Most Endangered American River: California's Sacramento-San Joaquin
, April 8, 2009 (ENS) - "Our nation is at a transformational moment when it comes to rivers and clean water," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers as she released the organization's annual list of America's 10 Most Endangered Rivers on Tuesday. "Water is life, yet our nation's water infrastructure is so outdated that our clean drinking water, flood protection and river health face unprecedented threats."
This year's report highlights the what Wodder calls the "sorry state" of the nation's water infrastructure - drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, and dams and levees – and the need for green, 21st century investments to protect clean water, public health and safety, and the fish and wildlife that depend on healthy rivers.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is formed at the confluence of the south-flowing Sacramento River and the north-flowing San Joaquin River. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
The river conservation organization lists rivers in Alaska, California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin as endangered this year.
The nation's most endangered river is actually an entire river system threatened by outdated water and flood management policies. California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River system, the largest watershed in the state is on the verge of collapse, American Rivers warns. The risks are numerous - climate change, population growth, water supply demands, and endangered species listings.
In a March report, California's Department of Water Resources warned that the risk of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta island flooding is "likely to increase substantially over the next century." The report assesses major risks to Delta levees from floods, seepage, subsidence and earthquakes.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta provides water to as many as 25 million Californians and about three million acres of agricultural land. The report's findings will be used to develop a set of strategies to manage levee failure risks in the Delta and to improve the management of state funding that supports levee maintenance and improvement.
"Being named as one of America's Most Endangered Rivers is not an end for the river, but rather a beginning," said Wodder. "With the listing comes a national spotlight and action from thousands of citizens across the country. These 10 rivers have a chance to be reborn, and to serve as models for other rivers all across America."
"Our country needs the smart, cost-effective solutions for clean drinking water, flood protection and river health outlined in America's Most Endangered Rivers that will bring us into the 21st century," she said.
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for its annual report on America's most endangered rivers. The report, now in its 23rd year, highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems.
The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
America's Most Endangered Rivers: 2009 edition is sponsored by Orvis, the oldest mail order company in the United States which has been outfitting customers for the sporting traditions since 1856.
"Orvis is proud to support this call to action to protect and restore the rivers that are so essential to our nation's businesses, heritage, and recreation," said Orvis chief executive Perk Perkins. "Conservation is one of our company's core values and partnering with American Rivers is a natural fit."
America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2009 are:
- Sacramento-San Joaquin River System in California - Threat: Outdated water and flood management
Confluence of the San Joaquin River and North Fork of the Kings River during flood, April 2006. (Photo by Michael Mierzwa)
The largest watershed in California is on the verge of collapse, threatening the water supply for more than 26 million people, placing the capital of the nation's most populous state at high risk of flooding, and damaging a once productive and healthy ecosystem that supported the nation's most diverse salmon runs. Climate change, population growth, water supply demands, and endangered species listings have brought this outmoded water and flood management system to the brink. The California Department of Water Resources, and their federal partners, the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, are undertaking an overhaul of water management in the basin. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, such as building more and larger levees and dams, American Rivers says they need to invest in sustainable options that protect water supply, farms, and cities, while restoring the health of these great rivers and their estuary.
- Flint River in Georgia - Threat: Proposed water supply dams
Well loved by anglers, boaters and Georgia families, the Flint River is one of the state's most valuable natural treasures. But a two-year drought in the Southeast has revived calls to dam the Flint, even though more effective water supply solutions would save Atlanta as much as $700 million. American Rivers urges Congress to deny attempts to authorize new dams on the Flint, and Metro Atlanta must institute water efficiency measures to lower its water use.
- Lower Snake River in Washington, Oregon and Idaho - Threat: Four dams
Four dams on the lower Snake River have caused declines in the Snake River basin's once abundant salmon runs and have stymied efforts to restore these fish. Removing the four dams and restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River will not only revive the salmon runs and a multi-million dollar fishery, it will eliminate a growing flood threat in Lewiston and create an opportunity to modernize the region's transportation and energy systems. American Rivers says the Obama administration and the Northwest congressional delegation must convene negotiations to forge a river restoration plan that will work for communities and salmon in light of the threats posed by the dams and global warming.
- Mattawoman Creek in Maryland - Threat: Highway and poorly planned development
Mattawoman Creek is one of the few tidal, freshwater tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay that remains healthy and unspoiled. Although Maryland's Department of Natural Resources has concluded that Mattawoman should be protected from overdevelopment, a proposed highway in Charles County threatens the creek's clean water and popular fishing and recreation opportunities. American Rivers says that unless the Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny a key wetland permit for the proposed highway, Maryland will lose this treasured creek and the goal of a healthy Chesapeake Bay will slip further from reach.
- North Fork of the Flathead River in Montana - Threat: Mining
The Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Flathead River is a place of exceptional wilderness value that has seen only limited development. In the United States, the North Fork is one of the best-protected watersheds in the country. But the river remains unprotected where it originates in British Columbia, and mining and industrial coalfield development proposals threaten the entire river downstream. American Rivers is urging the U.S. State Department to keep President Barack Obama's campaign commitment to oppose mining in the headwaters of the North Fork.
- Saluda River in South Carolina - Threat: Sewage pollution
Saluda River at West Pelzer, South Carolina (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The drinking water source for more than 500,000 people and a hot spot for boaters and anglers, the Saluda River is choking from phosphorous pollution found in human waste. Wastewater treatment plants are dumping excessive amounts of phosphorous into the river, which is threatening property values, fish and wildlife, and public health. American Rivers says the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control must impose meaningful phosphorous limits on all wastewater treatment plant permits to protect the health of the Saluda River and communities that depend on it.
- Laurel Hill Creek in Pennsylvania - Threat: Excessive water withdrawals
Laurel Hill Creek is a Pennsylvania treasure that brings valuable recreation and tourism dollars to local communities. But the creek lacks safeguards to protect it from excessive water withdrawals for development and energy extraction. Unless water planners heed the sound water management advice in Pennsylvania's new State Water Plan, water withdrawals could irreparably harm the clean water, fish and wildlife and recreation here and downstream on the popular Youghiogheny River.
- Beaver Creek in Alaska - Threat: Oil and gas development
Wild and Scenic Beaver Creek is a wilderness gem, home to abundant salmon and other wildlife, and a spectacular destination for anglers, boaters, skiers, and hunters who seek its solitude. But Beaver Creek's wild character may soon be traded for oil and gas development by the very agency mandated to protect it - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although the creek is enveloped within three national conservation areas, American Rivers says a secretly-negotiated deal to transfer protected lands into corporate hands initiated under the Bush administration could result in the proliferation of hundreds of miles of roads, pipelines, airstrips, and drilling wells that would cause irreparable harm to the creek and threaten the Yukon River downstream. The river organization is calling on the new leadership of the Service to halt this project and protect the people and businesses that depend on a healthy Beaver Creek.
- Pascagoula River in Mississippi - Threat: New Petroleum Storage
Mississippi's "Singing River" flows freely through the heart of the state's ancient bottomland swamps before reaching the Gulf in a rich network of channels and bayous. The Pascagoula is an important nursery for fish and wildlife and supports a fishing industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But this natural treasure could be lost if the U.S. Department of Energy uses the river to hollow out natural salt domes for future storage of 160 million barrels of oil as part of a project initiated under the Bush administration. American Rivers says the Obama administration and key members of Congress should deny this project that would waste taxpayer dollars on outdated oil infrastructure and threaten the clean water and health of the Pascagoula, and instead focus efforts on reducing the nation's dependence on oil.
- Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in Minnesota and Wisconsin - Threat: Loss of Wild and Scenic Protections
The Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway provides a rare natural retreat in a growing urban area. It is a favorite destination for boaters, anglers, and families seeking a natural, outdoor experience. Recreation dollars provide a healthy boost to the regional economy. But the state-managed section of this Wild and Scenic gem is in danger. Short-sighted zoning decisions along a 26-mile stretch of this protected river threaten to damage the very qualities that make the river so special and appealing to residents and visitors. American Rivers is urgning Minnesota and Wisconsin to renew their commitment to the Lower St. Croix and work with riverfront counties, municipalities, and townships to ensure development is responsibly planned, so that the river remains protected for future generations.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.