Through the Most Endangered Rivers report, for more than 25 years American Rivers has been the national watchdog raising the alarm on imperiled rivers and energizing grassroots support to stop threats such as dam proposals, mining operations, coal-fired generators, and massive dumping of raw sewage. Working with local partners, the media, elected officials, and concerned citizens, we have achieved spectacular successes for the nation’s rivers — and the people, fish, and wildlife that depend on them.
Here are just a few examples from 25 years of success:
Elwha River: Washington (1992, 1995)
Threats: Two dams
Two outdated dams have blocked the Elwha River near Olympic National Park for nearly 100 years, decimating the salmon runs. Our advocacy helped spur the decision to remove the dams. Deconstruction is on schedule to begin in 2011 and will restore more than 70 miles of river, from mountains to sea. Other important victories in the Northwest include the protection of the Columbia River’s Hanford Reach (listed 1998) as a National Monument and the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers (listed 1990-1993) in Alaska and British Columbia, which prevented potentially devastating copper mining.
Klamath River: California (1987-1990; 2002-2003)
Threats: Dams, water withdrawal for irrigation, and pollution
In 2010, after years of negotiations, American Rivers signed historic agreements to remove four dams on the Klamath River, in what will result in the world’s biggest river restoration project. The agreements will restore access to more than 350 miles of salmon habitat, resolve decades-long disputes over water in the basin, and provide greater economic security for fishing, tribal, and agricultural communities. Also in California, a proposal for a new road that threatened San Mateo Creek (listed 2007) and the famous Trestles surf break was defeated, as was the pipeline that threatened the Tuolumne River (listed 2005).
North Fork of the Flathead River: Montana (2009)
Threat: Proposed mines and oil and gas drilling
Mining and oil and gas drilling proposals in British Columbia endangered the pristine North Fork of the Flathead River, its native fish and wildlife, and recreational opportunities in and around Glacier National Park. In 2010, Montana Senators Baucus and Tester, Governor Schweitzer, American Rivers and our conservation partners convinced the government of British Columbia to save the river by moving to ban mining and oil and gas drilling in the North Fork watershed. Other victories in the Rockies include saving the Blackfoot River (listed 1998) and the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River (listed 1994-1996) from mining.
Neches River: Texas (2007)
Threat: Proposed dam projects
The Neches River was threatened by a proposed reservoir that would have flooded 40 miles of the river and thousands of acres of hardwood forest in a National Wildlife Refuge. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped efforts to build the reservoir, saving the river and its priceless fish and wildlife habitat for future generations. Elsewhere in the Southwest, the reliability of water flows has begun to improve in New Mexico’s Santa Fe River (listed 2007) and in the Guadalupe River (listed 2002) in Texas. Our advocacy also helped save McCrystal Creek (listed 2005) in New Mexico from coalbed methane drilling and other harmful development.
Minnesota River: South Dakota and Minnesota (2008)
Threat: Proposed coal-fired power plant
A coal-fired power plant would have sent more pollution into the air, and endangered the Minnesota River with excessive water withdrawals and mercury pollution. In 2009, the U.S. EPA said the proposal did not meet federal air quality requirements — effectively killing the plant.
Wolf River: Wisconsin (1997-1998)
Threat: Proposed zinc/copper sulfide mine
A zinc and copper sulfide mine would have dumped 44 million tons of waste into the Wolf River, threatening fish and wildlife and the sacred lands of four native tribes. In 2003, two tribes bought the site, killing the mine proposal and ensuring the area will be forever protected to support clean water, tourism jobs, and tribal culture.
Penobscot River: Maine (1989-1996)
In 2004, American Rivers helped block the construction of new dams on the Penobscot and spur a landmark agreement to remove two dams and improve operations on a third — a project that will restore more than 1,000 miles of river. We also played an instrumental role in securing $10 million in federal funding for these dam removals. Progress has been made to curtail excessive groundwater pumping and water consumption that threatened the Ipswich River (listed 2003) in Massachusetts, and work is being done to minimize PCB contamination in New York’s Hudson River (listed 2001).
Susquehanna River: New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland (2005)
Threats: Sewage pollution, dam construction
Within days of our naming the Susquehanna an endangered river, the U.S. EPA dropped its proposal that would have allowed the dumping of partially treated sewage into the Susquehanna and other rivers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also denied the permit to construct an inflatable dam on the river.
Big Sunflower River: Mississippi (2002-2004)
Threats: Wetlands destruction and river dredging
For almost 70 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried to push through a plan to drain more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in northwestern Mississippi to enhance production of subsidized crops. American Rivers played a lead role in convincing the U.S. EPA to kill the proposal, ensuring the river and its wetlands will continue to provide natural flood protection benefits and critical wildlife habitat. Other success stories in the Southeast include saving Georgia’s Altamaha River (listed 2002) from an unnecessary dam and reservoir, and protecting the Tennessee River (listed 2004) from sewage pollution.
While we celebrate these successes, American Rivers continues to monitor these rivers — and all rivers nationwide — to ensure that victories are upheld and to safeguard against new threats. The list of endangered rivers provides a snapshot of today’s most critical threats to rivers throughout the nation, from harmful gas drilling to outdated flood management to construction of new dams. With the help of our activists and supporters across the country, we will continue to protect these endangered rivers.