Sounding the alarm that our nation’s rivers and clean water are in crisis—from catastrophic drought and disastrous floods to fish and other freshwater species nearing extinction as rivers heat up—American Rivers released its America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2022, with the Colorado topping the list.
The Colorado, the report says, is threatened by climate change and outdated water management. Thirty federally-recognized Tribal Nations, seven states, Mexico and 40 million people who rely on the river for drinking water are being impacted by this crisis. Also threatened is vital habitat for wildlife, as the Basin is home to 30 native fish species, two-thirds of which are threatened or endangered, and more than 400 bird species.
In March 2022, water levels at Lake Powell (the impoundment created by Glen Canyon Dam in Utah/Arizona) fell to the lowest point since the lake first filled in 1980. The Colorado River system is already operating at a deficit, and climate change is expected to further reduce the river’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050. We’re calling on the Biden administration and the seven Basin states to work together to allocate funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to implement proven, equitable solutions that prioritize river health and water security.
“Our country’s rivers need attention now,” says AR in its release. “We must work better. Smarter. More equitably. We must elevate Tribal Nations and learn from their Traditional Ecological Knowledge. We must work collaboratively with frontline communities along the Mississippi River, and in places like the Mobile River (AL) and Tar Creek (OK), where residents deal with pollution on a regular basis. We must heed the calls of Tribal Nations to restore rivers like the Snake River.”
California makes a prominent appearance in the report this year as well. In addition to the Colorado River (a key source of drinking water for some California residents), also featured are the Los Angeles River (threatened by inadequate management, climate change and pollution) and the Lower Kern River (threatened by excessive water withdrawals).
“No matter where you live in the United States, your river and your drinking water are affected by climate change,” the report says. “Black, Indigenous, Latino/a/x and other communities of color feel these impacts most acutely, due to historical and contemporary policies, practices and norms that maintain inequities. It’s time to follow the lead of frontline communities that are advancing solutions for rivers and clean water — solutions that will make us all safer and healthier, and our nation stronger.”
This year is also the 50thanniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act, whose battle comes to Arizona’s San Pedro River, the report states, where rollbacks to the Clean Water Act initiated during the Trump administration have removed protections for seasonal and intermittent streams, which encompass almost 94 percent of the San Pedro River’s waterways and provide the lifeblood that sustains the river.
Rounding out this year’s report are Alabama’s Coosa River, which is threatened by pollution from industrial poultry farming, and Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers, where we have an opportunity to save Atlantic salmon by making better decisions during the upcoming relicensing of hydropower dams.
America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2022
State: CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA, WY, NM, Mexico
Threat: Climate change, outdated water management
#2 Snake River
State: ID, WA, OR
Threat: Four federal dams
#3 Mobile River
Threat: Coal ash contamination
#5 Coosa River
State: TN, GA, AL
Threat: Agricultural pollution
State: MN, WI, IL, IA, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS, LA
Threat: Pollution, habitat loss
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals
Threat: Excessive water pumping; loss of Clean Water Act protections
Threat: Development, pollution
#10 Tar Creek