The naming of the Potomac river, which flows through our nation's capital, as America's Most Endangered River in 2012 is an strong indication of our need for more clean water protection, and a wake-up call that we need to continue working hard for clean water and healthy rivers and streams.
Back in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson referred to the Potomac river as "a national disgrace", because at the time, the river was a cesspool of industrial chemicals and sewage. This sentiment by President Johnson was one of the catalysts for the Clean Water Act of 1972, which has been working to protect and preserve rivers such as the Potomac for the last 40 years.
But the hard work isn't over yet, as many streams and rivers are still under attack from industrial pollution, increasing water withdrawals, and natural gas and coal developments.
Every year since 1986, American Rivers has produced an annual report on the most endangered rivers in America, based on a couple of key indicators. After taking nominations from citizens and river advocacy groups, the criteria used to determine the rankings are based on the significance of the river to both human and natural communities, the magnitude of the threats to the river and its associated communities, and a major upcoming decision affecting the river (and one we can help to influence).
This year, the Potomac river, which flows 380 miles from West Virginia down through Washington DC and provides 5 million people with drinking water and countless others with outdoor recreation opportunities, is at the top of the list due to increasing threats from agricultural and urban pollution.
But it doesn't have to continue in this way, as we have a voice in the matter and can speak up loud and clear for strong clean water protections, which affect our local communities and environments. Take a look at the following endangered rivers, and then take action on clean water issues at the bottom of this article.
America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2012:
1. The Potomac River (Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Washington D.C.) is threatened by pollution and rollbacks to the Clean Water Act.
2. The Green River (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado) is threatened by unsustainable water withdrawals affecting local fish and wildlife habitats and opportunities for river recreation.
3. The Chattahoochee River (Georgia) is threatened by possible new dams and reservoirs which would increase water withdrawals and destroy tributary streams.
4. The Missouri River (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) is threatened by the outdated methods of flood management, which increase the risk of damage to both habitat and personal safety.
5. The Hoback River (Wyoming) is under threat from new natural gas development using the controversial hydraulic fracturing methods (fracking). This could endanger both surface and groundwater by exposure to toxic fracking fluids, as well as upset the fragile balance of wildlife and the natural ecosystems in the area.
6. The Grand River (Ohio) is also being threatened by natural gas development, also using the fracking process to release it from Ohio's extensive shale gas deposits.
7. The South Fork Skykomish River (Washington) is under the threat of proposed new hydropower dam, which would all but erase two iconic waterfalls, the 40' high Canyon Falls and the 104' high Sunset Falls, as well as affect wildlife habitats and water quality in the area.
8. The Crystal River, one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in Colorado, is being threatened by a proposed dam and 4,000 acre-foot reservoir, a significant water diversion from its largest tributary, and a hydropower dam and another 5,000 acre-foot reservoir on another of its tributaries, Yank Creek.
9. The Coal River, West Virginia’s second longest river, is being increasingly threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining (which has already buried, poisoned, and destroyed miles of streams in the Coal River basin), which adversely affects not only wildlife health, but human health in those communities.
10. The Kansas River, the state's most popular recreational river, is already threatened by sand and gravel dredging (to the tune of 2.2 million tons removed each year), with proposed increases by private dredging companies. The dredging causes erosion damage and increases the sedimentation, contamination, and pollution of the watercourse by churning up old industrial pollutants already in the river (such as heavy metals and PCBs).
Today, it’s time for all of us to stand up for our health, our environment and our communities by taking action to protect clean water and help ensure that we have clean water in our nation's rivers.
[About American Rivers: American Rivers is the leading conservation organization fighting for healthy rivers so communities can thrive. American Rivers protects and restores the nation’s rivers and the clean water that sustains people, wildlife, and nature.]