Climate Change Increasingly a Risk to the Country's Most Endangered Rivers

Conservation advocacy group American Rivers has ranked the Colorado River, ravaged by drought and mismanagement, as the most endangered river in the United States.

3 minute read

April 22, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

The conservation advocacy organization American Rivers this week announced the “America’s Most Endangered Rivers 0f 2022” list, an annual recognition of the U.S. rivers facing the most risks from pollution, development, and climate change.

This year’s list center’s climate change in the discussion by noting already apparent effects on rivers around the country. According to an article by Jessie Thomas-Blate for American Rivers, the state of U.S. rivers provides an illustration of the effects of climate change now, today—not in some imagined, distant future.

Many people in the United States have imagined climate change as a problem in the future. But it is here now, and the primary way that each of us is experiencing climate change is through water. The climate crisis is a water crisis.

The list ranks the Colorado River as the most endangered U.S. river of all, citing a megadrought and long-standing water development practices in the Southwest as a showcase for the impacts of climate change and the consequences of a collective failure to balance economic growth with the needs of the natural environment.

The social and environmental stakes of the Colorado River’s ongoing sustainability are immense, according to Thomas-Blate. “Thirty federally-recognized Tribal Nations, seven states, Mexico and 40 million people who rely on the river for drinking water are being impacted by this crisis. 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.”

An article by Michael Elizabeth Sakas for CPR News reported on the Colorado River’s inclusion at the top of the list, describing the river as the epicenter of the climate crisis in the United States.

The entire list, with links to specific pages for each river on the list, is listed below:

  1. Colorado River
  2. Snake River (Washington, Idaho, and Oregon)
  3. Mobile River (Alabama)
  4. Maine's Atlantic Salmon Rivers
  5. Coosa River (Alabama and Georgia)
  6. Mississippi River
  7. Lower Kern River (California)
  8. San Pedro River (Arizona)
  9. Los Angeles River (California)
  10. Tar Creek (Oklahoma)

The Lower Colorado River topped the American Rivers list in 2017, while the river was facing a far different set of regulatory concerns due to policies pursued by the Trump administration. The history of the Most Endangered Rivers list reflects complex and shifting risk factors—in the 2021, the list focused on environmental justice, for example. Some of the inclusions on the list are clearly designed to continue the momentum provided by the media attention earned by other advocacy organizations, like with the example of the Lower Kern in California.

In 2022, amidst a megadrought out of scale with anything seen in more than two millennia, climate change could not be ignored.

Monday, April 18, 2022 in American Rivers

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