own communities. Overgrazing is certainly an issue, but it's not simply the number of animals that matters: The <a href="https://savory.global/holistic-management/" target="_blank">amount of time</a> animals spend in a certain area is critical to rangeland health. And in the context of such allegations, the ecological value of grazing is frequently omitted. Grazers, both wild and domestic, <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/food-everyone/2019/02/04/restoring-the-range-can-beef-be-earth-friendly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are key to regulating soil health and allowing for species diversity and coverage, </a>as well as efficient carbon sequestration.</p><p>Part of the problem in these heated grazing debates is that moderate viewpoints are drowned out by extremist agendas—those who prioritize wild horse populations at all costs and those who want all of the horses gone, period. "The majority of people don't really have strong views about the horses," Sandusky says. "But the ones who do can get really into it." These unwavering views make it difficult to find compromises that account for all stakeholders.</p><p>"There is no biological problem, merely a social one," says professor Nicholas Tyler, a pastoralism expert at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway. Tyler maintains that in the case of horses and cattle in the West, as with so many others, the so-called equilibria argument is specious and quasi-biological. "Certainly a lot of horses will influence the species composition," he says. "Remove the horses, things change. Add horses, things change again. There is nothing magical about that."</p><p>But Tyler takes it one step further: "There never was, is, or will be a balance. There are shifting equilibria, which is something quite different," he says. "It is up to the community to decide which state of that equilibrium it prefers."</p>
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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