America’s Most Endangered Rivers Report: 2007 Edition

Rivers come in all shapes and sizes, and vary from pristine to heavily polluted, but it’s generally safe to assume that water is a common denominator among them. For the Santa Fe, 2007’s Most Endangered River, water is the missing ingredient, leaving this once-thriving river a dry, weed-choked ditch most of the year. The Santa Fe River can thrive again. The city of Santa Fe has within its grasp the opportunity to bring its namesake river back to life, restoring a community asset of tremendous value right in the heart of the city.

The 2007 endangered rivers faced a dizzying array of threats from sewage pollution, proposals for unnecessary dams, power lines to highways but all had one thing in common. The report highlights ten rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year, and encourages decisionmakers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2007

#1 Santa Fe River (New Mexico): Spring runoff in the Santa Fe River this year is giving residents a taste of what it used to be like to have a living river in the heart of their city, and what it could be like again. Much of the year, the Santa Fe suffers from the biggest threat any river could face a complete lack of water. While Santa Fe Mayor David Coss has promoted a visionary, plan to restore water to the river, the city still has not taken important steps to make that vision a reality. Until that happens, the Santa Fe River spends most of the year as a dry, weed-choked ditch, and is America’s most endangered river in 2007.

#2 San Mateo Creek (California): Natural treasures should be enjoyed, not buried under millions of tons of concrete.  While that might seem like common sense, it apparently isn’t to California’s Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), which are bulldozing ahead with plans to build the new Foothill Transportation Corridor South (FTC-South) right over the San Mateo Creek.  The road will wreck a long section of the creek, cut off access to more than half of California’s fifth most popular state park, and could doom the world-famous surf at Trestles beach. All this for a road that experts agree is unlikely to do anything to alleviate traffic problems in Southern Orange County.

#3 Iowa River (Iowa): Iowans are proud of their state’s high rankings for education and livability compared to other states, but on a crucial aspect of the Clean Water Act the state lags far behind the rest of the nation. Iowa has failed to adopt adequate clean water rules thirty years after passage of the Act that set a baseline and keep water quality from getting worse. If this baseline isn’t enforced, the state will continue to issue permits that allow increased pollution in the Iowa and other rivers. Faced with a growing load of sewage from both humans and livestock, it is no wonder that the Iowa River is one of the Most Endangered Rivers in America for 2007.

#4 Upper Delaware River (New York): The Wild and Scenic Upper Delaware River is the economic engine that drives a strong tourism-based economy in upstate New York, but that engine is threatened by a huge, proposed power line that would slash through 73 miles of the river corridor. Leaders from across the region have united in opposition to the plan, which would mean massive clear cutting, ongoing herbicide use and seizing property from landowners by eminent domain.

#5 White Salmon River (Washington): For almost a century, Condit Dam in Washington State has cut off salmon and steelhead from an important Columbia River tributary. With the facility producing only a small amount of power, dam owner PacificCorp has agreed to remove it, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has yet to approve the deal. With so much hanging in the balance, the White Salmon is one of the Most Endangered Rivers of 2007.

#6 Neches River (Texas): One of the last wild rivers in Texas is facing destruction at the hands of state lawmakers, the city of Dallas, and a Texas state agency that are poised to erase millions of dollars in economic activity, hunting heritage that stretches back generations, and Texas’ newest wildlife refuge. If these lawmakers get their way, a dam could soon choke the Neches River under the Fastrill Reservoir, for a dam that is completely unnecessary.

#7 Kinnickinnic River (Wisconsin): The Kinnickinnic River gathers up a heavy load of problems as it flows through the heart of Milwaukee. But none is more pressing than the accumulation of toxic sediments that are choking the river and flowing out into Lake Michigan.  Due to the pollution, sedimentation, low water levels, and the negative impact on Lake Michigan, the Kinnickinnic River has been named one of the most endangered in America.

#8 Neuse River (North Carolina): As rivers go, North Carolina’s Neuse is a tough one. But with more than a million people and two million hogs and woefully inadequate sewage treatment in place for both in the Neuse Basin, it is a river in deep trouble. More than a million new residents are expected to move into the area in the next two decades. This exploding growth will push the Neuse past the breaking point unless the state seizes the opportunity this year to control existing sewage pollution in the river and prevent new arrivals from adding to the problem.

#9 Lee Creek (Arkansas, Oklahoma): One of Arkansas’ great natural treasures is facing the prospect of drowning, and one in every six of the state’s rivers could be at risk along with it.  Lee Creek is a picturesque vacation destination for thousands of people every year and an economic engine for local economies all across Northwest Arkansas. A local water district is trying to trade all of that away for an unnecessary dam that will not only destroy the creek, but will open many of Arkansas’ most treasured rivers and streams to similar obliteration.

#10 Chuitna River (Alaska): Insatiable demand for coal throughout Asia has driven demand into some unlikely places, even into the headwaters of Alaska’s pristine Chuitna River. Even in a state known for wild salmon and wild country, the Chuitna is special, producing some of Alaska’s largest king salmon. A massive, proposed coal mine threatens the Chuitna, with plans to dump millions of gallons of mine waste a day into the river’s tributaries and wreck more than 30 square miles of the river’s headwaters.