April 19, 2022
The non-profit American Rivers released its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® on Monday, spotlighting ten rivers where climate change and injustice are putting the water supplies and well-being of tens of millions of people at risk.
Of particular note to fly anglers are the Colorado River, the Snake River, and Maine's Atlantic salmon rivers.
American Rivers today named the Colorado River the #1 Most Endangered River in the country, highlighting the threat climate change and outdated water management pose to 30 federally-recognized Tribal Nations, seven states, Mexico and the drinking water for 40 million people. Also threatened is vital habitat for wildlife, as the Basin is home to 30 native fish species, two-thirds of which are threatened or endangered, and more than 400 bird species.
Rising temperatures and drought driven by climate change, combined with outdated river management and overallocation of limited water supplies, threaten the entire region. In March 2022, water levels at Lake Powell fell to the lowest point since the lake first filled in 1980 and have continued dropping. The Colorado River system is already operating at a deficit, and climate change is expected to further reduce the river’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050.
“The Colorado River Basin is ground zero for the climate and water crisis. America’s Most Endangered Rivers® is an urgent call to action,” said Matt Rice, Director of the Southwest Region for American Rivers. “The seven Basin states and the Biden administration must work with Tribal Nations and Mexico to act urgently. Failure is simply not an option, given all that depends on a healthy Colorado River.”
“As the region learns to live with the river that we have, it is critically important that we continue to work together on equitable solutions for a healthy river, productive farms and thriving communities. I fear that if we dig into our corners and pursue litigation over collaboration, we will not be able to meet the challenge,” said Rice.
Wild salmon returns plummeted by over 90 percent following the construction of four federal dams - Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite - on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state. Today, thirteen salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers are listed under the Endangered Species Act. In spring 2021, researchers with the Nez Perce Tribe Department of Fisheries Resource Management predicted that by 2025, 77 percent of wild Chinook populations will be functionally extinct, meaning they have passed a biological threshold of long-term viability. Scientists believe all four salmon and steelhead runs in the Snake River Basin will go extinct without the removal of the four lower Snake dams and restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake River.
“America’s Most Endangered Rivers is an urgent call to action. We have a chance to do something extraordinary here in the Pacific Northwest. We can save salmon from extinction and revitalize the rivers that are the beating heart of this place we call home. We can honor commitments to tribes and invest in a future of abundant salmon, clean energy and thriving agriculture,” said Wendy McDermott, Puget Sound-Columbia Basin Director with American Rivers.
American Rivers and its partners called on the Northwest congressional delegation and the Biden administration to work together to pass legislation that restores healthy and harvestable salmon runs, honors commitments to tribes and invests in clean energy and much needed transportation upgrades that will benefit the entire region.
Maine's Altantic Salmon Rivers
This designation highlights antiquated dams on the Kennebec, Union and Penobscot rivers— all owned by international energy giant Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE: BEP) (TSX: BEP-UN)— that are threatening the extinction of critically endangered Atlantic salmon in the United States.
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s a number of dams were removed from Maine’s rivers, spurring a dam removal movement that revitalized waterways across the country. However, remaining dams continue to restrict fish passage, impair water quality and impede restoration efforts on Maine’s salmon rivers.
“The future of Atlantic salmon now hangs in the balance. If we do not address the harmful impacts of these dams, we will lose these iconic fish forever. America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action. Now is the time for everyone who cares about healthy rivers and salmon to speak up,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate with American Rivers.
“Brookfield needs to be held accountable for the devastating impacts that their dams inflict on the life of our rivers. No amount of greenwashing can cover up this reality. Across many rivers, one company is responsible for leading Atlantic salmon to extinction and that company needs to be called out,” said Landis Hudson, Executive Director of Maine Rivers.
The complete list is as follows:
#1 Colorado River
State: CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA, WY, NM, Mexico
Threat: Climate change, outdated water management
#2 Snake River
State: ID, WA, OR
Threat: Four federal dams
#3 Mobile River
Threat: Coal ash contamination
#4 Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers
#5 Coosa River
State: TN, GA, AL
Threat: Agricultural pollution
#6 Mississippi River
State: MN, WI, IL, IA, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS, LA
Threat: Pollution, habitat loss
#7 Lower Kern River
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals
#8 San Pedro River
Threat: Excessive water pumping; loss of Clean Water Act protections
#9 Los Angeles River
Threat: Development, pollution
#10 Tar Creek