Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers named among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2022

April 18, 2022

Jessie Thomas-Blate, American Rivers, 202-243-7030
Brett Ciccotelli, Downeast Salmon Federation, 207-812-0288
Landis Hudson, Maine Rivers, 207-831-3223
John Burrows, Atlantic Salmon Federation, 207-415-6637

Washington, D.C. – Maine’s Atlantic salmon rivers were today listed among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2022. This designation highlights antiquated dams on the Kennebec, Union and Penobscot rivers— all owned by international energy giant Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE: BEP) (TSX: BEP-UN)— that are threatening the extinction of critically endangered Atlantic salmon in the United States.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s a number of dams were removed from Maine’s rivers, spurring a dam removal movement that revitalized waterways across the country. However, remaining dams continue to restrict fish passage, impair water quality and impede restoration efforts on Maine’s salmon rivers.

“The future of Atlantic salmon now hangs in the balance. If we do not address the harmful impacts of these dams, we will lose these iconic fish forever. America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action. Now is the time for everyone who cares about healthy rivers and salmon to speak up,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate with American Rivers.

“Brookfield needs to be held accountable for the devastating impacts that their dams inflict on the life of our rivers. No amount of greenwashing can cover up this reality. Across many rivers, one company is responsible for leading Atlantic salmon to extinction and that company needs to be called out,” said Landis Hudson, Executive Director of Maine Rivers.

“Brookfield is being sued for unlawfully killing endangered Atlantic salmon on the Kennebec River and has been denied a key water quality certificate for its dams on the Union River after failing to meet water quality standards. They are also facing challenges from anglers, paddlers, local communities and other NGOs for how they do business on other rivers in Maine,” said John Burrows, Executive Director of U.S. Operations for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. “While today we call on our state and federal agencies to take action on the Kennebec, Penobscot and Union, we must also not forget Maine’s other salmon rivers—from the Saco to the St. John—that suffer from the impacts of dams and industrial activities.”

American Rivers and its partners called on the state of Maine and federal agencies to use their authority under the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Federal Power Act to restore river health and connectivity. Providing safe fish passage on these rivers and removing any obsolete, harmful dams will ensure a bright future for fish, wildlife and people who depend on them. Brookfield’s dams must meet legal safeguards if they are to continue operating on Maine’s rivers.

“For decades, Mainers have worked hard to protect and restore Maine’s salmon rivers by breaching dams, repairing fishways, protecting habitat and restocking rivers. For that work to pay off we need to make sure these critically endangered fish can get safely to and from their spawning beds,” said Dwayne Shaw, Executive Director of the Downeast Salmon Federation. “We’ve demonstrated successful conservation hatchery techniques that can restore wild salmon once rivers are fixed. Brookfield literally stands in the way of that work.”

Dams on the Kennebec, Penobscot and Union Rivers routinely kill salmon and other native species and hinder restoration efforts by blocking passage both upstream and downstream. The dams also severely limit efforts to restore other co-evolved species, like river herring, sea lamprey, American eel, Atlantic sturgeon and American shad.

Restoring passage to Maine’s rivers will help save Atlantic salmon, recharge commercial marine fisheries, bring ecological and economic rebirth to the Gulf of Maine and set the stage for even more restoration efforts. Rejuvenated fish runs in these rivers will also help fulfill long ignored sustenance fishing and treaty promises made to the Indigenous people of Maine, who both rely on and care for these rivers.

The annual Americas 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.

Previously, the Penobscot appeared on this list from 1989 through 1996 due to the impact of dams. The Kennebec and Union rivers have never been featured before. Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Ipswich River (2021) and Merrimack River (2016).

American Rivers reviews nominations for Americas Most Endangered Rivers from local groups and individuals across the country, and selects rivers based on three criteria: the river’s significance to people and wildlife; the magnitude of the threat to the river and communities, especially considering climate change and environmental justice; and a decision in the next 12 months that the public can influence.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2022 

#1 Colorado River
State: CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA, WY, NM, Mexico
Threat: Climate change, outdated water management 

#2 Snake River
State: ID, WA, OR
Threat: Four federal dams 

#3 Mobile River
State: AL
Threat: Coal ash contamination 

#4 Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers
State: ME
Threat: Dams 

#5 Coosa River
State: TN, GA, AL
Threat: Agricultural pollution 

#6 Mississippi River
State: MN, WI, IL, IA, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS, LA
Threat: Pollution, habitat loss 

#7 Lower Kern River
State: CA
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals 

#8 San Pedro River
State: AZ
Threat: Excessive water pumping; loss of Clean Water Act protections 

#9 Los Angeles River
State: CA
Threat: Development, pollution 

#10 Tar Creek
State: OK
Threat: Pollution 


American Rivers believes a future of clean water and healthy rivers for everyone, everywhere is essential. Since 1973, we have protected wild rivers, restored damaged rivers and conserved clean water for people and nature. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 300,000 supporters, members and volunteers across the country, we are the most trusted and influential river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions for a better future. Because life needs rivers.