Columbia River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2015

April 7, 2015

April 7, 2015


(Washington, DC) – American Rivers named the Columbia River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2015 today, shining a national spotlight on the impacts of outdated dam operations and an opportunity that the renegotiation of an international treaty creates for salmon restoration and flood protection.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a tipping point,” said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. “The treaty governing management of the Columbia River is more than half a century old. But our values and needs for the river have changed, and the river is facing new challenges. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring management of our nation’s third largest river into the 21st century and realize lasting benefits for salmon and communities.”

Currently, the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada has just two purposes: hydropower and flood control. The conservation community and Native American Tribes have called on the State Department to insist on the addition of a third “ecosystem function” purpose as the U.S. and Canada begin renegotiation of the treaty. This would include making changes in flood control operations to provide more flows for salmon, and exploring fish passage at dams that have prevented fish from reaching their historic habitats. 2015 is the year the Obama Administration will decide whether to seek to modernize the treaty – if it doesn’t, river restoration efforts and past investments will be at risk along with flood protection, water supply, and other traditional benefits of the treaty.

“Essential to ecosystem function is the restoration of fish passage to all historical locations and reintroducing salmon to Canadian spawning grounds,” said Paul Lumley, Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Over the past three years an historical regional consensus developed by states, tribes, and federal agencies pushed to include ecosystem function and fish passage as a primary component of the Columbia River Treaty. This vision is shared by citizens from the estuary to the headwaters and one that we must work with Canada to ensure.”

“We have a huge opportunity to correct an historic wrong related to the Columbia River by including ‘ecosystem function’ and fish passage as a third purpose in river operations,” said D.R. Michel of the Upper Columbia United Tribes. “We must adapt to changing times. We cannot afford to continue using our resources at current rates, and we must start managing those resources going forward. These are not just the Tribes’ issues, they are all of our issues. Our legacy will not be measured by what we have today, but by what we leave our future generations. Let us be the ones that make change happen for the benefit of all people.”

“Modernization of the Columbia River Treaty offers an opportunity to provide more certainty for the needs of salmon and the river’s ecosystem in the face of climate change and the resulting changes to flows and river temperature,” said Greg Haller of Pacific Rivers Council. “The region should seize this opportunity to modernize flood control operations to ensure more flow for fish, while at the same time protecting communities and property.”

The Columbia River Basin is home to more than six million people, most of whom live in Oregon and Washington. The Columbia Basin Project uses the river’s water to irrigate 600,000 acres of cropland. The 14 dams on the mainstem Columbia in the U.S. and five dams in Canada provide hydropower and flood control benefits. However, the dams have played a major role in the decline and extinction of numerous salmon and steelhead populations, including 13 stocks currently listed under the Endangered Species Act. Sturgeon populations have become landlocked and have also been listed under the ESA for protection. Populations of Pacific lamprey, a species with special value to the basin’s Native people, have also been impacted, and water quality has declined as a result of the dams.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

“This year’s report underscores the importance of healthy rivers to each and every American,” said Irvin. “Whether it’s for clean drinking water, ample water supplies for farms and cities, abundant fish and wildlife, or iconic places vital to our heritage, we all have a stake in protecting our nation’s rivers.”

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 250,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

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