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

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

"It's The Climate" sign over street in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Oregon Town Seeks Funding for Ambitious Resilience Plan

Like other rural communities, Grants Pass is eager to access federal funding aimed at sustainability initiatives, but faces challenges when it comes to meeting grant requirements.

February 18, 2024 - The Daily Yonder

Front view of stone home with severe tornado damage and portions of roof ripped off.

10 States Where Insurance Costs Impact Housing Affordability

Insurance companies are responding to the increasing frequency and intensity of severe weather events caused by climate change by raising home insurance premiums in high-risk states, adding another hurdle to housing affordability in the U.S.

3 hours ago - Fox Business

View of small pedestrian bridge in Prescott Preserve Palm Springs, California with palm tree oasis and mountains in background.

Rewilding the Golf Course

How former golf courses are being transformed from manicured lawns to vibrant habitats.

4 hours ago - The New York Times

Red Los Angeles Fire Department fire truck parked on pier in San Pedro, California at Port of Los Angeles.

Safe Streets Ballot Measure Runs Into Unexpected Opposition

Los Angeles's Measure HLA would compel the city to make serious upgrades for walking, biking, and other forms of active transportation, all in the name of saving lives. Its biggest opponent: the firefighters union.

5 hours ago - California Planning & Development Report

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.