America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Aerial shot of a race finish on the Russel Fork river. Photo: Gareth Tate

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Presented by American Rivers:

The America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is one of the best-known and longest-lived annual reports in the environmental movement. Each year since 1984, grassroots river conservationists have teamed up with American Rivers to use the report to save their local rivers, consistently scoring policy successes that benefit these rivers and the communities through which they flow.

Endangered River Maps

American Rivers reviews nominations for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report from river groups and concerned citizens across the country. Rivers are selected based upon the following criteria:

    • A major decision (that the public can help influence) in the coming year on the proposed action
    • The significance of the river to human and natural communities
    • The magnitude of the threat to the river and associated communities, especially in light of a changing climate

The report highlights ten rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year, and encourages decision-makers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support. The report is not a list of the nation’s “worst” or most polluted rivers, but rather it highlights rivers confronted by critical decisions that will determine their future.

#1. Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin  
(Alabama, Florida, Georgia)
Threat:  Outdated water management

The Chattahoochee River from I-75 bridge. Photo credit: Chattahoochee River Keeper
The Chattahoochee River from I-75 bridge. Photo credit: Chattahoochee River Keeper

A water conflict has been raging in the Southeast for more than two decades, and rivers and communities are at a breaking point. Outdated water management practices and wasteful water use threaten the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers – the source of metro Atlanta’s drinking water and lifelines for agriculture, industry, fisheries and recreation. Unless Georgia, Alabama and Florida reach a transparent water-sharing agreement that protects both people and wildlife throughout the basin, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improves water management, the region will face lasting economic and irreversible environmental damage.

#2: San Joaquin River
(California)
Threat: Outdated water management

San Joaquin River near Stockton. Photo: Sarah Craig
San Joaquin River near Stockton. Photo: Sarah Craig

The San Joaquin is Central California’s largest river, supporting endangered fish and wildlife, communities, and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. However, the river is so over-tapped that it runs completely dry in stretches, threatening water quality, endangering fish and wildlife, creating uncertainty for farmers, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of more frequent and severe droughts. The California Water Resources Control Board must act this year to increase flows in the San Joaquin so that the watershed is healthy enough to support fish and wildlife, sustainable agriculture and resilient communities for generations to come.

For more on the San Joaquin River, watch American Rivers’s film, Walt.

#3: Susquehanna River
(Pennsylvania, Maryland)
Threat:  Harmful dam operations

Riverfest 2008 on the Susquehanna River. Photo: Don Williams
Riverfest 2008 on the Susquehanna River. Photo: Don Williams

The Susquehanna River is a vital resource and economic engine for communities, and a major influence on the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna is threatened by pollution, but is also imperiled by the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam, which alters river flow, blocks fish and impacts water quality. The Exelon Corporation is seeking to renew its federal license to operate Conowingo, and Maryland has the authority to require that the dam meet state water quality standards before a new license can be issued. However, a bill pending in Congress, H.R. 8, would take away Maryland’s authority to hold Exelon accountable for pollution, putting the Susquehanna River further at risk.

#4: Smith River
(Montana)
Threat: Mining

Smith River Photo: Patrick Clayton of Fish Eye Guy Photography
Smith River Photo: Patrick Clayton of Fish Eye Guy Photography

Hidden in a deep canyon amongst central Montana’s forested mountains, the Smith River is a treasured destination for paddlers and anglers alike. But this legendary trout stream is in danger of permanent degradation from a proposed copper mine. The State of Montana must require the mining company, Tintina Resources, to prove beyond any doubt that their operation will produce no acid mine drainage or cause any environmental harm to the Smith River or its tributaries before the project is allowed to proceed.

#5: Green-Duwamish River
(Washington)
Threat: Outdated dam and floodplain management, pollution

Aerial view of the Duwamish River. Photo: Ned Ahrens
Aerial view of the Duwamish River. Photo: Ned Ahrens

The Green-Duwamish River flows from the Cascade Mountains north of Mt. Rainier, winding through farmland and the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, before reaching Puget Sound. Decades of pollution, floodplain development and harmful dam operations have taken their toll on the river and its salmon and steelhead runs. Two key actions this year can put the river on the rebound: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must build a long-delayed system for young salmon and steelhead to migrate downstream past a large dam, and governments at all levels must work collaboratively to manage the river for the benefit of salmon and communities.

#6: Pee Dee River
(North Carolina)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

The Tillery Dam on the Pee Dee River. Photo: City of Rockingham
The Tillery Dam on the Pee Dee River. Photo: City of Rockingham

The Pee Dee River provides abundant habitat for fish, mussels, birds and other wildlife. But the health of the river is at risk thanks to irresponsible and harmful operations of the Duke Energy Tillery Hydroelectric Project. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not take steps to improve dam operations through the project’s license, the river’s health will suffer for decades to come.

#7: Russell Fork River
(Kentucky, Virginia)
Threat: Mountaintop removal mining

Aerial shot of a race finish on the Russel Fork river. Photo: Gareth Tate
Aerial shot of a race finish on the Russel Fork river. Photo: Gareth Tate

Locals and visitors love the Russell Fork River for its clean water, whitewater rapids and unique beauty. However, all of this will be compromised if Paramont Coal Company’s proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal coal mine gets the green light. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Virginia must reject Paramont’s permit application in order to protect the Russell Fork’s many environmental and economic values for today’s communities and future generations.

#8: Merrimack River
(Massachusetts, New Hampshire)
Threat: Polluted runoff

The Merrimack River. Photo: Merrimack River Watershed Council
The Merrimack River. Photo: Merrimack River Watershed Council

Birthplace of American industry, drinking water source for over a half million people, and home to Eastern brook trout and other fish and wildlife, the Merrimack River is one of New England’s treasures. However, its forests are disappearing, cut down to make way for developments, roads and parking lots. Unless the Environmental Protection Agency acts now to protect sensitive lands and implement green infrastructure solutions, the river and its communities will be harmed by increasingly polluted runoff.

#9: St. Lawrence River
(New York)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

A local enjoying the St. Lawrence River. Photo: Lizzy Grater
A local enjoying the St. Lawrence River. Photo: Lizzy Grater

The St. Lawrence River has been a lifeline of the region for thousands of years, rich in history and biodiversity. Unfortunately, the river’s dam management is stuck in the 1950’s, a time when little consideration was given to environmental values. Unless U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion approve a proposed plan for improved dam operations, the river and its fish and wildlife will suffer irreversible damage.

#10: Pascagoula River
(Mississippi, Alabama)
Threat: New dams

The Pascagoula River Photo: Brian Carlisle
The Pascagoula River Photo: Brian Carlisle

The Pascagoula River is a free-flowing treasure that runs through the Gulf Coastal plain in the southeastern United States. The river and its associated marshes and wetlands are a haven for fish, wildlife, and visitors looking to experience the area’s unique natural beauty. All of this could be irreversibly damaged if local counties are successful in their effort to build new dams on Pascagoula tributaries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should deny the permit request for this unnecessary and environmentally damaging project.

This is a summary. Read the full report here.