By Eric Eckl, Betsy Otto, Melissa Samet
Of American Rivers
WASHINGTON D.C. America's rivers and streams are becoming
more polluted and the White House and Congress are
making a bad situation worse by cutting clean water law enforcement
and spending on pollution prevention, charged American Rivers
with the release of its 2004 Most Endangered Rivers report.
The Colorado River, confronting mounting problems with radioactive,
toxic, and human waste, topped this year's list of ten rivers.
It supplies the water for 25 million people, including residents
of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
"The rivers on this year's list face particularly dire
futures but they are not unique," said Rebecca R. Wodder,
president of American Rivers. "They are poster children
for a nationwide trend towards more polluted waters and less
effort to clean them up."
America's waters became progressively cleaner for decades
after Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, but recent
monitoring data indicates that this trend has reversed itself.
For example, sampling at estuaries across the country in 2000
found that more than half were "impaired"
up from 37 percent in 1994.
Estuaries are good indicators of broad water quality trends
as they receive pollution from every stream and river in their
watershed. American Rivers predicts that actions taken by
the Bush administration will accelerate this decline.
The White House and Congress have also shortchanged communities
seeking a helping hand to clean up their waters. The federal
government's share of sewage treatment construction costs
has fallen from 20 percent to just 5 percent and the
White House seeks to cut federal funding by another third
Congress has effectively shifted the burden of cleaning up
contaminated river bottoms and other toxic sites from polluters
to the public, and the number of sites cleaned up each year
has dropped by almost half. Congress has yet to reauthorize
the trust fund that pays for efforts to treat polluted water
draining out of thousands of abandoned coal mines in the Ohio
"Letting our kids splash in the creek, eating a fish
we caught on a camping trip, and drinking water from the tap
without worry are things that Americans should be able to
take for granted," Wodder said. "Washington is misspending
our money if our children won't enjoy these things, too."
About America's Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands
of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs,
local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America's
Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers
facing the most uncertain futures. It is not a list of the
rivers with the worst chronic problems. The report presents
alternatives to proposal that would damage rivers, identifies
those who will make the crucial decisions, and points out
opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each
America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2004
#1 Colorado River (CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA)
While conflict over Colorado River water sharing has grabbed
headlines for years, water pollution problems from human waste,
toxic chemicals, and radioactive material have been largely
overlooked and threaten to get much worse. Unless Congress
and the federal government step in to bolster local cleanup
efforts, the drinking water for 25 million Americans will
be at risk.
#2 Big Sunflower River (MS)
A pair of costly flood control boondoggles promoted by the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatens Mississippi's Big Sunflower
River. Unless the Environmental Protection Agency vetoes the
Yazoo Pumps, this single project will drain and damage seven
times more wetlands than all the nation's private developers
harm in one year. Without firm opposition from EPA and the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps of Engineers will
also dredge more than 100 miles of the Big Sunflower's riverbed,
destroying even more wetlands, stirring up a toxic stew of
pesticides, and endangering the health of those who eat fish
caught in the river.
#3 Snake (WY, ID, OR, WA)
Dams on the Columbia and
lower Snake rivers have caused dramatic declines in the Snake
River's once abundant wild salmon population, with all the
river's runs either extinct or sliding toward extinction.
Studies show that local economies would benefit from thousands
of new jobs and hundreds of millions of new dollars if wild
salmon were restored to the Snake River. However, unless the
Bush administration delivers a credible plan to rebuild wild
salmon populations, these economic opportunities will be lost
and our generation could be the last to enjoy these legendary
#4 Tennessee (TN, AL, MS, KY)
Along the length of the Tennessee River, overloaded wastewater
systems discharge large amounts of inadequately treated sewage
into the river with distressing regularity. Unless the Bush
administration holds these sewer systems accountable - and
Congress provides financial assistance - the Tennessee River
will continue to be deluged with sewage.
#5 Allegheny and Monongahela rivers (WV, PA, NY)
Thousands of abandoned mines are leaking acid and other toxic
substances into streams throughout the coal country of western
Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Unless Congress reauthorizes
the Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund, ongoing efforts to fix
this problem will cease and the amount of pollution reaching
the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers will increase, threatening
42 public drinking water intakes, thousands of private wells,
and fish and wildlife.
#6 Spokane River (ID, WY)
More pollution concentrated in less water will be the future
of the Spokane River unless new groundwater withdrawal applications
are rejected, sewage plants meet stringent water quality standards,
and mine waste is cleaned up.
#7 Housatonic River (MA, CT)
Irresponsible industrial activity has left the floodplain
and river bottom of the Housatonic River contaminated with
some of the highest levels of toxic PCBs in the nation. People
who consume contaminated fish and wildlife from along the
river are at elevated risk for cancer, birth defects, and
immune problems. Unless the Environmental Protection Agency
orders a cleanup of the remaining contamination, General Electric
Company's toxic legacy in the Housatonic will remain a major
health hazard for generations to come.
#8 Peace River (FL)
Phosphate mining in the Peace River watershed has been the
source of serious environmental problems for many years, and
large new mines are planned. Florida's Department of Environmental
Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District
must take measures to safeguard the river and communities
in the watershed from mining impacts, including protecting
the drinking water for more than 750,000 people and important
tourism and commercial fishing industries.
#9 Big Darby Creek (OH)
Despite its close proximity to Columbus, Ohio, Big Darby Creek
has managed to escape many impacts of urban sprawl. That may
be about to change. Unless state and local governments adopt
and enforce river-conscious land use planning in the Big Darby
watershed, one of the highest quality streams left in the
Midwest may become just another polluted, flood-prone urban
#10 Mississippi River (MN, WI, IA, IL, MO, KY, TN, AR, MS,
After decades of manipulation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
the Mississippi River is beset with problems. Unless Congress
gives the agency marching orders that reflect the needs, desires
and opportunities of today's communities, the river faces
ecological collapse with vast negative economic impacts to
tourism and recreation industries worth $21 billion per year.