Wastewater Pollutes Four of America's Ten Most Endangered Rivers

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - Hundreds of outfall pipes dump raw sewage directly into the Susquehanna River, making it the most polluted river in the United States, according to the annual ranking of the country's 10 most endangered rivers released today by the conservation group American Rivers. The sewage problem is not limited to the Susquehanna; it affects four of the 10 endangered rivers, but Washington is cutting the financial assistance needed to remedy the problem, the group warns.

"All across America, rivers link one town's toilets to the next town's faucets," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "And when it rains, sewage pours into those rivers, billions of gallons of it every year."


Railroad bridge across the Susquehanna River serves the state capital of Harrisburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy NASA)
Flowing through three states - New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland - to empty into the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River receives "enormous volumes of raw or poorly treated sewage," American Rivers says in its report. "Unless local, state and federal lawmakers invest in prevention and cleanup, the Susquehanna will remain among the nation's dirtiest rivers and more and more of Chesapeake Bay will become a dead zone."

The group called on federal lawmakers to reject the cuts in clean water investment proposed by the Bush administration in its budget for Fiscal Year 2006. In 2005, Congress cut funding for wastewater management for the first time in eight years. The Bush administration has proposed a further 33 percent reduction, to $730 million, for FY06. If passed by Congress, this would be a low water mark for federal clean water assistance.

As a first step towards rectifying this situation, American Rivers called on Congress to reject further cuts and invest more in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $3.2 billion in 2006 and beyond.

"Kids in America should be able to enjoy their neighborhood creeks and rivers without playmates like salmonella, hepatitis, and dysentery," Wodder said.

American Rivers supports establishment of a dedicated Federal Trust Fund to disperse aid to water utilities on a consistent basis - something Congress has already done for airports, barges, and federal highways.

More than eight in 10 American voters are more likely to vote for Members of Congress who support legislation to create a Federal Trust Fund for clean and safe water, and more likely to vote against those who do not, according to a March poll conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic polling firms.

There are 600,000 miles of sewer pipes across the country. In March, The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's wastewater infrastructure a "D-" grade, down from a grade of "D" four years ago.


Aerial view of Colorado's Fraser River running brown with sediment near Winter Park (Photo courtesy Colorado DOT)
"Overdevelopment contributes to the problem. As urban areas sprawl into the countryside, more stormwater surges into sewers - and more pollution spews out," American Rivers points out.

As a second step, "Congress should invest federal dollars smarter - encouraging reforestation and wetlands restoration, and reforming road construction practices to effectively expand the capacity and extend the life of existing systems by reducing the volume of stormwater they have to handle," the group said.

Sewer spills, poor sewage treatment, and other symptoms of a failing wastewater system can be found across the country, including three more of the rivers on American Rivers list of endangered rivers.

Colorado's Fraser River is Number Three on the list. If Denver succeeds in withdrawing more water from the Fraser, says American Rivers, there will not be enough flow left over to dilute treated sewage to safe levels for swimming and fishing.

Tennessee's Roan Creek is Number Five on the list. The sewage treatment plant in Mountain City, Tennessee, is so outdated that treatment plant operators have been caught spreading sludge along Roan Creek in the middle of the night.

Ohio's Little Miami River is Number Seven on the American Rivers list. The group says sewage treatment plants along the Little Miami cannot handle their current volumes of wastewater, but new roads and development threaten to make the problem worse.

America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2005:

  1. Susquehanna River - New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland
    Throughout the Susquehanna River watershed, aging sewer systems discharge enormous volumes of raw or poorly treated sewage, which eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Unless local, state and federal lawmakers invest in prevention and cleanup, the Susquehanna will remain among the nation's dirtiest rivers and more and more of Chesapeake Bay will become a dead zone.

  2. McCrystal Creek - New Mexico
    McCrystal Creek and much of the pristine Valle Vidal area that surrounds it face the prospect of intrusive coal bed methane drilling. Unless the U.S. Forest Service resists White House arm-twisting, the agency's promise to protect McCrystal Creek will be the next -- but probably not the last -- promise to posterity that will be broken in the quest for fossil fuels.

  3. Fraser River - Colorado
    For years, the Denver Water Board has siphoned 65 percent of the Fraser River's water and piped it across the mountains to fuel runaway development along the Front Range. Now it plans to take most of the rest. Unless the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers puts a stop to the water board's plans, there won't be much left in the river except effluent from local sewage plants.

  4. Skykomish River - Washington
    Runaway development threatens to foul the clear waters of the Skykomish River, known for its fishing and other outdoor activities, working farms, forests, and rural quality of life. Unless the Snohomish County Council plans responsibly for growth and acts to protect the river, the very characteristics that make the valley so attractive to its residents could be lost forever.

  5. Roan Creek - Tennessee
    The streams and rivers of the Appalachian Mountains have largely escaped the scourge of factory dairy farming -- but that may be about to change for Tennessee's Roan Creek. Unless Tennessee officials establish and enforce stricter rules, cow manure will foul the stream, expose residents to disease, and jeopardize the region's economic prospects.

  6. Santee River - South Carolina
    For decades, an enormous hydropower dam complex has drained one of the East Coast's largest rivers virtually dry. Unless state regulators stand up to a powerful and uncooperative utility and demand that some of that water be put back, the Santee will continue to be South Carolina's "forgotten river."

  7. Little Miami River - Ohio
    Proposed wastewater plant expansions and new bridges and roads are poised to pollute Ohio's Little Miami River with more sewage, stormwater, chemicals, and trash. Unless the state insists on modern sewage treatment and sensible transportation planning, the crown jewel of Cincinnati's and southwestern Ohio's outdoor destinations could be sullied beyond recovery.

  8. Tuolumne River - California
    The City of San Francisco has proposed a new pipeline that could increase the water it removes from the Tuolumne River by as much as 70 percent. Additional diversions would deplete 100 miles of productive, pristine river habitat and compound pollution problems in San Francisco Bay. Unless San Francisco invests in making its existing supplies go further, California could lose some of its best salmon and steelhead runs, world-class outdoor recreation, and the economic diversity this river now provides.

  9. Price River - Utah
    Near the remote headwaters of the Price River in central Utah, the Bureau of Reclamation is under pressure to build a dam and reservoir to take away one community's water and pipe it over the mountains to another. Unless the local water district comes to its senses and the Forest Service strengthens watershed protections, communities along the Price River could lose their water, their wildlife, and their hopes for a more prosperous future.

  10. Santa Clara River - California
    Until recent years, the Santa Clara River has largely escaped the intense development transforming most of Southern California, but developers are now eyeing the river and adjacent lands for a massive expanse of new condominiums and shopping centers. Unless regulators hold new development to high standards, Southern California will lose its last significant natural river.
View the American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers of 2005 online at: http://www.americanrivers.org