America's Most Endangered Rivers: Progress and Success: 2005 - 2009
Progress & Success
America’s Most Endangered Rivers® Recent Developments
- America’s Most Endangered Rivers®: 2009 Edition
- America’s Most Endangered Rivers®: 2008 Edition
- America’s Most Endangered Rivers®: 2007 Edition
- America’s Most Endangered Rivers®: 2006 Edition
- America’s Most Endangered Rivers®: 2005 Edition
- Past America’s Most Endangered Rivers® Updates and Successes
We’ve already seen significant movement on this year’s rivers. Most notably:
#1 Catawba-Wateree River, North Carolina and South Carolina
Threat: Outdated water supply management
American Rivers and our on-the-ground partners called on decisionmakers to implement sensible water supply and efficiency policies throughout the Catawba-Wateree River basin and highlighted a proposed transfer of ten million gallons of water per day out of the river before it reached South Carolina. North Carolina and South Carolina are still battling for control over this water in the U.S. Supreme Court. As of Spring 2009, in the South Carolina Legislature, a bill known as the Fair Share Water Act has been introduced that would set seasonally-appropriate minimum flow levels for fish and wildlife, recreation, river health and downstream users. In North Carolina, bills that would result in the regulation of water permitting and planning have also been introduced.
#2 Rogue River, Oregon
Threat: Logging and road construction
While the Rogue was one of the original rivers to receive the Wild and Scenic River designation, many of the key streams that feed into the river are vulnerable to destructive logging plans. Proposals to clearcut forest along Rogue tributaries would choke these streams (and ultimately the Rogue) with sediment. The health and survival of massive salmon and steelhead runs in the river and the communities and economies that depend on these fish runs, would be at risk if these logging plans occur. Following the release of the report in 2008, Reps. Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden introduced legislation to add 143 miles of rivers in the Rogue River watershed to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. While this legislation was delayed in 2008, American Rivers and more than 70 business supporters and local organizations are working hard in 2009 to ensure the Rogue's fish-bearing tributaries are permanently protected through the reintroduction and passage of legislation for Wild and Scenic designation.
#3 Cache La Poudre
Threat: Water Diversion and Reservoir Project
At the time of the 2008 listing Colorado's only Wild and Scenic River was critically threatened by the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project and Glade Reservoir (NISP/Glade), which would divert the Cache La Poudre to create a new reservoir and cost homeowners and taxpayers nearly a billion dollars. Proposed to fuel future development in this arid landscape, NISP/Glade has now come to a virtual standstill due to an outcry from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, local municipalities, residents and environmental groups who sent nearly 10,000 opposing comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in September of 2008 due to insufficient analysis. The agency now agreed to prepare a "Supplemental EIS" to address the many shortcomings in the original analysis -- a process that could take up to two years.
#4 St Lawrence River, New York and Canada
Threat: Outdated dam management plan
For the first time in 50 years the management plan for the Moses-Saunders Dam, which controls outflows and water levels on the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, is up for revision. Water releases under the current plan do not allow for the variations in natural flow essential to a healthy river and have been found to have a serious detrimental effect on the diversity of plant species in river wetlands that cascades up through the food chain to populations of many fish and other wildlife. In fall of 2008, after hundreds of comments and a lengthy consultation process, the International Joint Commission, the bi-national agency that manages the dam, rejected "business as usual" and called for a plan that moves toward more natural river flows. The Commission has yet to release any details of a new regulation plan although an announcement is tentatively slated for June 2009.
#5 Minnesota River, South Dakota and Minnesota
Threat: Proposed coal-fired power plant
The treasured Minnesota River is threatened by water withdrawals and increased mercury pollution by a proposed coal-fired power plant known as Big Stone II (BSII). Despite a state Administrative Law Judge's recommendation that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission deny permits required for the BSII plant, in January 2009, the Commission approved the Minnesota permit with significant conditions. Early this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in saying the proposal did not meet federal Air Quality requirements. Developers are being given a chance to remedy permit deficiencies, but they have stated that additional conditions for plant construction and operations may be too burdensome for them to move forward with the proposal.
#6 St. Johns River, Florida
Threat: Unsustainable water appropriations
The St. Johns River remains at the center of a battle over water in thirsty central Florida. The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) wants to permit the removal of millions of gallons from the river and its tributaries every day instead of implementing water conservation measures that could reduce the region's water use five-fold. An administrative law judge has recommended the SJRWMD Board of Governors allow Seminole County, one of several that have petitioned for more water, to take millions of gallons from the river per day. The Board will make a final decision in April 2009. Seminole's permit is only the beginning. Recently, a coalition of local governments unveiled a 500-mile series of pipelines to remove water from three segments of the St. Johns River. But local communities care deeply about the St. Johns and are taking action. Even the owners of Jacksonville's professional football have recently donated $150,000 in matching grants to further raise awareness of excessive water use and, if necessary, legally challenge these damaging plans.
#7 Gila River, New Mexico and Arizona
Threat: Water development project
New Mexico’s last free-flowing river is threatened by an archaic and costly water diversion project, even when future water supply needs can be met through cheaper alternatives. At the press conference to announce the report’s listing of the Gila River, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson promised in his remarks to protect the Gila, even if that means introducing specific legislation blocking any proposed diversions.
#9 Pearl River, Mississippi and Louisiana
Threat: Irresponsible floodplain development
The Pearl River is threatened by a boondoggle project that would dam and dredge the river to create artificial lakes and islands for private development at a staggering cost to taxpayers. The proposal has been heavily criticized by interest groups and some local politicians. In September of 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said they would not seriously consider the lake plan for environmental reasons. Despite this, significant support for the project remains on the part of local development interests who continue to seek ways to make the project become a reality.
#10 Niobrara River, Nebraska and Wyoming
Threat: Unsustainable irrigation diversions
One of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Cornhusker state, the Niobrara River is still threatened by water diversions. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission continues to study the need for an instream flow water right to ensure minimum stream flows that would protect the recreational and fish and wildlife values for which the river was designated. However, two bills that would further reduce protections for the Niobrara are expected to resurface in 2010. One would prevent an instream flow right from being granted. The other would remove all regulatory powers from the Niobrara Council, given express authority in companion legislation to manage the Wild and Scenic River section in conjunction with the National Park Service at the time of its designation -- transforming it into a purely advisory entity. An integrated management plan for the Niobrara River, which would meet the needs of irrigators, fish and wildlife, and recreational interests, is still being negotiated by a number of state agencies.
#1 Santa Fe River, New Mexico
Threat: Severe lack of water in the river
American Rivers and our on-the-ground partner called upon the city of Santa Fe to permanently allocate significant and sustainable flows that would ensure a healthy river. Only a few months later, Mayor David Coss announced a proposal to dedicate 1,000 acre-feet of water to the Santa Fe River, enough water to keep riparian vegetation alive in stretches of the river during the summer months and the first designation of water to a river anywhere in the state.
The people of Santa Fe are making strong efforts to bring their namesake river back to life. In June 2007, a City-sponsored fund to purchase dedicated water rights for the river was formally launched along with the Santa Fe River Trail Corridor Project, which will be one of three primary urban trails serving the Santa Fe area. The Project will provide open space corridors, trails for walking and biking, and a series of river parks. Whether Santa Fe residents will be successful in their efforts to revive the river remains to be seen. What is needed now is a crescendo of public voices championing the importance of a flowing river, and overriding the persistent fears that providing for nature means depriving ourselves.
#2 San Mateo Creek, California
Threat: Proposed highway
In December of 2008, the U.S. Department of Commerce rejected the proposed Foothill South toll road, which threatened San Mateo Creek and surfing at famous Trestles Beach. Earlier that year, the California Coastal Commission had rejected the controversial proposal due to violations of the state's coastal management program, but proponents appealed that decision to the federal level -- and lost. If built, the toll road would have had massive impacts on southern California's last remaining pristine coastal watershed, including substantially degrading habitat both for endangered species that live in the state park and surfers who ride the waves at famous Trestles Beach. Editorials in the Los Angeles Times and North County Times said the toll road wouldn't be worth the damage it would cause, and stories in the San Diego Tribune and Orange County Register showed local opposition to the proposal was at 70 percent. Orange County's Transportation Corridor Agencies should go back to the drawing board for a solution to congestion that won't harm one of the last free-flowing, undiverted streams in southern California.
#3 Iowa River, Iowa
Threat: Weak enforcement of the Clean Water Act
A host of polluters that include large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities, and lack of centralized sewage treatment in rural areas have inundated the Iowa River with toxins, nitrates, phosphorous, viruses, bacteria and other pathogens for years. After ten years of delays, the Iowa DNR finally began a formal process in November 2008 to adopt strong rules that will keep the Iowa River and other rivers in the state from becoming more polluted. These new rules are scheduled to be finalized later in summer or early fall of 2009. Overwhelming public support for clean rivers made the difference, and new statewide and local river advocacy groups are helping to support protection of the Iowa and other state rivers. There is still a long way to go, but the future is looking much better for the Iowa River.
#4 Upper Delaware River, New York
Threat: Proposed power line
Plans by New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI), a private power company, to construct a power line that would cut through the Wild and Scenic section of the Upper Delaware River and undermine the river's outstanding natural characteristics, were dropped early in 2008. NYRI has resubmitted an application that does not mention using the Upper Delaware River either as a primary or alternate route for its power line project.
However, the same act that could have permitted the power line project, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, exempts the oil and gas industries from the Safe Drinking Water Act in their extraction of methane from the Marcellus Shale Formation (MSF), a giant natural gas seam that stretches from New York through West Virginia and underlies most of the Delaware River Watershed. Thousands of drilling leases have been signed, and many others are in progress. New York City Council is calling for a ban on this practice, which threatens the drinking water supply for 25 million Americans who depend on the Upper Delaware Watershed for clean drinking water.
#5 White Salmon River, Washington
Threat: Condit Dam
Designating the White Salmon River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers has helped to raise awareness and support for the removal of Condit Dam. Since the listing, local efforts have: turned back a threat from the local electric company to start condemnation proceedings as a way to stall or prevent removal; hosted informational meetings to stir discussion and share facts about dam removal with the community; and appear to be turning back a move by Klickitat County to rezone a large area along the river most critical to salmon restoration. Fish scientists continue to make plans for salmon restoration - some think that rainbow trout found upstream of the dam may actually be steelhead (genetically identical to rainbow trout) that were able to adapt to freshwater life. This means that there may still be native species of steelhead in the river only waiting for the chance to return to the ocean and resume their anadramous life cycle.
It is important that FERC keep dam removal on track. Public support for dam removal is high and growing - the listing of the White Salmon generated 300 comments to the agency. Also, the tremendous public support for the recent removal of the nearby Marmot Dam on the Sandy River just outside of Portland makes Condit Dam an obvious and excellent next step for supporting people and salmon in the Columbia basin.
#6 Neches River, Texas
Threat: Proposed dam projects
A major step has been taken towards protection of the Neches River. The river was threatened by a proposal from the City of Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to overturn the designation of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge in order to allow them to construct a reservoir that would flood 40 miles of the river and thousands of acres of bottomland hardwood forest. Fortunately, in July 2008, a federal judge upheld the Refuge designation in a lawsuit filed by the City of Dallas and the TWDB. In March of 2009, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling. To stop other dam proposals on the Neches River and increase the region’s visibility as a tourist destination, Texas environmental groups are working towards a Wild and Scenic River designation for the Neches.
#7 Kinnickinnic River, Wisconsin
Threat: Toxic sediments
After years of neglect, the Kinnickinnic River is on the path to restoration. The presence of more than 170,000 cubic yards of toxic sediments laced with PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) put the river on list. And now, thanks to Federal Great Lakes Legacy Act funds and matching funds from the state of Wisconsin (totaling $22 million), dredging of those toxic sediments started in June 2009 and has been completed. Meanwhile, feasibility studies for the removal of concrete channelization upstream of the sediment hotspots are being conducted.
#8 Neuse River, North Carolina
Threat: Poorly planned development
In early September, elected officials in North Carolina floated the Neuse River to learn about threats to the river’s health, and ways to help protect the river. Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Dean Najouks led them on the trip. He talked about how rainwater running off of lawns, parking lots, golf courses and roads - collectively called stormwater - can harm a river, and how low impact development can help to alleviate these problems. For many, it was an eye-opening experience. Hopefully this trip will help to pass a bond measure in Wake County, NC that would preserve 30% of the county’s land as open space - something that would help to reduce the amount of stormwater funneled into creeks and rivers.
There are still many challenges facing the Neuse River, including a drought this year. Additionally, the state just approved a sewage plant expansion for Johnston County and is endorsing a plan to grant the City of Raleigh a variance request to allow more than 1000 acres of polluted ground water to leach into the Neuse River - that would be more than 120,000 lbs of nitrogen per year for the next 30 years, without any treatment or mitigation. A local blogger explains how you can speak out for the Neuse on this issue.
#9 Lee Creek, Oklahoma and Arkansas
Threat: Proposed dam and weakened state protection for rivers
Arkansas’ Lee Creek continues to face an uphill battle, but efforts to protect this Extraordinary Resource Water are not over yet. In early October, changes to the regulations that protect Extraordinary Resource Waters (ERW) in Arkansas were passed unanimously by the PC&E Commission. These changes provide a way to delist the river as an ERW, which would normally prohibit dam construction, if a community has no alternative source of drinking water. Although this opens the possibility for constructing a dam on Lee Creek, there must be ample proof that it’s absolutely necessary for drinking water. Project proponents have not been able to show this because cheaper and more ecologically sensible alternatives exist for local drinking water.
Additionally, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed the Senate and House in late September, renews the 1967 authorization of the Pine Mountain Dam - proposed for Lee Creek - along with 14 other water projects in the state. Funding for study of the dam proposal is provided but there is no guarantee that any funding will be provided for building the dam. Furthermore, the project cited by the Act authorizes the dam for flood control - not water supply - meaning that the dam would still be in opposition to state law protecting ERWs.
#10 Chuitna River, Alaska
Threat: Proposed coal mine
PacRim Coal, the company pushing for the coal mine is moving forward with its plans, and permitting is in advanced stages. Efforts to slow the project and extend the timeline have, however, been successful. The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) was originally expected to be released in early 2009, but it has not even been written yet. Residents and others submitted a petition in 2007 requesting that lands within the fish-rich Chuitna River watershed be deemed “unsuitable” for coal strip mining, as nearby native communities and others rely heavily on the Chuitna River region for year-round subsistence fishing and hunting. Denied, residents saw no other option but to appeal the decision in Alaska Superior Court. The Department of Natural Resources since agreed to a settlement saying that these lands can be deemed "unsuitable" in future petitions, so submission of a new petition is in the works. In 2009, three studies were released that concluded that critical salmon fisheries along the Chuit River will suffer severe long-term damage and never fully recover from the impacts of the project. The proposed mine would not only devastate thousands of acres of prime fish, moose, and bear habitat but would also emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from coal combustion.
#1 Pajaro River, California
Threat: Failure to adopt a comprehensive flood control project
The Pajaro’s dubious distinction as America’s Most Endangered River of 2006 has been a catalyst for government agencies and concerned citizens to continue gaining insight into both the challenges and the potential of this river. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still dragging its feet on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that should offer the opportunity to restore natural flood protection benefits along the entire length of the river. Originally scheduled for completion last summer, the DEIS is now slated for release in December 2007.
On a more positive note, the state of California recently contributed $25 million to support local collaborative efforts to integrate environmental, water quality and water supply goals with the flood protection plan for the river. As an example of how the report listing has brought much-needed public attention to the river, Mount Madonna School in Watsonville has incorporated the Pajaro River into its curriculum, and students are already undertaking projects to help protect their hometown river.
#2 Upper Yellowstone River, Montana
Threat: Floodplain development
Bank stabilization projects and riverside development continue to compromise the integrity and scenic beauty of the Upper Yellowstone River. Shortly after the report’s release, U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) demanded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stop stalling on its Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the river. Since then, the agency has completed much-needed impact studies. Also, earlier this year the agency held a public scoping meeting on the SAMP, for which public comments are being accepted until April 21, 2007. The public continues to push for the Corps to establish a firm cap on the amount of bank stabilization activity that is allowed on this treasured river.
#3 Willamette River, Oregon
Threat: Industrial and municipal pollution
Though toxic mixing zones are still a problem on the Willamette River, the Oregon Legislature is taking up the issue this year. Co-sponsors have signed on to move legislation that would phase out toxic mixing zones and in the interim will mark where these mixing zones exist. Governor Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality — both well aware of popular support to restore the Willamette River — have jointly proposed a new $1.5 million program to monitor toxic pollution in the river.
#4 Salmon Trout River, Michigan
Threat: Acid mine drainage
The fight to save the Salmon Trout River is heating up. After tentatively approving permits for the Kennecott Minerals Company’s nickel and copper mine, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) recently withdrew this draft decision after the public release of an internal report questioning the soundness of the mine’s design. The report, written by an agency consultant, raised concerns over the possibility of the mine’s roof collapsing — an alarming issue considering that the proposed Eagle Project would be located squarely in the headwaters of the Salmon Trout. Mining pollution would pose a direct threat not just to the Salmon Trout, but also to Lake Superior, the most pristine of the Great Lakes. The MDEQ has pledged to thoroughly review its own reports and to investigate why the information was kept from the public record. In other good news for the river, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that Kennecott also would have to ensure that the mine complies with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Unfortunately, another threat has emerged that would also put people, rivers and wildlife at risk from acid mine drainage. Canadian-owned Prime Meridian Resources Corp. recently announced plans to begin test drilling for nickel and copper in the Upper Peninsula’s Baraga basin — just two miles from Kennecott’s proposed mine.
#5 Shenandoah River, Virginia and West Virginia
Threat: Runaway development
Progress on the Shenandoah River has been slow but steady. Counties throughout the watershed are considering new policies that will protect their water resources, including ways to encourage more compact, denser development. On surrounding farmland, innovative agricultural pilot projects promise new ways to reduce the nutrients entering the waterway. Land trusts also had a record year, permanently protecting thousands of acres in the region from future development. However, fish kills on the Shenandoah continue, with another occurring this past December. Meanwhile, the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force is still investigating the mysterious fish kill two years ago that eliminated up to 80 percent of smallmouth bass and sunfish populations. Last fall, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine authorized $150,000 from the state’s Environmental Emergency Response Fund to support these scientific efforts. The Virginia Senate also passed legislation authorizing $100,000 to support additional research on the problems plaguing the river.
#6 Boise River, Idaho
Threat: Cyanide leach mine
Earlier this year, Boise Mayor David Bieter announced his opposition to the proposed cyanide heap leach gold mining operation near the headwaters of the Boise River. Mayor Bieter said that more than two years of studying the proposal, as well as last year’s Most Endangered Rivers listing of the Boise River, convinced him that the mining company’s plans for protecting the environment are grossly inadequate given the enormity of the threat. Despite the mining company’s assertions to the contrary, open pit cyanide heap leach mining has an abysmal environmental record not only in the western United States but around the world, the mayor said. While the city of Boise has no regulatory authority over the mine proposal, the mayor called upon the U.S. Forest Service and the state of Idaho to hold the Atlanta Gold project to the highest operational, financial, transportation and environmental standards allowed by law. The mayor is also urging other local governments across the state to go on record in opposition to the mine.
#7 Caloosahatchee River, Florida
Threat: Releases of toxic water
The Caloosahatchee continues to be regularly inundated with toxins, leading to fish kills and human health problems. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers effected a revised operating plan in 2008 that allows for less fluctuation in river levels: meaning more frequent releases. Drought combined with nutrient pollution has given rise to severe outbreaks of red tide and blue-green algae in the Caloosahatchee. This pattern of neglect puts at stake the $2 billion tourism industry, the commercial fishing industry, and important habitat for wildlife, including the endangered Florida manatee. In good news, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has rescinded a proposal to create entirely new downgraded water classifications, which would have meant efforts to improve water quality to make certain rivers suitable for swimming and general recreation would have been halted. However, the state of Florida's waters is dire enough that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has threatened -- in an unprecedented move -- to wrest control from the DEP. Governor Charlie Crist's $1.34 billion plan to buy U.S. Sugar Corporation land for Everglades restoration remains a beacon of hope, but the shrinking U.S. economy throws into question whether the state can afford the land. A flow-way for water from Lake Okeechobee would be constructed on land included in the purchase to redirect polluted flows now dumped in the Caloosahatchee River. Due to higher water quality standards in the Everglades, it would be treated prior to introduction into the imperiled tropical wetland.
#8 Bristol Bay, Alaska
Threat: Open pit mining
In the wake of last year’s Most Endangered Rivers designation, thousands of Alaskans have joined the campaign to stop construction of Pebble Mine, a massive open pit gold, copper and molybdenum mine proposed in southwest Alaska. Perched at the headwaters of rivers feeding Bristol Bay — home to the largest-known wild sockeye salmon runs on Earth — Pebble Mine has sparked serious political debate in the state. Those opposed to the mine include not just conservationists, but the United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest statewide commercial fishing organization, dozens of Alaska Native corporations and tribes, more than three dozen leading sporting goods retailers, and even Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). The Alaska Legislature is also considering bills to protect salmon habitat and to designate a large swath of the Bristol Bay watershed as a protected fish refuge, which could thwart Canadian-owned Northern Dynasty Mineral’s plans to build the Pebble Mine. However, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with plans to allow mining in more than one million federal acres in the region.
#9 San Jacinto River, Texas
Threat: Unregulated sand mining
Earlier this year, Texas State Sen. Tommy Williams (R-District 4) introduced legislation to establish a pilot program that would protect portions of the San Jacinto River from sand and gravel mining. If passed, the bill would allow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the San Jacinto River Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife to monitor sand and gravel mining operations on the west and east forks of the San Jacinto River. The bill also would require environmental restoration of these pits to prevent harm to surface and groundwater and, at a minimum, twice-yearly visual inspection and sampling. Conservationists applaud Sen. Williams for leading the charge to protect the San Jacinto watershed. Also deserving of praise is the bill’s co-sponsor, Texas State Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale (R-District 130), who wants to expand the legislation to include the Spring Creek tributary.
#10 Verde River, Arizona
Threat: Groundwater pumping
Proponents of the Big Chino Pipeline continue to make headway, despite evidence that pumping groundwater from the Big Chino aquifer will result in drastically diminished flows in the Upper Verde River. The U.S. Geological Survey has concluded that the Big Chino aquifer supplies more than 80 percent of the water emanating from the headwater springs that maintain flow in the Upper Verde -- particularly during the driest times of year when freshwater is needed most for both people and wildlife. Thousands of concerned citizens have sent letters to federal, state and local officials opposing the pipeline. Despite these developments, and the fact that cost estimates for the project have more than doubled to nearly $171 million, the Prescott City Council remains committed to moving forward with the pipeline. Construction could begin soon, and the pipeline could begin carrying at least 13 million gallons of water per day from the Big Chino aquifer to new development in the Prescott area by 2011.
#1 Susquehanna River, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland
Threat: Sewer pollution and dam construction
Within days of the report's release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dropped its proposal to adopt a new policy on “blending,” which would have legalized the dumping of partially treated sewage into rivers across the country. Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich also backed away from his proposal to reduce cleanup efforts along the lower Susquehanna River. Locally, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission agreed to institute yearly analysis of the river and its tributaries. In addition to these immediate successes, persistent work on the ground paid off.
In February 2008, the misguided inflatable dam proposal in Wilkes-Barre was buried when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its decision that the dam would cause unacceptable impacts to the river and wasn't in the public interest. Also, a partnership of NGOs, local citizen’s groups, and municipal, state and federal agencies, has since removed 6 dams that were in place on creeks that feed the Susquehanna at the time of its listing.
#2 McCrystal Creek, New Mexico
Threat: Coalbed methande drilling
The threat of coalbed methane drilling put McCrystal Creek in the Valle Vidal region of New Mexico on the list in 2005. Shortly after the report's release, New Mexico’s Water Quality Control Commission acted to protect McCrystal Creek and all waterways in the Valle Vidal by designating them as Outstanding National Resource Waters. By preventing any future degradation of water quality, this step means that the area’s pristine streams no longer face the threat of coalbed methane drilling.
#3 Fraser River, Colorado
Threat: Water withdrawals and trans-basin diversion
Less than two weeks after its listing, Rep. Mark Udall (D-2nd) released a statement and met with the head of the Denver Water Board seeking answers on their proposed plans to divert 85% of the water from the Fraser River. In part a result to Rep. Udall’s efforts, last summer, Denver Water, Colorado’s largest utility, announced that it would meet with several west slope water utilities in an attempt to craft a water-sharing plan to protect mountain communities and to provide the Denver metropolitan area with adequate water. Recently, Denver Water delayed its plans to divert water and their Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the diversion project has been pushed back until late 2006. Rather than taking water from communities that depend on the Fraser without negotiating a deal that protects their needs, Denver Water has instead entered into conversations about a possible compromise that will satisfy local concerns about growing water demands. This is a victory for the Fraser River and the communities that depend on it.
#4 Skykomish River, Washington
Threat: Runaway development
The Snohomish County Council finalized its comprehensive land use plan, which produced a more positive than expected result for the river. The new plan adopted an overall lower-growth alternative, as opposed to the maximum-growth option which would have increased development pressure on the Skykomish watershed. However, the plan allows for the development of “fully contained communities” small cities built in rural areas where forests now stand that could threaten clean water. The County Council has yet to revise its Critical Areas Ordinances, rules that protect sensitive lands while safeguarding property, clean water, and river health. A proposal is expected in late summer 2006, after which the public will have a chance to comment.
#5 Roan Creek, Tennessee
Threat: Factory dairy farm
The river remains on the Tennessee’s “impaired” list, plagued by siltation and bacterial contaminants. The listing prompted local officials in Mountain City, TN to voluntarily decrease the amount of pollution the town contributes to Roan Creek. There is also an effort to persuade Mayor Harvey Burniston to secure state and federal monies to ensure adequate sewage treatment in the face of expected growth. Unfortunately, the company Maymead, Inc. is preparing lagoons and laying the foundation for a 700-cow dairy farm. Citizen opposition to Maymead’s factory farm operation remains strong.
#6 Santee River, South Carolina
Threat: Hydropower dam
There is still no decision from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) on the Santee-Cooper utility’s water quality certification with mandatory terms and conditions for the new license because sufficient information has not been received from the utility. This certification is necessary for the utility to get a new hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and ensures that hydropower operations meet state water quality standards. On April 12, 2006, Santee-Cooper withdrew the application it submitted in 2005 which was set to expire, and reapplied for certification. This means the permitting clock restarts and SCDHEC has one year in which to issue a certification. Limited information that has been received demonstrated excessive dissolved oxygen violations. A recently completed freshwater mussel survey showing an abundance of a rare mussel species could also affect SCDHEC’s decision. American Rivers and other stakeholders are reviewing a seriously flawed water flow report published by the utility and additional information to determine how much flowing water is needed to protect public uses of the Santee River.
#7 Little Miami River, Ohio
Threat: Sewage and polluted runoff
This river continues to face significant water quality threats from a proposed 1.4 billion dollar rail and highway expansion. Despite concerns that dumping more treated sewage into the river would lead to high amounts of phosphorous that causes oxygen-depleting algae blooms, the Ohio EPA approved a permit for the Sycamore Creek and Wards Corner wastewater treatment plants. The agency is currently reviewing permits for four additional sewage plants along the river. If all are approved, the Little Miami Wild and Scenic River would be at risk from sewage pollution.
#8 Tuolumne River, California
Threat: Water diversions
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission scrapped plans to build a huge pipeline across the San Joaquin Valley, which would have sucked water from this national Wild and Scenic River.
#9 Price River, Utah
Threat: Dam construction and dewatering
The goal of last year’s report was to have the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drop its plans for a reservoir in favor of higher efficiency water delivery and irrigation systems. To date, the agency has fortunately not moved forward with these plans, but they have not yet dropped them altogether.
# 10 Santa Clara River, California
Threat: Runaway real estate development
Several environmental groups have since filed a lawsuit to overturn the City of Santa Clarita’s approval of Newhall Land and Farming’s 1,100-unit Riverpark development project within a designated Significant Ecological Area less than 100 feet from the river. In February of this year, three more environmental groups filed another suit, this one against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for issuing more than 100 development permits in the last five years on sites along the river without proper environmental analysis.
Penobscot River, Maine
The Penobscot, New England’s second largest river, was listed every year from 1989 to 1996 because of existing or proposed dams. Our efforts, along with those of our strong local partners, blocked new dams and helped spur a landmark agreement in 2004 to remove two dams and improve operations on a third. In the last year we were able to secure $10 million from the federal government which matches the funding previously raised from private and public sources and assures that the power company will relinquish three of its dams, making the restoration of the river inevitable. These efforts will help bring back the fabled Atlantic salmon and other fish and wildlife, and will create new economic opportunities connected to a healthy river.
Spokane River, Idaho and Washington
Excessive phosphorus pollution from wastewater discharges prompted this river’s listing in 2004. In late 2005, the Washington Department of Ecology publicly committed to reducing phosphorus levels in the river by half over the next 20 years.
Colorado River, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California
One year after the Colorado River topped the 2004 list, the U.S. Department of Energy announced its intention to relocate a 12 million ton pile of radioactive waste away from a flood-prone location on the riverbank. In addition, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered state agencies to conduct a pollution survey of the river.
Susquehanna River, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland
At risk from sewage pollution and dam construction, the Susquehanna was number one on the list in 2005. Within days of the report’s release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dropped its proposal to adopt a new policy which would have legalized the dumping of partially treated sewage into the Susquehanna and other rivers across the country. In 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit to construct an inflatable dam on the river, killing the illadvised proposal.
Tennessee River, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky
Six months after the Tennessee River appeared on the 2004 list, the Knoxville Utility Board settled a lawsuit with conservationists, committing to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows into the Tennessee River within ten years.
Ipswich River, Massachusetts
After Massachusetts’ Ipswich River appeared on the 2003, list, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued new water usage regulations along the river limiting the amount of water municipalities can withdraw during low flow periods and, also requiring them to monitor water use.
McCrystal Creek, New Mexico
The threat of coalbed methane drilling put McCrystal Creek in the Valle Vidal region of New Mexico on the list in 2005. Shortly after the report’s release, the state of New Mexico took action to protect this pristine and beautiful stream from drilling and other harmful development by designating all the surface waters of the Valle Vidal as Outstanding Resource Waters.
Canning River, Alaska
Flowing through Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Canning River, threatened by oil exploration and drilling, was listed in 2001 and 2002. For the Canning, energy development would have meant the pumping of millions of gallons of water, huge new gravel mines in its floodplain, and serious disturbance to fish, polar bears and other sensitive wildlife. So far, Congress has blocked several attempts by drilling proponents to open the refuge to oil and gas development.
Wolf River, Wisconsin
At risk from a zinc and copper sulfide mine, the Wolf River, one of the last wild rivers in the Midwest, was on the list in 1995, 1997 and 1998. The mine, located at the Wolf ’s headwaters, would have dumped 44 million tons of waste into this National Wild and Scenic River, threatening trout, sturgeon, and the area’s recreation and tourism. Mine pollution also threatened wild rice beds and sacred lands of the Menominee, Sokaogon Chippewa, and Potawatomi tribes. Thousands spoke out against the mine, and in 2003 two tribes bought the mine site. The land purchase killed the mine proposal, and ensured the area will be protected to support clean water, tourism jobs and tribal culture.
Columbia River’s Hanford Reach, Washington
The Hanford Reach is the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River and supports the only reliably harvestable runs of Chinook salmon in the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. The Hanford Reach was listed in 1997 and was number one in 1998 because of the threat of harmful land development. Our advocacy helped create the Hanford Reach National Monument in 2000, protecting the 51-mile Hanford Reach and almost 200,000 acres of surrounding lands.
Guadalupe River, Texas
Three years after its listing, the future of this river, deep in the heart of Texas, now looks brighter. In February 2006, a state district court ruled in favor of a coalition of conservation groups fighting for the legal right to keep water in the river. The judge’s ruling means that water rights for the purpose of maintaining stream flows will receive equal consideration as water rights for consumption.
Altamaha River, Georgia
Proposals for new dams and power plants that would reduce river levels, destroy habitat and concentrate pollution put the Altamaha on the list in 2002. Our report highlighted the need for increased water and energy efficiency as an alternative to these irresponsible proposals. Following the listing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rescinded its permit for a new reservoir on a tributary of the river.
Hudson River, New York
A few months after the 2001 listing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered General Electric to foot the bill for cleaning up tons of PCBs from its factories that contaminate the river bed.
Blackfoot River, Montana
The threat of a cyanide heap-leach gold mine landed the Blackfoot, one of Montana’s great trout streams and recreation destinations, on the list in 1998. The mine, which would have been developed less than a quarter-mile from the river’s edge, carried the risk of pollution from cyanide and acid mine drainage. Shortly after the report’s release, voters in Montana enacted a ballot initiative banning the use of cyanide in extracting gold in the state.
Mattaponi River, Virginia
In a huge win for rivers in the Chesapeake Bay drainage, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' permit for the proposed King William reservoir in eastern Virginia was invalid. In March of 2009, the court denied the agency's claims that the reservoir would be the "least damaging practicable alternative" to secure water supply, that it would not cause significant water degradation, and that the proposal was in the public's interest. Dragged through the courts for years, the misguided reservoir proposal was ultimately doomed.
San Mateo Creek, California
A proposed toll road landed San Mateo Creek number two on the list in 2007. The 16-mile long road would have cut through the creek, causing significant damage to the watershed and to surfing at the world-famous Trestles Beach, whose reef depends on the creek for sand and cobbles. The voices of thousands of Californians helped convince the California Coastal Commission to deny the road proposal in February 2008.
Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, Montana and Wyoming
The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone was number one on the list for three straight years from 1994 to 1996. The river and nearby Yellowstone National Park were threatened by the proposed New World gold mine. Toxic waste from the mine would have posed an unacceptable risk to clean water, fish and wildlife, and the millions of Americans who enjoy the park. In 1996 our efforts culminated in a Presidential Action to stop the mine and protect this national treasure.
Yazoo River and Big Sunflower River, Mississippi
For almost 70 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried to push through a plan now estimated to cost $220 million to drain more than 200,000 acres (an area greater than all five boroughs of New York City) of wetlands in northwestern Mississippi to enhance production of subsidized crops. The threat of this enormously destructive “Yazoo Pumps” project landed the Yazoo River in the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004 and the Big Sunflower River in the report in 1997. Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency utilized a Clean Water Act veto to kill the proposal. This boondoggle is buried for good -- a victory for fish and wildlife, natural flood protection, and common sense.