Snake River Named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2023

April 18, 2023

Investment in affordable clean energy alternatives will allow for dam removal and river restoration.

Contact: Kyle Smith, American Rivers, 541-729-5830 

Washington — American Rivers today named the Snake River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing the threat that the four lower Snake River dams pose to endangered salmon, climate resilience, and the region’s Tribal Nations. American Rivers and partners called on Congress and the Biden administration to act with urgency and invest in clean energy infrastructure so that the four lower Snake dams can be removed.   

“This is our moment to turn a staggering crisis into a transformational opportunity,” said Kyle Smith with American Rivers. “We can set the Northwest on a course to economic strength, cultural revitalization, and security in the face of climate change.” 

“But the clock is ticking and salmon are slipping toward extinction. We need these investments and actions now.” 

The four dams on eastern Washington’s lower Snake River have contributed to dramatic decreases in the basin’s salmon and steelhead populations, with all four Snake Basin salmon and steelhead populations listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The dams have had disastrous impacts on the cultures and livelihoods of Tribal Nations across the region. The lack of salmon as a source of both food and culture has been devastating, and the U.S. is failing to uphold treaties and fulfill commitments to Northwest Tribal Nations.  

Scientists agree that dam removal is the cornerstone of any effective salmon recovery plan. But since the lower Snake dams provide critical irrigation, transportation, and hydropower generation, these services must be replaced. American Rivers called on Congress and the Biden administration to prioritize these investments, including investments in native-led clean energy efforts.  

“Infrastructure investment and river restoration is the launching point for a stronger Pacific Northwest,” said Smith. “We are demanding that our leaders prioritize affordable clean energy, and irrigation and transportation services, along with river restoration, so that all of the Snake River’s communities can thrive into the future.” 

The Snake River begins high in the mountains of Wyoming and flows for more than 1,000 miles before merging with the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington. As the largest tributary of the Columbia, the Snake once produced 40 percent of the prized Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. Each year, fewer Snake River salmon complete the return trip from the ocean in what remains the longest distance, highest elevation salmon migration on earth. ​​T​he Snake River and its main tributaries once produced 2 to 6 million salmon and steelhead every year. ​As a keystone species, these fish support the entire food web from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, including at least 135 species, from eagles to salamanders to endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Salmon are at the heart of the cultures of Northwest Tribal Nations—integral to religion, identity, and physical sustenance. 

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. 

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2023 

  1. Colorado River, Grand Canyon (Arizona): 

THREAT: Climate change, outdated water management 
AT RISK: Ecosystem health, reliable water delivery, regional economy 

  1. Ohio River (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois): 

THREAT: Pollution, climate change 
AT RISK: Clean water for 5 million people 

  1. Pearl River (Mississippi): 

THREAT: Dredging and dam construction 
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, local and downstream communities, fish and wildlife habitat 

  1. Snake River (Idaho, Oregon, Washington): 

THREAT: Four federal dams 
AT RISK: Tribal treaty rights and culture, endangered salmon runs, rural and local communities 

  1. Clark Fork River (Montana): 

THREAT: Pulp mill pollution 
AT RISK: Public health, fish and wildlife 

  1. Eel River (California): 

AT RISK: Fish and wildlife, tribal culture and sustenance 

  1. Lehigh River (Pennsylvania): 

THREAT: Poorly planned development 
AT RISK: Clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, rural and local communities, open space 

  1. Chilkat and Klehini rivers (Alaska): 

THREAT: Mining 
AT RISK: Bald eagle, fish, and wildlife habitat, tribal culture and sustenance 

  1. Rio Gallinas (New Mexico): 

THREAT: Climate change, outdated forest and watershed management 
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, farming, watershed functionality 

  1. Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida): 

THREAT: Mining 
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, water quality and flow  

About American Rivers 
American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on Rivers. For more information, please visit