These Are America’s Most Endangered Rivers in 2023
WASHINGTON — American Rivers, a nonprofit environmental organization, published its most recent annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, highlighting 10 rivers in the United States where climate change and adverse industrial and human activity have put water supplies and ecosystems at risk.
While many of the rivers on the 2023 list are repeats from years past, some are facing new and more complex dangers, including harsher adverse human activity and compounded climate change effects.
The Colorado River tops the list as America’s Most Endangered River for the second year.
What American Rivers calls, “one of the greatest natural treasures in the nation” is in peril this year especially due to severe drought conditions.
“Rising temperatures and severe drought driven by climate change, combined with outdated river management and overallocation of limited water supplies put this iconic river at serious risk,” the report said.
“As it makes critical decisions about water management along the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation must consider the environment a key component of public health and safety and prioritize the ecological health of the Grand Canyon.”
Also in dire condition are the Ohio, Clark Fork and Lehigh rivers, which American Rivers claims are threatened mainly due to pollution, affecting the quality of life for many local communities that rely on these rivers for drinking water as well as fishing and recreation.
“The Lehigh River, flowing out of the Appalachian Mountains and through the densely populated Lehigh Valley region, is the ‘backyard river’ for half a million people, and the keystone to Northeastern Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry,” the report said.
“But as the region becomes the logistics hub of the eastern seaboard, with over four square miles of warehouses and distribution centers built to date, the river’s health is at risk. Unless federal, state, and local decision-makers act to improve protections for local waterways, the area’s clean water and wildlife habitat could suffer irreversible harm.”
Dredging and dam construction are the main culprits affecting the Pearl and Snake rivers.
While the Pearl — one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country and the primary drinking water source of Jackson, Mississippi — is threatened by a development project that could result in a community water crisis, the Salmon River’s series of four dams may be wiping out its namesake fish, the salmon.
Fish of several varieties are struggling for survival in the Eel River, where American Rivers says dam removal is also necessary to protect vital fish habitat, honor treaties and commitments to tribal nations, and improve community health and wellness.
“The Eel River once teemed with abundant native fish and other wildlife, supporting the Wiyot, Sinkyone, Lassik, Nongatl, Yuki, and Wailaki peoples, who have lived along the river since time immemorial. Today the river’s Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey are all headed toward extinction in large part because of two obsolete dams,” the report said.
Mining is a concern for the Chilkat and Klehini rivers, where American Rivers says proper permitting requirements are needed to ensure the protection of the entire ecosystem, as well as the Okefenokee Swamp, a unique wetland that risks increased drought and catastrophic fire posed by proposed titanium mining plans.
A shuttered pulp mill actively leaking toxic chemicals into the groundwater around the Clark Fork River, in addition to past copper mining operations, is also decimating Montana’s Clark Fork River.
“The Clark Fork is a regional boating and angling destination and supplies some of the richest habitat in the lower 48,” American Rivers’ report said. “Throughout European settlement and industrial development, the Clark Fork was the backbone of large-scale enterprises that left a legacy of pollution and ecological damage.”
“Community members, advocates, tribes, and government officials are among many who have been helping to heal the river, however, the shuttered Smurfit-Stone pulp mill threatens to reverse the gains made. … Pollutants threaten fish and wildlife and put the health of tribal subsistence fishers at risk. Through federal superfund law, the polluters are responsible for cleaning up the site.”
Here is American Rivers’ complete list of 2023 Most Endangered Rivers and the major threat each is facing:
- 1. Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: CLIMATE CHANGE & OUTDATED WATER MANAGEMENT.
- 2. Ohio River: POLLUTION & CLIMATE CHANGE.
- 3. Pearl River: DREDGING & DAM CONSTRUCTION.
- 4. Snake River: FOUR FEDERAL DAMS.
- 5. Clark Fork River: PULP MILL POLLUTION.
- 6. Eel River: DAMS.
- 7. Lehigh River: POORLY PLANNED DEVELOPMENT.
- 8. Chilkat and Klehini rivers: MINING.
- 9. Rio Gallinas: CLIMATE CHANGE & OUTDATED FOREST & WATERSHED MANAGEMENT.
- 10. Okefenokee Swamp: MINING.
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