With floodwaters swelling the Mississippi River to historic levels and rivers nationwide at risk from gas drilling, sewage pollution, and other threats, NGO American Rivers today released its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.
The Susquehanna river, which provides drinking water for more than six million people, is the most endangered river in the US – a victim of natural gas development and the hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.”
Last year’s #1 endangered river was the Upper Delaware, also threatened by natural gas extraction.
American Rivers gave the Mississippi River a “special mention” this year because of the unprecedented recent floods. The nonprofit noted the US should use it as an opportunity to improve flood management for public safety and river health.
“This year’s list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a clear reminder that if we don’t protect and restore our rivers, public safety, the economy, and the environment will suffer grave consequences,” says Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president of conservation at American Rivers.
On the Susquehanna River, the fracking process requires taking large amounts of water from rivers and streams, which is then mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped underground to extract the natural gas.
Current facilities can’t adequately treat the highly toxic wastewater that’s generated, and there are insufficient government regulations to ensure the wastewater doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies.
“Fracking poses one of the greatest risks our nation’s rivers have faced in decades,” says Fahlund. “We are taking a major gamble on the clean drinking water for millions of Americans.”
American Rivers is calling on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the states of New York and Pennsylvania to issue a moratorium on natural gas drilling-related permits until the industry can prove they can operate without damage to the river and clean water supplies.
They are asking Congress to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that have allowed the natural gas industry to avoid basic standards for public and environmental health.
In listing the Mississippi as a “special mention”, American Rivers pointed to outdated flood management strategies and over-reliance on levees that have contributed to record flood damage.
While levees and floodwalls make sense in some heavily populated areas, their overuse causes flood levels to rise as the river channel is narrowed and water has nowhere to go but up – making flooding worse for communities downstream. Levees should be our last line of defense, not our only line of defense.
American Rivers called for a strategy that combines structural flood protection solutions like levees with “natural defenses” like healthy wetlands and floodplains that absorb floodwaters. Towns across the country from Nashville, TN to Tulsa, OK to Napa, CA are embracing innovative flood protection solutions and should be models for other communities.
On May 4, the Obama Administration laid out a vision to protect and restore our nation’s clean water and healthy rivers and wetlands. American Rivers applauded that action and urged the Administration to improve flood management and policies that ensure public safety and river health.
American Rivers also called on Congress to use the upcoming Farm Bill as an opportunity to expand programs that would restore wetlands and floodplains along the Mississippi.
Congress and the Department of Agriculture should replicate model initiatives like the Iowa River Corridor Project, which gives landowners and farmers incentives to restore wetlands in exchange for payment, and to experiment with land uses besides traditional row crops.
“We need to give the river more room to move,” says Fahlund. “Unless we restore our natural defenses, we will burden future generations with increasingly disastrous floods.”
The Mississippi has been on America’s Most Endangered Rivers List eight times, with threats ranging from flood control to pollution.
America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2011
SPECIAL MENTION: Mississippi River
Threat: Outdated flood management
1. Susquehanna River (NY, PA, MD)
Threat: Natural gas extraction
2. Bristol Bay (AK)
Threat: Massive copper and gold mine
3. Roanoke River (VA, NC)
Threat: Uranium mining
4. Chicago River (IL)
Threat: Sewage pollution
5. Yuba River (CA)
Threat: Hydropower dams
6. Green River (WA)
Threat: Exploratory drilling and mine development
7. Hoback River (WY)
Threat: Natural gas extraction
8. Black Warrior River (AL)
Threat: Coal mining
9.St. Croix River (MN, WI)
Threat: Rollback of longstanding protections
10. Ozark National Scenic Riverways (MO)
Threat: Overuse and poor management
American Rivers’ staff and scientific advisors review nominations for the following criteria:
- A major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year
- The significance of the river to people and wildlife
- The magnitude of the threat, especially in light of climate change