American Rivers Releases 2016’s Most Endangered Rivers List

There are certain lists you don't want to be on … say the company downsize roster or the principal's list at school. If you're a river, it's American Rivers annual list of the nation's 10 Most Endangered Rivers.

But it's here, the group's annual list of top U.S. river systems threatened by drought, water mismanagement, pollution and more. Who heads up this year's nefarious title? The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin and San Joaquin River.

MER2016_map

American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers list identifies the 10 most threatened waterways while highlighting the need for conservation, greater efficiency, and better management to prevent further harm to river health, wildlife, fish and recreation. The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, which includes portions of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, ranks number one on the list, followed by the San Joaquin River in California at number two.

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"Fierce competition for water from rivers under ever greater strain from growing demand and the impacts of climate change is threatening the health of rivers across the country," says AR's Amy Kober. "As pressure on limited water resources grows, conflict must give way to cooperation if we are to satisfy the nations' growing water needs and maintain clean and healthy rivers."

The threats are many and varied. The Susquehanna River, which flows through Pennsylvania and Maryland, is threatened by harmful dam operations. In Montana, the Smith River is at risk from a proposed mine and remains on the endangered list for a second year. Water supply pressure is also a concern. The ACF and San Joaquin river basins, where some streams are so over-used they run dry, are among the most acute examples. Both basins have been gripped by water conflict for decades, with critical and long overdue water management decisions pending this year.

The Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia. Photo by Aaron Schmidt.
The Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia. Photo by Aaron Schmidt.

"We can't live, work, grow crops, or enjoy healthy rivers without clean water, and we don't have an unlimited supply," says AR president Bob Irvin. "As more people compete for a limited resource, everyone is losing: farmers don't have reliable water for their crops, commercial fisheries are collapsing, urban supplies are strained, fish and wildlife are declining, and recreation businesses are closing their doors. Instead of continuing conflict, we need a new era of water cooperation that strikes a balance among all users."

The number one listing, the ACF Basin, consists of three rivers, a national treasure, and a "Tri-State Water War" stemming from a lawsuit filed over a 1989 over the allocation of water in a basin that provides water for industry, power generation, agriculture, recreation, fisheries and 70 percent of metro Atlanta's drinking water.

"Our bay has changed drastically in the last 10 years," says Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Florida Seafood Workers Association. "There are less than half the oystermen there used to be, and each of us used to bring in four or five times as much as we do now. The lifeline to our bay is that river. Without enough river flow, we don't have a productive bay."

"We are calling on the governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia to swiftly act to form a water-sharing agreement that protects the rivers, and on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to significantly improve water management to sustain river health," says Irvin.

The Flint River.
The Flint River.

On the number two listed San Joaquin Basin, a decades-long debate still rages over how the San Joaquin's limited supply of water should be allocated between the northern and southern parts of California. The San Joaquin supports some of the most productive and profitable agriculture in the world, but the current drought is placing additional stress on the river and revealing that the status quo water management strategies are inadequate.

"When you dry up the rivers, you're in deep trouble," says Walt Shubin, a farmer who has been fighting to restore the health of the San Joaquin River for decades. "You can't live without water. The San Joaquin was one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, and now it's bone dry."

"Water is one of the most critical conservation issues of our time," adds Irvin. "The choice is clear: will we let waste and mismanagement drain our rivers dry, or will we work together to ensure healthy rivers can benefit all for generations to come?"

America's Most Endangered Rivers® of 2016

#1: Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (Alabama, Florida, Georgia)

Threat: Outdated water management

#2: San Joaquin River

(California)

Threat: Outdated water management

#3: Susquehanna River

(Pennsylvania, Maryland)

Threat: Harmful dam operations

#4: Smith River

(Montana)

Threat: Mining

#5: Green-Duwamish River

(Washington)

Threat: Outdated dam and floodplain management, pollution

#6: Pee Dee River

(North Carolina)

Threat: Harmful dam operations

#7: Russell Fork River

(Kentucky, Virginia)

Threat: Mountaintop removal mining

#8: Merrimack River

(Massachusetts, New Hampshire)

Threat: Polluted runoff

#9: St. Lawrence River

(New York)

Threat: Harmful dam operations

#10: Pascagoula River

(Mississippi, Alabama)

Threat: New dams

— More Info: AmericanRivers.org