Echo Park on the Green River in Colorado. Number two on the 2012 Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers list. Photo: Justin Bailie courtesy of O.A.R.S

By Lucas Will

American Rivers, an organization working to protect and restore our nation's rivers and streams, has just released their 2012 Top 10 list of most endangered rivers in the United States. This isn't a list you want to see your local stream show up on. Unless, that is, you want to draw the attention it needs to keep it the river you love.

"These rivers are at a crossroads, at a turning point where their fate will be determined in the coming year," says Amy Kober, Senior Communications Director at American Rivers. So the rivers on this list are not the worst. Not by far. But they are the waterways that are most at risk to be drastically affected in the next 12 months due to pending decisions (or non-decisions).

Threats like dredging, mining, drilling, and outdated flood management techniques jeopardize their integrity. As our need for fresh water increases, the apparent solution of water diversion and withdrawal to satisfy those needs also becomes an issue.

So does pollution.

Cutthroat Trout in Wyoming's Hoback River. Number five on the 2012 Most Endangered Rivers list. Photo courtesy

Often referred to as "our nation's river," running right through our capital, the Potomac is at the top of this year's list.

"The number one river is the number one river. It's always going to get the most attention. We put the Potomac number one on purpose," says Kober. "President Johnson called the Potomac a 'national disgrace' because it was a like a cesspool and nobody would go near it."

That was then, but in the years since the Clean Water Act (celebrating 40 years in 2012) was set in place the Potomac has made leaps and bounds in cleanliness. However, according to American Rivers, with Congress considering certain rollbacks on clean water protection, it is again in danger.

"It would be turning back the clock on water protection," says Kober. "Not only on the Potomac, but nation wide."

Back in 1986 when the first endangered rivers list was organized, it was new dams and new mining proposals that fueled American Rivers to act. Every fall since then the organization puts the call out for nominations to hundreds of local partners, groups consisting of riverside community members, stewards and conservationists.

A panel of in-house experts looks at them and creates the annual list based on certain criteria; the magnitude of a threat, importance of the river to lives of people, a real decision point or an action in the coming year that the public can help influence.

Fireworks over the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.. Number one on the 2012 Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers list. Photo courtesy Chris Staley

Publishing a Top 10 list is a way to inform the wider public, not just of the problem but also with some viable solutions.

"We try to stress the opportunity part of it," says Kober. "The whole purpose of this [list] is the spotlight to hold decision makers feet to the fire and give them an opportunity to do something positive."

The list rarely carries the same river from year to year, unless drastic measures are still at hand. Wyoming's Hoback River is on this year's list for the second in a row. The threat is natural gas development near its headwaters. There is recent evidence about hydraulic fracturing (also called "fracking") coming out to confirm the dangers of this action.

"It's a year-round campaign for us," says Kober. "These are the endangered rivers of 2012 and we don't stop on May 16 after the report comes out. We're working with our partners all year to try to make these actions happen."

See the ten rivers on this year's list below, find out about the river, the threat, what must be done, and how you can help. Sign up for taking action alerts on American Rivers website at


#1: Potomac River (MD, VA, PA, WV, DC)
Threat: Pollution
At stake: Clean water and public health

#2: Green River (WY, UT, CO)
Threat: Water withdrawals
At stake: Recreation opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat

#3: Chattahoochee River (GA)
Threat: New dams and reservoirs
At stake: Clean water and healthy fisheries

#4: Missouri River (IA, KS, MO, MT, NE, ND, SD, WY)
Threat: Outdated flood management
At stake: Public safety

#5: Hoback River (WY)
Threat: Natural gas development
At stake: Clean water and world-class fish and wildlife

#6: Grand River (OH)
Threat: Natural gas development
At stake: Clean water and public health

#7: South Fork Skykomish River (WA)
Threat: New dam
At stake: Habitat and recreation

#8: Crystal River (CO)
Threat: Dams and water diversions
At stake: Fish, wildlife, and recreation

#9: Coal River (WV)
Threat: Mountaintop removal coal mining
At stake: Clean water and public health

#10: Kansas River (KS)
Threat: Sand and gravel dredging
At stake: Public health and wildlife habitat