What is Happening with the 2011 Most Endangered Rivers?

Each spring American Rivers releases our top ten list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.  It is a day full of both angst and hope.  Of course, no river really wants to have the dubious distinction of being under such a great threat as to make “the list”.  Most rivers would rather flow freely- babbling along to their own river song.  Unfortunately, sometimes people make that nearly impossible.

Our job is to highlight some of the most grievous offenses to prevent a permanent and lasting impact on our nation’s water and wildlife.  However, we also have hope that we can make a difference for these rivers, and that they will be defended by ourselves, our partners, and the public.

Consequently, throughout the year we have moments of tribulation and moments of optimism.  Below is a summary of the actions occurring on our 2011 rivers since the report in May:

Susquehanna River (NY/PA):  Working on staving the impacts of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale region continues to be an uphill battle.  American Rivers recently commented on some draft regulations for natural gas drilling proposed by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC).  Meanwhile, the fight over regulations rages on in NY, PA, and in the Delaware River Basin

Bristol Bay Rivers (AK):  In a recent ballot initiative, local residents voted to halt damaging big mining projects, such as the Pebble Mine.  This vote will be challenged in court.  Our local partners were not successful in their lawsuit to invalidate exploration permits.  However, opposition to the project continues to mount.

Roanoke River (VA):  Shortly after the release of our list, the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission voted to advise the Virginia Legislature to keep the moratorium on uranium mining in effect until the year 2013.  The Virginia Legislature is not bound to accept this advice, so there is still more work to be done.A recent report revealed that the proposed mine site is prone to flooding.  Also, the City of Virginia Beach has stated its support for continuing the ban on uranium mining.

Chicago River (IL):  Our Most Endangered Rivers partners continue to press the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) to begin disinfection of wastewater as soon as possible.  CNN recently highlighted the revitalization of this special urban river.  Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Illinois EPA’s new water quality standards for the Chicago River. [Update here.]

Yuba River (CA):  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proceeding with a preliminary study of dam removal or modification for the Englebright Dam.  Meanwhile, study plans from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for Englebright Dam have been disputed because they do not address the impacts to fish populations.  In better news, the Army Corps has been directed to improve fish passage downstream at the Daguerre Point Dam.  American Rivers and our partners continue to monitor the situation to ensure that adequate fish passage is provided on both of these dams on the Yuba River.

Green River (WA):  In July, our partners filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service to try to force an environmental impact study of exploratory drilling under the National Environmental Policy Act.  They are concerned that the exploratory mining could cause toxic mine drainage to flow into the Green River.  Apparently, the Bureau of Land Management will be conducting some sort of environmental review on federal lands for this mining project.  In the meantime, exploratory mining continues.  Our partners remain vigilant in protecting this special river. 

Hoback River (WY):  The U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that includes a new alternative that is consistent with the Forest Plan and would limit road density for the Plains Exploration and Production natural gas drilling project.  This is exactly what our listing asked them to do.  We will continue to work with partners to ensure that the environmental review includes the necessary protective elements.

Black Warrior River (AL):  A U.S. Attorney recently hosted an environmental summit in Birmingham for federal enforcement partners from the Department of Justice and EPA.  In announcing the meeting, U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance noted, “The recent listing of the Black Warrior as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers highlights the importance of, and the need for, federal enforcement actions within this watershed, which provides drinking water for much of northern Alabama.”  The environmental justice concerns surrounding the coal mining in the Black Warrior River Basin are now under investigation as a result of our listing and the hard work of our Most Endangered Rivers partners.

St. Croix River (MN/WI):  Legislation is still under consideration in both houses of Congress to authorize the building of a superhighway bridge over the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River.  However, last week Obama Administration officials expressed concern over the legislation and asked stakeholders to work together on a compromise solution. 

Ozarks Riverways (MO):  The National Park Service continues to work on their General Management Plan (GMP) for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  There are ongoing studies into the various uses of the river, and evaluation of new policies to manage use more effectively.  We expect a public comment period in the spring of 2012 on the draft GMP.  In the meantime, our partners have been working on a petition calling for improved management of this unique resource.