I recently attended the announcement held along the banks of the Cape Fear River—of the long-awaited drinking water standards for 6 types of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” EPA Administrator Michael Regan spoke about the impacts of years-long contamination of our nation’s waterways by manufacturers of forever chemicals. Administrator Regan also highlighted the efforts of many citizens, scientists, EPA staff, and officials at all levels of government to hold these polluters accountable as well as enact regulations to protect against these harmful chemicals. 

Donna Myers with North Carolina Governor, Roy cooper
Donna Myers with EPA Administrator, Michael Regan

Donna Myers, Associate Director of Southeast Conservation, with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (Left) and EPA Administrator Michael Regan (Right)

This was an important day for affected citizens who’ve rallied their communities across North Carolina for years to address the serious health risks posed by the permitted dumping of PFAS, notably into the Cape Fear River by Chemours Fayetteville Works Plant. However, the concerns are not only downstream of this discharge.  To learn more about the proliferation of these substances, The State of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality began sampling for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water sources across the state. Citizens can find the results of those studies here or by contacting their local water utility.  

American Rivers supports this monumental movement toward clean drinking water standards of PFAS contaminants. While this is a huge step forward, we and our partners remain concerned over contaminants still in the Cape Fear River and the State of North Carolina’s ability to regulate the polluters responsible for these releases. American Rivers supports our partners including Haw River Assembly and Cape Fear River Watch who continue to call for the polluters to be held accountable by cleaning up years-long permitted discharges of PFAS and end the discharge of these harmful chemicals into the river.   

Guest blogger Tess McEnroe is a river conservationist with Idaho Rivers United and shares her recent experiences on Montana’s Smith River.

Taking a Smith River trip in early April is a rite of passage for river runners in Big Sky Country. Our recent trip was just the ninth launch of 2024, kicking off the season with typical Montana spring weather – a slice of teaser sun followed by two solid days of rain and snow, blanketing the canyon and our rafts with three inches of snow and soaking us to the bone for nearly 60 miles.

Smith River, Montana

We had heard other stories about early season Smith trips being “stuck at a camp for five days because the river froze over,” or “having to break into a nearby home to warm the kids up.” But as with any good river trip, you laugh, snack, shiver, and imbibe through the frozen feet together. It’s “type two fun” and we would do it again in a minute. We paddle for preservation, just as anglers can cast for conservation, and by doing so we are actively connecting to the natural world while protecting these important wild places for now and future generations.

The Smith River is threatened by the Black Butte Copper Mine, which is being built about 17 miles up Sheep Creek. Sheep Creek is a clear-flowing trout spawning tributary that flows into the Smith at the Camp Baker boat launch, which is about a half hour drive from the small ranching community of White Sulphur Springs.

Smith River, Montana

According to Earthjustice, the copper mine would produce nearly 13 million tons of acid-generating waste, threatening water quality and trout populations in Sheep Creek, the Smith River, and eventually the Missouri River, into which the Smith flows. Not only does the Black Butte Mine threaten a world-class wild trout fishery, but the Smith River canyon also has irreplaceable cultural value in the form of over 70 Native American pictograph sites hidden amongst its limestone walls and caves.

The Black Butte Copper Mine was temporarily stopped in April 2022 when a state district court judge ruled in favor of American Rivers and its co-plaintiffs, who argued the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed to conduct a thorough enough environmental analysis. But last February, the Montana Supreme Court overturned that decision, reinstating the operating permit for the mine.

The battle is not over, however. The mining company still needs to survive another court challenge pertaining to the water rights the mine needs to operate. In late March, the Montana Supreme Court heard oral arguments in that case, and it is expected to issue a ruling by November. In the meantime, conservation groups are urging the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to implement a 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal on public lands in the Smith River watershed to ensure that any mining that occurs at the Black Butte Mine doesn’t spread onto the adjacent Helena – Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Another important way to protect the Smith River is through passage of the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, sponsored by US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). The MHLA would safeguard 384 miles of Montana’s most prized rivers as Wild and Scenic – including the Smith River and Tenderfoot Creek, its most pristine tributary. This legislation would also protect 18 other waterways in the Greater Yellowstone area, including portions of the Gallatin, Madison, and Yellowstone rivers. 

Smith River, Montana

The Smith River clearly deserves to be designated as a Wild and Scenic River and protected in perpetuity. As the only permitted river in Montana, the Smith is unique. It possesses stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and an exceptional wild trout fishery, which generates over $10 million annually for nearby rural communities. Passing the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act and implementing a mineral withdrawal in the Smith River headwaters are two critical steps needed to protect this remarkable river and preserve the opportunity for others to experience their own snow-covered sufferfest like the one I just endured.

Rivers connect landscapes and humanity – they are the lifeblood of Earth, the pulsing, freshwater arteries of the planet. After floating the Smith this spring, I have a much better understanding of why the Smith is one of our state’s most treasured rivers. Let’s keep it that way.

Tell Senator Daines to support the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, and sign the Smith River mineral withdrawal petition.  

Tess McEnroe is a river conservationist at Idaho Rivers United and has river guided across the west for 18 years. She lives in Missoula, MT along the Clark Fork River.

The world’s largest dam removal on the Klamath River continues to push forward, with one dam completely removed, and the remaining three in progress. During the removal process, sediment impounded in the dam’s reservoirs will keep moving downstream. What do these processes mean for fish and wildlife in the river and the communities who depend on the Klamath?

To make things easy, we put together four key things you need to know about the impacts of dam removal on the Klamath River.

1. Muddier in the short-term, healthier in the long-term  

Since the drawdown behind three remaining Klamath dams began in January, the river has been looking muddy, and residents of the Klamath watershed are understandably concerned. Sediment is a natural part of river systems. Healthy rivers move sediment downstream and out to the ocean as part of their regular flows. Sediment has built up behind these dams since they were built, starting in the beginning of the 20th century. The Klamath dams impounded millions of tons of sediment over nearly 100 years. Before a single dam was breached, multiple scientific studies were conducted to predict how their stored sediment could affect the river. To minimize the harm to the river, including state and federally protected species, and harness the power of the river to mobilize the stored sediment, dam breaching, and the subsequent sediment release was scheduled for the winter months. Now that the three remaining dams have been breached, a century’s worth of sediment is flowing downstream and will temporarily affect the river’s water quality. The worst water quality conditions have likely passed as the initial slug of sediment has been flushed downstream. Water quality is seeing steady improvements; as the river begins to heal the removal of the dams will improve water quality, from nutrients to dissolved oxygen and stream temperature, and reduce the likelihood of toxic algae blooms, creating healthier habitat for salmon, other fish and wildlife, and people. 

2. Is the Klamath safe to drink and play in?   

No one should ever drink untreated surface water. This is true on major waterways across the U.S., including the Klamath River. Since there are no drinking water sources that draw directly from the Klamath River, and groundwater wells will be unaffected by sediment from the dam removals, the dam removals are not impacting the availability of clean drinking water. While the turbid river may look unappealing, recreating in the Klamath is also possible. According to the California Water Quality Board, data collected by Siskiyou County and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation indicate it is “unlikely that recreational activities in the Klamath will lead to adverse health effects from dam removal related sediment in the water.”  

3. Are fish dying because of the dam removals?  

Yes: while reports and images of dead fish following dam breaches are unfortunate, this outcome was expected. Fish stranded in the drained reservoir were invasive non-natives, including bluegill, yellow perch, and small- and largemouth bass.   

Reports of a fishkill of juvenile salmon are related to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s release of non-listed fall-run Chinook salmon. These fish were released from the new hatchery facility upstream of the Iron Gate Dam because the hatchery had already exceeded its quota for producing these fish for the year, and the hatchery conditions were becoming too crowded. Although the loss of these fish is unfortunate, it will not affect the hatchery’s ability to reach its production goals. Mortality was caused when juvenile fish swam through part of the Iron Gate Dam facility that resulted in a gas-bubble disease, similar to the “bends” that scuba divers can experience.  

CDFW will release all hatchery fish below Iron Gate Dam until the facility is removed. This past week, CDFW successfully released about 90,000 coho salmon, a threatened species, as well as more than 400,000 fall-run Chinook salmon that were raised in the Fall Creek Fish Hatchery.  The problem associated with the Iron Gate Dam tunnel is temporary, as is the dam itself; following the dam’s removal, future hatchery releases will not need to take this into consideration. The good news is that we’re seeing healthy fish in downstream monitoring programs from partner agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Karuk Tribe.   

4. What is the timeline for recovery?  

Other dam removal examples indicate that healing on the Klamath will take time… but not as much as you might think. When the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River was removed, 60% of the sediment was eroded through natural processes within 15 weeks, and native fish were found above the former dam locations within a year of the removal. When Bloede Dam was removed in 2018, 50% of the sediment eroded away within 6 months of removal, with native fish populations making a similar rebound. These case studies show us the immense ecological value of dam removal, in addition to providing some context around what’s happening on the Klamath River. However, since the scale of the Klamath River dam removal is unprecedented, it’s difficult to predict exactly when the negative short-term effects will subside. What is certain is that dam removal is the first vital step to restoring the Klamath River and will jump-start its path to recovery. 

As a kid I always loved taking baths. And these were often after I had been bumming around in the backyard or messing in the little stream behind my friend’s house building dams in the hapless hope of making a swimming hole deep enough to do a cannonball. 

What I didn’t love so much was the reasonable task of cleaning the tub and getting rid of that ring of dirty soapy water that was left behind. 

So what’s this got to do with rivers and Maine? We need to go back to the log drive days of the 19th century first. Much of Maine’s river systems were dammed and redirected to create transportation routes for logs. Water was impounded and managed to create flows sufficient to float logs from the northern woods to the ports and cities with the mills and transportation hubs. Later hydropower dams were constructed on these rivers to generate electricity for the lumber and pulp and paper mills built in the 20th century.  Much of this hydropower was constructed in relationship to how the original log drive water management was designed. Today these dammed reservoirs and the hydroelectric stations are no longer owned by the lumber of pulp mills, but by large multi-national hydropower firms. In Maine Brookfield Power is the largest owner of hydropower projects in the state with ownership of x projects generating x megawatts of electricity for the regional grid. 

Back to the bathtub … 

Lots of water in Maine is stored in reservoirs (that’s the bathtub). In the northwest corner of Maine there is an elaborate system of impoundments in the headwaters of the Androscoggin River. These five inter-related reservoirs all connect and send water downstream through the state’s 3rd largest watershed. One particular reservoir is called Azisochos Lake and was created in 1911 by damming the Magalloway River and has been managed by a complex agreement between dam owners and downstream mill owners.  These agreements were first inked in 1909. 

The dam and generating station at Aziscohos Lake (formerly Magalloway River) is currently being relicensed for another 30-50 years of operation and one of the big issues is trying to figure out what to do with that ring around the bathtub. 

In order to meet the downstream water needs for the log drives and now the hydropower and other water uses the Aziscohos Reservoir is drawn down during the summer and then refilled from snowmelt and runoff. Because the Aziscohos (and others) reservoir is relatively shallow and cover large acreages, these drawdowns expose large amounts of shoreline for long periods of time during the year. That exposed shoreline is the ring around the bathtub. 

Androscoggin River reservoir system in Maine and New Hampshire | FPL Energy Maine Hydro
Androscoggin River reservoir system in Maine and New Hampshire | FPL Energy Maine Hydro

While that bathtub ring from my youthful tubs was just unsightly, the ring around Aziscohos creates a lot more problems. 

The regularly exposed shoreline, which under the current license can cover more than 1,000 acres, that used to be aquatic habitat for fish, freshwater mussels and plants dries out, leaves camp owners and boaters with fewer places to access the water. 

Aziscohos Lake, Maine | Gerald Azenaro, Flickr
Aziscohos Lake, Maine | Gerald Azenaro, Flickr

Currently American Rivers is one of the organizations working to figure out how the drawdowns of the reservoir can be changed in order to protect more aquatic habitat and improve recreation on the reservoir and downstream on the Magalloway (a storied coldwater fishery). Maine DEP has very strong standards for protecting fish, plant, and mussels. These standards were developed after the last time this license came up for renewal, so it is a tough challenge to get dam operations to meet these standards that are grounded in the federal Clean Water Act’s requirements. 

Aziscohos Dam | Jim Pennucci, Flickr
Aziscohos Dam, Maine | Jim Pennucci, Flickr

The challenge of these standards for the wide and shallow Aziscohos reservoir comes down to analyzing water levels foot by foot and season by season. The reservoir’s bathymetry (or shape of the bathtub) means that every foot of elevation change can expose between two and three hundred acres of shoreline which not only exposes aquatic habitat but eliminates places for fish to seek refuge during the warmer summer months. 

American Rivers is at the table for the next several months adding our voice with our local partners on behalf of the river, all of the critters who rely on it, and the people who are sustained by its beauty and power. 

As an aquatic biologist, I often find myself thinking about what is going on below the water’s surface. There are numerous unique and amazing freshwater species that are plentiful in the Southeast, which is a hotspot for global biodiversity. But some species are rare and found only in remote areas after hours, days, months, or years of looking. Outfitted in waders or wetsuits our “day at the office” is more like a game of Eye-Spy, Where’s Waldo, or a needle in a haystack expedition for a glimpse of a specific fish, mussel, salamander, or crayfish. 

Here in North Carolina, the endemic Cape Fear Shiner is one of those hard-to-find species, named for its shiny body that reflects the light. Endemic means that this fish is known only to be found in the Cape Fear River Basin and nowhere else in the world. The fish’s range is currently isolated to small sections of the Deep River, The Rocky River, and a few tributaries. Even within this range, the fish is challenging to find – trust me.  

Cape Fear Shiner
Cape Fear Shiner

The Cape Fear Shiner is a small minnow – only about two inches long as a full-grown adult. As we enter Spring and the leaves burst into the brightest green and tulips pop up in our gardens, aquatic species also begin to show off their beauty. The male Cape Fear Shiner will intensify its golden coloration and the females will take on a silvery cast as they prepare to spawn. This is a great time to look for these beauties. 

A day searching for this elusive fish involves scouting for the right habitat. Cape Fear Shiners are typically found in rocky riffles and shallow pools among water-loving plants, so we have to use a seine or dip nets to collect them. Stretching a seine (a large net with poles at either ends) across the most promising-looking habitat, our project team has to watch their footing on the slippery rocks and walk the long net upstream. Pulling up the seine net there can be 100 fish, and with a trained eye the team scans for a small fish with a pale yellow to golden coloration and a black band running the length of its body. Any fish matching this description are examined more closely for specific fin shape, lip coloration and number of spines along the fins. A positive identification is a victory and makes for a great field day but more often than not you can spend the day seining without a glimpse of the Cape Fear Shiner.  

So why am I looking for the Cape Fear Shiner? Because I’m working to reconnect some of their habitat so this species will have a chance at survival, recovery, and just maybe be taken off the endangered species list.

Several aging dams along the Cape Fear River system like the High Falls dam create disconnection immediately below the designated critical habitat for the Cape Fear Shiner. Dams are barriers for aquatic species. They isolate populations, restrict the natural flow of genetic diversity and create smaller distinct populations. Because dams restrict movement, the species are at risk from singular events like droughts, floods or pollution spills. Additionally, the impoundment behind the dam changes a flowing system into a still pool. Essentially, habitats like riffles and small shallow pools are flooded into a deep and stagnant pool. Not an ideal habitat for the Shiner, and worse: they become easy prey for reservoir lovers like the invasive Flathead catfish.    

As climate events such as storms and droughts happen more frequently in the Southeast and rivers experience warming and changes to flow, the rivers and the species within them are increasingly at risk. If rare and unique species such as the Cape Fear Shiner continue to disappear from our waterways we must take this as a warning. These species have a right to exist and thrive in a healthy system and also tell a story about the condition of our river systems and the problems that are impacting them.

So what can we do? 

Protecting the Deep River and the species that rely on this system will take an effort that includes layers of conservation and restoration. One of these mechanisms is dam removal. Taking down a dam is the fastest, most efficient way to bring a river back to life. Dam removal is an important step to giving the Cape Fear Shiner species, and others, a chance at survival. 

Free-flowing rivers promote healthy habitats for wildlife, improve water quality, open up fish passage, make recreation safer and foster climate resilience. 

American Rivers is constantly working to identify opportunities for river and habitat restoration, and with your help, we will get there so that the Cape Fear Shiner can shine on. 

Have you been one of the lucky people to spot a Cape Fear Shiner on this river? Comment below and tell us your Fish Story.

The birds and the bees is a well-known shorthand response to a child’s inquiry about reproduction. Adults have long noted that a bird laying an egg or a bee collecting pollen show examples in nature for how new life comes along. 

But the fish and the flowers?

American Shad
American Shad

Along the northeast coast as spring weather is rolling on one of the earliest blooming trees is what many call the shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) a lovely deciduous tree that produces edible berries. The name shadbush, or as some say shadblow, is attributed to the fact that people noticed that the flowering of this tree corresponded to the annual spring migrations of American shad (Alosa sapidissima). Shad are a very tasty fish whose early spring runs were avidly waited following a long winter of relying on stored food by indigenous peoples as well as colonial settlers.  Shad were also long used as fertilizer, being buried alongside seeds planted in the spring soil.

People have long used a variety of natural cues to help them understand or anticipate how their environment might provide for them. Today we have more cues and data that are much stronger predictors of coming events that help to confirm or clarify these traditional environmental signals. So while we know that trees leaf out and flower in response to both increasing daylight and temperatures, fish also respond to temperatures. For the migration of American shad, the principal cue is water temperature. When river temperature hits 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit shad will begin to swim upstream after congregating nearshore at the outlet of coastal rivers. The migration typically runs from mid-April to June.  And as the shad runs taper off the shadbush fruits emerge and add an early season sweet complement to the nutrient and protein rich shad.

And you have no doubt already come to the thought that if temperature is an important cue to shad migration, what does climate change mean for them and our work to rebuild populations to the millions that our ancestors saw? Increasing temperatures are expected to shorten the duration of the run as spring temperatures rise earlier and faster. Less obvious is the impact of warmer water on reproductive success.

Blooming Shadbush tree | Andy Fisk
Blooming Shadbush tree | Andy Fisk

Their work to ascend tens or hundreds of miles up freshwater rivers to spawn consumes energy during a time when these fish are not feeding.  Swimming through warmer water in both the ocean and rivers, and working hard to make it past dams burns calories that would otherwise be devoted to producing roe (eggs) or milt (sperm), reducing reproductive success. Shad are repeat spawners (or what the scientists call iteroparity) meaning they will migrate up and down river systems several times throughout their lifecycle. An indicator of a robust population structure of shad would show about 30% of the returning fish in any one year being a repeat returner. Unfortunately today many populations have far fewer repeat spawners, including in the Connecticut River watershed where less than 8% are returning adults.

So as we see the shadbush blooming every spring and we wait for the return of the shad, river herring, eels, and lampreys here at American Rivers, like our many partners and collaborators, we recommit to our work to remove dams, remove pollution, and work for climate justice. 

We’re doing this work for the fishes. And we’re doing the work for you.

Want to read more?

A charming children’s book about shad migration is When the Shadbush Blooms, written by Carla J. S. Messinger a Turtle Clan Lenape member and Susan Katz.

North Carolina SeaGrant has a good summary of how climate change is impacting shad migration.

Going really deep, you can read a management plan for restoring shad populations in the Connecticut River watershed.

The Chattooga River has acquired a number of distinctions and nicknames over the years, including the honor of being considered by many as “The Crown Jewel of the Southeast.” In South Carolina, the Chattooga is considered one of the state’s “Seven Natural Wonders” and is featured prominently during the annual SC-7 Expedition. It begins as small streams, high on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains near Whiteside Mountain in North Carolina. Nurtured by other streams and abundant rainfall, it travels  50 miles until it ends at Lake Tugaloo between South Carolina and Georgia.

Chattooga River, Georgia | US Forest Service
Chattooga River, Georgia | US Forest Service

To say the Chattooga River is a popular destination would be quite the understatement. On any given day, the Chattooga is abuzz with activity as people seek to enjoy the river through whitewater rafting and kayaking, flyfishing, and swimming, as well as hiking and camping in the forests that surround the river. You can sense the energy in the atmosphere when you are standing along the Chattooga, whether it is the palpable excitement exuding from thrill seekers as they prepare to launch their boats into the turbulent waters; the serene silence as a solitary angler casts a line into the river; the carefree feeling as a family splashes around along the river’s edge; or the contemplative wonder as folks take in the beauty of one of the many waterfalls along the river corridor. With all this activity, it can be difficult to imagine how not so long ago the Chattooga was practically unknown to the outside world.  

Centuries before European settlement of the area, the Cherokee and other tribes living along the Chattooga served as stewards of the river and its vital natural resources. The canebrakes along the river, the supply of fish and other aquatic resources, and the abundant forest resources played important roles in the cultural life of those who called this area home. A small Cherokee settlement called Chattooga Town was located along a well-used trading path and adjacent to an important river crossing that connected Cherokee communities on both sides of the Chattooga River. Even after European settlement, the rugged landscape of the area helped keep local communities small and isolated even well into the 20th century and the local knowledge of the river was not as readily available to those who lived outside the region. That all began to change as word of the Chattooga River started to spread beyond these local communities. 

Although the Chattooga caught the attention of theater goers who watched the movie Deliverance in 1972, which prominently featured the river, by that point the Chattooga was already starting to see a rise in awareness within certain circles, especially among environmentalists and outdoor recreationalists. In fact, when Congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 the Chattooga was specifically identified as one of 27 rivers across the country to be studied for possible future inclusion in the new National Wild and Scenic River System. Following the study, it was concluded that the Chattooga was indeed eligible and on May 10, 1974, the Chattooga River became the first river in the Southeast designated as a Wild and Scenic River (WSR).  

So what is Wild and Scenic River designation and why does it matter? The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. When a river is added to the National System, it is given a classification—wild, scenic, or recreational, which are measures of the level of development along the river at the time of designation (the Chattooga WSR has sections of the river representing all three classifications). Additionally, the Chattooga WSR is managed to preserve the following “Outstanding Remarkable Values:” ecology, geology, history, recreation, and scenery (for more details visit this website.) Commenting on the importance of WSR designation for the Chattooga, CEO of the outfitter Wildwater, Jack Wise states that “The Chattooga River would be a very different place today without the direct actions of a few pioneers. Today’s beauty and other special qualities of the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River are due to the foresight of a coalition of river runners, state, and national legislators with the help of the US Forest Service.” 

Chattooga River, Georgia

Some of the influential individuals and organizations during this early effort included Claude Terry, co-founder of American Rivers (and consultant and stunt double for John Voight in Deliverance), who convinced Jimmy Carter, governor of Georgia at the time, to join him in running the infamous Bull Sluice rapid in a tandem canoe. Carter grew up in awe of nature’s wonder. But it wasn’t until he first paddled the Chattooga River that he understood the power and majesty of a wild, free-flowing stream. The Wild President, a film produced by American Rivers and NRS in 2017, tells the story of Carter’s soul-stirring journey with Claude Terry on the Chattooga, and how the experience motivated him to push for legislation that would protect 57 miles of the Chattooga River as a Wild and Scenic River, preventing any damming or other activities that threaten the rivers’ values. “Once you get to know an area, it becomes part of you, and you can’t help but want to protect it” said Carter.  

Today, the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River Corridor is co-managed by the three national forests that straddle the tristate border: Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia; Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina; and Sumter National Forest in South Carolina, which serves as the lead forest for the Chattooga WSR. As with anything of this scale and complexity, managing the Chattooga WSR involves near constant collaboration and engagement with local communities, stakeholders, and leaders in all three states. The rivers’ WSR designation and management ensures that the river remains clean, natural and free flowing. In fact, the Chattooga is one of the last remaining free flowing or un-dammed rivers in the Southeast.  

Chattooga River, Georgia | US Forest Service
Chattooga River, Georgia | US Forest Service

Speaking of collaboration and engagement, throughout 2024 the Forest Service and community partners will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Chattooga’s Wild and Scenic River designation, with a specific emphasis on river stewardship. They will take the time in 2024 to reflect on the successes and the challenges of the past 50 years since the Chattooga’s WSR designation. Secondly, throughout the year they will also reengage with local communities in river stewardship through hands-on service events and projects, such as river cleanups. As they do this, the Forest Service and partners want to be intentional in connecting with underserved communities to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access and steward the Chattooga River. Finally, although 2024 is a time to celebrate an important milestone, the three forests plan to also focus on developing future stewards of the Chattooga.  

District Ranger, Robbie Sitzlar from the Andrew Pickens Ranger District (Sumter National Forest) shares, “As much as we want to take the time to celebrate where we’ve been and where we are today, we know that it is critical that we continue to develop the next generation of river stewards through engaging children and families. Because, at the end of the day, each one of us has a role to play in the health of the Chattooga and with ensuring that future generations can enjoy the unique beauty and recreational experiences that the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River Corridor offers.” Throughout 2024, YOU are invited to join us in celebrating the Chattooga River and what it means to South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and the nation. Come and enjoy all that the Chattooga WSR has to offer, while remembering that it is up to each one of us to do our part in ensuring this important resource can be enjoyed for generations to come.  

To learn more about the many recreational opportunities that the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River offers and how you can get engaged with stewarding this important river, check out the Forest Service Interactive Visitor Map and visit the national forests’ websites:  

To learn more about the National Wild and Scenic River System, visit: www.rivers.gov

Greg Cunningham worked for the National Park Service for 15 years at national parks in Virginia, Hawaii, and South Carolina. In 2022, he started with the Forest Service and currently serve as the Staff Officer for Recreation, Heritage, and Engineering for the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina. He can be reached at Gregory.Cunningham2@usda.gov 

Dr. Janae Davis is the Southeast Conservation Director for River Protection at American Rivers. She can be reached at jdavis@americanrivers.org. 

Beneath the meandering channels that run across a Sierra Nevada meadow in spring, your eye may catch silver flashes dancing along the banks. In the Pine Creek watershed of Lassen County California, those glimmers could be Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout (ELRT), a California Heritage Trout, Species of Special Concern, and endemic subspecies of rainbow trout. These iridescent salmonids travel upstream to spawn in the meadows and cascading headwaters of Pine Creek each spring. Their journey begins as soon as the creek swells with snowmelt and spills into Eagle Lake, but the window to return is narrow and unpredictable.  

PreRestoration Confluence
PreRestoration Confluence

Fortunately for these special trout, partners across the conservation field have come together and are working to restore their critical spawning habitat. American Rivers has been engaged in the Pine Creek watershed since 2015, and has proudly collaborated with the Lassen National Forest, Trout Unlimited, Susanville Indian Rancheria, the Pit River Tribes, and many other partners to build relationships and restore the watershed. American Rivers successfully implemented a riffle construction project in McKenzie Meadow in 2020, creating pools and riffles along the stream channel which enable ELRT to migrate upstream. In 2023 American Rivers implemented a project in Confluence Meadow to fill the eroded western channel and reactivate the flood plain along Pine Creek These projects have created critical habitat for ELRT migration and will help keep the water table higher throughout their spawning season. 

But the obstacles facing ELRT are significant. While their resilience and quick growth rate make them a world-class stocking fish outside of Pine Creek, ELRT are threatened by changes in hydrology and an increasingly variable climate within their native spawning habitat. Following the arrival of Euro-American settlers, the Pine Creek watershed experienced changes in land use including grazing, road and railroad construction, water diversions, and ditching. Additionally, the watershed sits where the Sierra Nevada meets the Great Basin and experiences a drier and more variable climate than most other Sierra watersheds.  

Of Pine Creek’s 35 stream-miles, only 7 flow year-round in the upper watershed. The fractured volcanic bedrock in the watershed slowly drains the lower reaches of the creek, cutting off access to the lake’s refuge until the waters rise again the following year. The seasonal connection between Pine Creek and Eagle Lake is fed by snowmelt from the high elevation headwaters. As snowpack and the timing of snowmelt become increasingly unpredictable and variable in the face of a changing climate, the critical hydrologic connection between Pine Creek and Eagle Lake doesn’t always persist long enough or at the right time for ELRT to spawn and for juveniles of the previous year’s cohort to migrate downstream to the lake. Ultimately, the shift in Pine Creek’s hydrology has contributed to declines in ELRT populations below sustainable levels and the fate of this iconic fish now depends on hatchery-based spawning.  

McKenzie pre restoration
McKenzie Meadow pre restoration

As we continue to engage in the Pine Creek watershed, American Rivers is working to advance landscape scale watershed restoration. Last year, we took on a leadership role in convening the Eagle Lake Partnership and acquired funding to enable a Partnership framework which is effective, transparent, and inclusive. Funding at this early stage has allowed us to engage the Pit River Tribe and Susanville Indian Rancheria to co-develop a Partnership MOU and fund tribal priority projects and trainings. The inaugural meeting of the partnership was attended by over 40 individuals representing the Lassen National Forest, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, permitting agencies, funders, tribes, NGOs, private timber industry, grazers, the Lassen Resource Control District, and the local Firesafe Council. The partnership is working to develop a restoration plan for a 100,000-acre project area, which includes fuel reduction treatments, meadow and river restoration, recreation and road improvements, all while incorporating traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). This large-scale collaborative effort will help increase the pace and scale of projects which ultimately benefit native flora and fauna beyond the Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout, and Sierra Nevada ecosystems as a whole. 

The challenges ELRT face are not unique and reflect many of the challenges faced by other native California salmonids. From the Klamath watershed in northwestern California to the headwaters of the Sierra Nevada, American Rivers is dedicated to working in collaborative partnership, restoring vital habitat, and providing a sustainable and lush home for fish, wildlife, and the communities that need healthy rivers.  

Eagle Lake Partnership
Eagle Lake Partnership

“Without this river, we would not be able to survive,” says Vicente Fernandez, acequia mayordomo and community leader in New Mexico.  

New Mexico is the state hardest hit by a recent Supreme Court ruling that left virtually all of the state’s streams and wetlands vulnerable to pollution. This federal action opens the door to potential harmful downstream impacts to the Rio Grande, Gila, San Juan, and Pecos rivers.  

It threatens Vicente’s livelihood, and so many others across New Mexico.  

This is why the Rivers of New Mexico are #1 in America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2024 – our annual report that amplifies local leaders calling for solutions to urgent river threats. 

This year’s report shines a spotlight on threats to clean water nationwide – for example: 

  • Tennessee’s Duck River, a drinking water source and hotspot for biodiversity, is at risk from excessive water withdrawals 
  • California and Mexico’s Tijuana River, is choked with pollution causing illness and beach closures 
  • California’s Trinity River, a vital source of clean, cold water for the Klamath River, is at risk from water diversions 
  • Connecticut’s Farmington River, the drinking water source for nearly 400,000 people, is threatened by a hydropower dam causing toxic algae outbreaks 

We chose the 2024 list of Most Endangered Rivers with support from partners nationwide. Groups and individuals shared their nominations, and as we do every year, we built the list based on three key criteria: 

  • The importance of the river to people and wildlife 
  • The magnitude of the threat 
  • A decision point in the coming year that the public can influence 

This is the 39th year of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, and it has a track record of results. By teaming up with local partners, generating significant media attention, and galvanizing the public to contact decision-makers and call for solutions we make a big impact together.  Over the years, this campaign has helped stop pollution in the Buffalo National River, and it helped protect the Boundary Waters from mining. It played an important role in protecting Wyoming’s beautiful Hoback River, and it has contributed to dam removal efforts from the Penobscot to the Klamath to the Eel. 

Tijuana River, CA | ThisIsUS.Com
Tijuana River, CA | ThisIsUS.Com

We’re confident that with your help, we can keep the positive momentum going. 

You can learn about America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2024 by reading the report and watching our video presentation. We also hope you will take action for the rivers, and support our partners – the heart and soul of this campaign. 

And, if anyone asks you why protecting small streams is so important for ensuring clean drinking water in New Mexico and nationwide, you can introduce them to Splashy – a little character we dreamed up to advance efforts to strengthen the Clean Water Act.  

Stronger clean water protections at the federal level are essential to safeguarding America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2024, and rivers everywhere. 

“All water is connected. We cannot allow pollution anywhere without risk to the rivers we rely on for our drinking water,” said Tom Kiernan, President and CEO of American Rivers. “Our leaders must hold polluters accountable and strengthen the Clean Water Act to safeguard our health and communities.” 

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2024

#1: Rivers of New Mexico   

Threat: Loss of federal clean water protections  

#2: Big Sunflower and Yazoo Rivers – Mississippi  

Threat: Yazoo Pumps project threatens wetlands  

#3: Duck River – Tennessee  

Threat: Excessive water use  

#4: Santa Cruz River – Arizona   

Threat: Water scarcity, climate change  

#5: Little Pee Dee River – North Carolina, South Carolina  

Threat: Harmful development, highway construction  

#6: Farmington River – Connecticut, Massachusetts  

Threat: Hydropower dam  

#7: Trinity River – California   

Threat: Outdated water management  

#8: Kobuk River – Alaska  

Threat: Road construction  

#9 Tijuana River – California, Mexico   

Threat: Pollution  

#10: Blackwater River – West Virginia   

Threat: Highway development  

For Women’s History Month, Katie Schmidt, Associate Director of the National Dam Removal Program at American Rivers, reflected on what motivates her to continue advocating for healthy, free-flowing rivers nationwide.

I want my grandchildren’s grandchildren to be able to enjoy clean, free-flowing rivers. I want a world where they hear the birds sing, see fish swimming in the rivers, and enjoy the blooms of spring and the vibrant colors of fall. I want clean air for them to breathe and clean water for them to drink.

As a whitewater paddler, I have developed a deep connection to rivers and a desire to protect them. Rivers are my happy place, where I feel most alive, most joyous, and I want that experience to be available in the world our children inherit.

I was seven months pregnant when I first was on Capitol Hill. When I discussed the need for protecting rivers and access to clean water, I had a built-in “talking point” that this work was important not only for people today, but for the future. Last month my family joined me on a trip to Washington, D.C. for our annual lobby days. In between my meetings and their museum visits I took them to the Capitol Building. Even though they don’t understand what all I do yet, they know I go to Capitol Hill to “talk to people about rivers.”

Katie Schmidt with her two children, Calvin and Luke | Karl Schmidt
Katie Schmidt with her two children, Calvin and Luke | Karl Schmidt

In my role at American Rivers, I get to work with partners across the country who are restoring rivers by removing dams. For the past several months, I have been leading webinars for our community of practice and they each start with, “Welcome, I am excited that you are here,” and I am. We cannot do this work alone; we must work together to restore rivers and protect them from future harm.

My mother and my grandmothers instilled in me a sense of wonder and respect for the natural world. I still carry forward one of the lessons from my grandmother who would always tell me, “Don’t pick the wildflowers. If everyone picked them, there wouldn’t be any flowers left to enjoy.”

When I became a mother, working to protect the environment was no longer a choice – it became a necessity. My two boys are my north star, my source of hope and direction even as we experience the impacts of climate change. For them, and for the children of generations to come, I am working to restore rivers.

What motivates you? Tell us in the comments!

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a $460 billion package of spending bills approved by the Senate in time to avoid a shutdown of many key federal agencies including EPA, NPS, NOAA, and DOI. The legislation’s success is met with mixed reactions as cuts to key programs will make it more difficult for agencies to improve river health and fully address climate change.  

President Biden signed a budget package for water, environment, and energy agencies that includes earmarks for water projects and an EPA spending cut. Across 64 river health programs, less than half of the programs maintain level funding and a majority will see budget cuts under the final appropriations agreement for Fiscal Year 2024. This package while holding the federal government’s overall discretionary budget to roughly the same as last year means some river programs will see a cut due to the raise of inflation and other costs that are unaccounted for total spending. 

Last year, the Fiscal Year 2024 River Budget recommended federal priorities for agencies, including the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency, to promote climate-smart agriculture practices, improve water infrastructure, restore watersheds, modernize flood management, and support dam removal and rehabilitation. The River Budget spotlighted needs in five key categories including promoting climate-smart agriculture, restoring watersheds, modernizing flood management, improving water infrastructure, and rehabilitating dams. 

The partial budget package, signed into law, will place a focus on Western water infrastructure with modest increases to the Klamath Project ($47M), Lower Colorado River Operations Program ($49M), and the Central Valley Restoration Fund ($46M). As populations in the West grow and water supply shrink due to drought, this could not come at a better time but more needs to be done. The package does fund EPA’s geographic programs at the same level as last year, which is good but not great because costs due to inflation impacts agencies as they do companies and people. This package will ensure that we continue to address climate change and protect federal lands and endangered species while maintaining current staffing levels at national parks, wildlife refuges and more. 

Below are a few other highlights from the FY24 Senate and House appropriation bills: 

AgencyProgramFY 24 Rec. FromMinibus 3/6/26About the Program
Army CorpsEngineering with Nature$20M $10.5M Aligns natural and engineering processes to deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits 
Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program $93M $92M Restores and protects water quality and ecological integrity in the Chesapeake Bay 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund $65M $65M Protects, restores, and conserves Pacific salmon and steelhead 
Bureau of Land Management Wild and Scenic Rivers $7.5M Not referenced, but committee says agency will receive funding Preserves rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values 
Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project $35M $46.6M Provides funding to improve water supplies in the Klamath River Basin 
National Parks Service Partnership for Wild and Scenic Rivers Program $5.5M $5.3M Protects outstanding rivers and river-related resources through a collaborative approach 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Fish Passage Program $30M $15M Restores rivers and conserves aquatic resources by removing or bypassing barriers 
Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Program $100M $6M Stormproofs stream crossings and fixes culverts that are necessary for fish passage in national forests 

*For a full update on river programs, see here

While not perfect, we will urge our lawmakers to move forward with bipartisan solutions to deliver the necessary funding for river health programs in FY25 and beyond. We thank Senator Murray (D-WA), Senator Collins (R-ME), Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX), and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for working toward a bipartisan solution that meets the needs of people and rivers.  Their leadership is instrumental in protecting our communities and giving rivers a fighting chance to bounce back. We understand tough choices must be made for us to find compromise and make progress on priorities. 

Unfortunately, the approps package does have its drawbacks. It rejects hiring staff to work with producers and rural communities, chips away at EPA’s environmental justice programs, and makes us more dependent on oil and gas production. Reduced funding will only set rivers back. And while the Army Corps sees a boost in funding (an increase of $21 million), fewer funds are directed to flood and storm damage reduction. Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service will receive a $51 million cut and the National Park Service will receive a $150 million cut. However, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration gets a near 8% increase to its climate programs. At the end of the day, less funding means greater risks to communities and rivers when pollution standards are watered down, projects get canceled or delayed, and rulemakings cannot be started, finalized, and effectively implemented because of cost constraints or the inability for agencies to get the capacity they need to succeed. 

This week, the Biden Administration announced the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2025, a set of federal agency priorities and funding requests.  With the Fiscal Year 2025 discussions underway, stay tuned about how we can work together and put pressure on Congress and the Administration to support robust funding for our priorities and uphold our community’s topline recommendations in the River Budget for FY25. 

In her anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, writer and editor Camille T. Dungy sheds a light on nature writing by African American poets; a genre that has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated. She has noted, “Because of erasures from so many narratives about the great outdoors, the idea that Black people can write out of a personal relationship to nature and have done so since before this nation’s founding comes as a shock to many people.” I’m excited to share the work of “water writers” as I call them, from the Black literary tradition, and illuminate connections between nature and culture. As a multidisciplinary artist and writer myself, I am passionate about telling river and water stories through the genre of nature writing and sharing the works of writers who have influenced me.  

Many are familiar with Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, and may know his poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, first published in 1921. Hughes writes of the Mississippi’s “muddy bosom” turning “all golden in the sunset.” 

Hughes juxtaposes the Mississippi’s description with regal and ceremonial images and action, including, bathing in the Euphrates, building near the Congo, and looking upon the Nile and her pyramids. This poem elevates and conjures an ancient African regality for the Gulf South’s Mississippi River, and African Americans gazing upon her.  

I’ve known rivers: 
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. 
My soul has grown deep like the rivers. 

Hughes begins and ends with, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” Mother Mississippi is where my soul grows deep too.  

Mother Mississippi River, Langston; Golden Sunset November 2024, Dr. Mel Lewis.
Mother Mississippi River, Langston; Golden Sunset November 2023 | Dr. Mel Lewis.

Next, I’m thrilled to highlight the work of the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014), Natasha Trethewey. Like me, she yields from the Gulf Coast and writes about race and relationship through narratives of the river and natural world. Her poem  Elegy [“I think by now the river must be thick”] is an elegy for her father, and summons memories of casting and catching. She writes:  

All day I kept turning to watch you, how 
first you mimed our guide’s casting 

then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky 
between us; and later, rod in hand, how 

The invisible line between them, a color line, becomes invisible as she writes in metaphor about fishing and fathers; a nature writer who invokes cultural and social forces through “water writing.”  

Biography photo of Zora Neale | Nancy Crampton
Photo of Natasha Trethewey | Nancy Crampton

Finally, I’ll frame author, anthropologist, and filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston’s work as “water writing.” In Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, Hurston shares the story of Kossula “Cudjo” Lewis and his community, located where the Mobile River meets the bay, in Plateau, Alabama in 1927.  

Hurston relates Kossula’s firsthand account as a survivor of the Clotilda and the community of formerly enslaved Africans said to have been the cargo of this “last slave ship.” In one of her most significant vignettes, Hurston visits this community, situated at the confluence of the Mobile River and Chickasaw Creek, at the mouth of the Bay on a sweltering hot day. Her interview includes the heat and thirst in the cabin, she writes of Kossula’s thirst: 

I waited but not a sound. Presently he turned to the man sitting inside the house and said, “Go fetchee me some cool water.” The man took the pail and went down the path between the rows of pole-beans to the well in the daughter-in-law’s yard. He returned and Kossula gulped down a healthy cup-full from a home-made tin cup. 

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) | Library of Congress

Hurston captured the importance of “cool water” in this passage, allowing readers to experience the swelter, the rustle of pole beans, the metallic clink of the pail, and the relief of the cool water fetched. These cool waters are the site of baptisms in the community, and today, are the sacred waters embracing the remains of the Clotilda.  

My hope is that everyone who loves rivers will recognize their cultural significance and celebrate the Black Literary tradition’s nature writing authors. Let us hear the river and water stories of African American writers that claim rivers as spaces of conflict as well as celebration. 

Crossing place for fugitive slaves on the Ohio River, at Steubenville, Ohio
Crossing place for fugitive slaves on the Ohio River, at Steubenville, Ohio

Rivers have been sites of trafficking as well as sites of crossing and emancipation. Rivers have been the sites of lynching and drowning as well as sites of baptism and jubilation.

Cahaba River, Alabama | Flickr
Cahaba River, Alabama | Flickr

In his poem, Gwendolyn Brooks: America in the Wintertime, Black Arts Movement poet, author, publisher, and educator Haki R. Madhubuti writes: 

you have fought and fought most of the twentieth century 
creating an army of poets who learned 
and loved language and stories 
of complicated rivers, seas, and oceans. 

May we all speak the love language of the water writers and commit ourselves to the cause of healthy rivers and clean water for people and nature.