The Country’s Most Endangered River Is Hitting New Lows

The Country’s Most Endangered River Is Hitting New Lows
Severe drought grips parts of the Western United States and water levels at Lake Powell have dropped to their lowest level since the lake was created by damming the Colorado River in 1963. (Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

Taking the unflattering title of America’s Most Endangered River 2022 is the once-mighty Colorado, according to a conservation group that issues a yearly assessment of riparian health across the country.

Plagued by drought, pollution, and over drawing water, the massive waterway supports some of the largest cities in the American West, among them Los Angeles, Denver, and Salt Lake City. It also provides drinking water to more than 40 million people and is also the source of about “$US26 ($36) billion in recreational spending and hundreds of thousands of jobs across the West,” the authors of American Rivers’ yearly river health assessment wrote.

A map in the study highlights how more than 20 states are along the path of the endangered rivers.

Top 10 endangered rivers in the U.S.  (Photo: American Rivers)Top 10 endangered rivers in the U.S. (Photo: American Rivers)

“All of this is at risk due to rising temperatures and drought driven by climate change, combined with outdated river management and overallocation of limited water supplies,” the report explained. “Failure is simply not an option, given all that depends on a healthy, flowing Colorado River.”

The Colorado River feeds into both Lake Powell and Lake Mead — two reservoirs that are experiencing historic low water levels due to a historic megadrought that is threatening access to drinking water for millions of people in the region. The study noted that there are also several tribal nations along this river who rely on it. Many of those communities lack access to “modern water infrastructure,” and so historically low levels could become a larger public health issue for tribal communities than it already is.

According to the report, the other rivers are facing issues due to industrial water use, and pollution. One of the rivers on the list is the Snake River, which has four dams. The artificial dams have changed the local ecosystems so drastically that they can no longer support healthy salmon populations.

Alongside the report, American Rivers also published a list of strategies for managing rivers and water use in a warmer, more drought prone world to better protect residents and industries. One major suggestion was to update our current water management systems, which were not created with consideration for our changing climate and the vulnerable populations that depend on the endangered rivers. River improvement strategies also included upgrades that would allow fish passage through rivers, along with improving nearby irrigation systems.