By Sarah Gibbens
If you were to travel down all of the rivers in the U.S., you would have logged more than three million miles.
There are more than 25,000 of them, and they flow through every single state. Some, however, are better off than others.
In an annual report released by environmental non-profit group American Rivers, 10 were listed as the most “endangered” of this year.
“The label is for rivers facing a critical decision point in the coming years,” says Amy Kober, a representative from the organization. Their endangered river designation, she explains, isn't for the country's most polluted rivers or rivers at risk of completely drying up. Unlike the endangered label given to animals, endangered rivers are the ones being threatened with the most environmental destruction down the line, not the ones that are already at the brink.
Among the biggest threats, the report states, stem from rolling back environmental protections. Changes to environmental protections have been a controversial debate embroiling the Trump administration.
Just this past January, the administration opened up U.S. waters to oil and gas drilling, and in February, two national monuments—Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante—were shrunk.
Rivers now face threats from newly relaxed laws, the report states.
At the top of the list is Big Sunflower River in Mississippi. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed constructing the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumping Plant, which they say is designed to reduce backwater flooding. Environmental groups counter that the project is intended to benefit large-scale agricultural businesses and would drain more than 200,000 acres of delicate wetlands.
Citing the Clean Water Act, the plan was originally nixed by the Bush administration in 2008, but the current administration has since called for a rollback of the Clean Water Act. They plan to craft new legislation with fewer regulatory requirements.
A notable addition to the list is the lower Rio Grande that runs along the Texas border. The American Rivers report cites the border wall as the river's biggest threat. The administration-proposed wall would run for hundreds of miles, and 30 miles that received congressional funding are “levee-border walls.” These vertical concrete slabs separate the river from its floodplain and could restrict access for people and wildlife.
Low-income communities and communities of color face disproportionate threats, say environmental groups.
“What we've seen on the ground is that Latinos are concerned about the future of their waters,” says Maite Arce, CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation. It's not just accessing potable water, supplying water for agriculture, and the threat of displacement that concerns Arce. She also worries a degraded river could impact recreation and says Latino communities in the southwest feel a moral obligation to protect their waterways.
“That access to water is their access to life,” she adds.
This is the 33rd year American Rivers has published their list of endangered rivers.
See a full list of endangered rivers below and read American Rivers' full report here.
1. Big Sunflower River, MS
Threat: Army Corps pumping project
At risk: wetlands and wildlife habitat
2. Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK
At risk: Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture
3. Boundary Waters, MN
At risk: Clean water, recreation economy
4. Lower Rio Grande, TX
Threat: Border wall
At risk: River access, public safety, wildlife habitat
5. South Fork Salmon River, ID
At risk: Clean water, salmon habitat
6. Mississippi River Gorge, MN
At risk: Habitat, recreation
7. Smith River, MT
At risk: Clean water, recreation
8. Colville River, AK
Threat: Oil and gas development
At risk: Clean water, wildlife
9. Middle Fork Vermilion River, IL
Threat: Coal ash pollution
At risk: Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values
10. Kinnickinnic River, WI
At risk: Blue-ribbon trout stream