America's Most Endangered Rivers
For 26 years, American Rivers has sounded the alarm on hundreds of rivers through our America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. By shining the spotlight and mobilizing the public to take action, we save rivers from urgent threats like pollution, mining and dams. The report emphasizes solutions to secure a better future for the rivers, their fish and wildlife, and communities.
The 10 rivers named as America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2011 highlight an issue of urgent concern to all Americans—clean water. It's vital to the health of our families and communities. Sixty-five percent of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams, but many of our rivers are too polluted to use.
Working with local partners and concerned citizens, American Rivers fights to safeguard our rivers and clean water for this year's endangered rivers—and rivers nationwide—for generations to come.
Why these 10 rivers?
Each year, American Rivers selects 10 rivers from a broad array of nominations from groups and individuals across the country. Selection of the final list is based on the following criteria:
• A major decision in the coming year that the public can help influence through the proposed action
• The significance of the river to people and wildlife
• The magnitude of the threat to the river and its communities, especially in light of a changing climate
1. Susquehanna River—New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland
Threat—Natural gas extraction
At Risk—Clean drinking water
One of the longest rivers in America, the Susquehanna River provides drinking water to millions of people and supplies more than half of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay. But the river and its clean water are threatened by natural gas development, which produces toxic waste and requires millions of gallons of water. Unless Pennsylvania, New York and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission announce a complete moratorium on water withdrawals and hydraulic fracturing and comprehensive safeguards for clean water are enforced, drinking water and public health will be at risk. Partners include Susquehanna River Sentinel and Sierra Club.
2. Bristol Bay Rivers—Alaska
Threat: Massive mine
At risk: Livelihood of native tribes, salmon runs
The wild and pristine rivers that flow into Bristol Bay support native tribes, the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, and a thriving fishing industry. Unfortunately, this one-of-a-kind resource is threatened by the Pebble Mine—a mineral mine of such staggering scale that it could cause permanent damage to clean water, salmon and an entire way of life. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must prohibit development of the Pebble Mine, or one of the world’s last wild treasures will be lost. Partners include the Alaska Conservation Foundation and Native American tribal organizations, the Nunamta Aulukestai and Ekwok Tribal Council.
3. Roanoke River—Virginia, North Carolina
Threat: Uranium mining
At risk: Clean drinking water and public health
The Roanoke River, flowing from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, provides water to more than one million people for drinking, farming, fishing and boating. However, several companies want to mine a major uranium deposit on one of its tributaries. Uranium mining, processing and waste disposal would leave a toxic, radioactive legacy in the watershed for centuries. Unless the Virginia legislature upholds a ban on uranium mining, the health of the Roanoke and rivers throughout the region will be at risk. Partners include the Roanoke River Basin Association, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Piedmont Environmental Council.
4. Chicago River—Illinois
Threat: Sewage pollution
At risk: Clean water and public health
Supporting more than six million residents, the Chicago River flows through the heart of our nation’s third largest city. Used for fishing, boating, transportation and shipping, and featuring new riverfront businesses and attractions, the river is a significant community and economic asset. However, it is one of the only rivers in the country where undisinfected sewage is dumped directly into the river every day. Unless the Illinois Pollution Control Board requires disinfection of this wastewater, Chicago residents and visitors will face increasing health threats. Partners include Friends of the Chicago River, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
5. Yuba River—California
Threat: Hydropower dams
At risk: Salmon and steelhead runs
The Yuba River is one of California’s last refuges for spring-run Chinook salmon and provides drinking and agricultural water and recreation opportunities to surrounding communities. However, two federal dams have damaged river health and blocked access to more than 120 miles of historic salmon and steelhead habitat for 70 years. Unless the Army Corps of Engineers mandates that fish passage be provided at these dams, the Northern Sierra’s salmon and steelhead will edge closer to extinction. American Rivers’ partner on this project is the South Yuba River Citizens League.
6. Green River—Washington
At risk: Clean drinking water, wildlife habitat
Southwest Washington’s Green River provides drinking water to downstream communities and flows through Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. However, the river’s clean water and wildlife are threatened by a large proposed mine. Unless the U.S. Forest Service acquires the mineral rights to block the drilling and proposed mine, and Congress forever safeguards the river with a Wild and Scenic designation, this river and its communities will be at risk from toxic pollution. American Rivers’ partner on this project is the Gifford Pinchot Task Force.
7. Hoback River—Wyoming
Threat: Natural gas extraction
At risk: Clean water and wildlife habitat
Not far from Jackson Hole, the Hoback River is treasured for its clean water, spectacular scenery, and thriving native cutthroat trout fishery. But natural gas drilling in the river’s headwaters threatens the Hoback and local residents with toxic pollution. Unless the Forest Service prepares a new environmental analysis and develops a true conservation alternative that fully protects the river, the Hoback will lose its unique wild character and local citizens could face serious health risks. Partners include The Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council and Western Resource Advocates.
8. Black Warrior River—Alabama
Threat: Strip mining for coal
At risk: Clean drinking water and public health
Alabama’s Black Warrior River is a major drinking water source for Birmingham and Tuscaloosa and supports unique fish and wildlife as well as outstanding recreation opportunities. However, coal mining is threatening drinking water and public health with muddy water and heavy metals. If the Army Corps of Engineers, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Alabama Surface Mining Commission do not close a dangerous mining loophole and tighten clean water protections, coal mining will continue to scar the Black Warrior and its communities. Partners include Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Alabama Rivers Alliance, Southern Environmental Law Center and World Wildlife Fund.
9. St. Croix River—Wisconsin, Minnesota
Threat: Costly highway bridge
At risk: Protection for Wild and Scenic rivers nationwide
The St. Croix, protected as a Wild and Scenic river, provides a wealth of beautiful scenery, recreation opportunities for paddlers and anglers, and a haven for wildlife. However, a proposal to build a costly highway bridge would set a precedent for weakening Wild and Scenic protections for rivers nationwide. Congress must oppose legislation that revokes Wild and Scenic protections and creates a loophole for the expensive bridge, and the governor of Minnesota must evaluate common-sense alternatives. American Rivers’ partner on this project is the St. Croix River Association.
10. Ozark National Scenic Riverways—Missouri
Threat: Overuse and poor planning
At risk: Clean water and recreation opportunities
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways feature clear water flowing from abundant springs and provide some of the Midwest’s best river recreation to more than one million visitors each year. However, poor management has led to motor vehicles and horses approaching and entering the river wherever they can, destroying vegetation and causing severe erosion and pollution. Unless the U.S. National Park Service gives the riverways the protections afforded to the country’s other national parks, the area’s clean water and rare remote experience will be lost. Partners include Friends of Ozark Riverways, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and the Missouri Parks Association.
For more information, click here.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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