San Joaquin River Named #1 Most Endangered River in the U.S.

California’s San Joaquin River Valley. (Photograph by Alison Jones,

American Rivers today released its annual report of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, with California’s San Joaquin River at the top of the list.  Outdated water management, compounded by the current drought, have put the San Joaquin River at a critical crossroads.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the San Joaquin River and its main tributaries— the Merced, the Tuolumne, and the Stanislaus.  These rivers provide drinking water to more than 4.5 million people, including the city of San Francisco, and support numerous endangered or declining species. The rivers also support some of the most productive agriculture in the world, irrigating more than two million acres of land.

But the San Joaquin is so overtapped, through excessive diversions and groundwater overdraft, that it runs dry in certain stretches. So much groundwater is pumped that swaths of land are sinking.  The river’s salmon and steelhead populations are on the brink of extinction.  The current drought is placing additional stress on the river and revealing the inadequacies of status quo water management for both people and the environment.

In naming the San Joaquin the nation’s #1 Most Endangered River, American Rivers is calling on the California State Water Resources Control Board to increase flows in the river to support water quality, fish, and sustainable agriculture. American Rivers is also urging Congress to preserve agreements and laws designed to protect the San Joaquin River and the jobs and communities it supports.

For the second year in a row, the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers. Last year the Colorado River was #1 on the list because of outdated water management. The Colorado River Basin remains in the spotlight this year, with water diversion threats placing the Gila River and the rivers of the Upper Colorado Basin on the Most Endangered list.

“On the San Joaquin and across the nation, communities can increase their ability to deal with drought now and in the future by protecting and restoring rivers and using water more efficiently,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers. “By prioritizing healthy rivers and sustainable water management, we can enjoy reliable clean water supplies, healthy fish and wildlife, recreation, and quality of life for generations to come.”

America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014:

#1 San Joaquin River (California)

Threat: Outdated water management and excessive diversions

At Risk: River health and resilient communities

#2 Upper Colorado River System (Colorado)

Threat: New trans-mountain water diversions

At Risk: River health and recreation

#3 Middle Mississippi River (Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky)

Threat: Outdated flood management

At Risk: Wildlife habitat and public safety

#4 Gila River (New Mexico)

Threat: New water diversions

At Risk: River health, fish and wildlife, recreation, and tourism

#5 San Francisquito Creek (California)

Threat: Dam

At Risk: Fish and wildlife habitat and public safety

#6 South Fork Edisto River (South Carolina)

Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

At Risk: Fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and water quality

#7 White River (Colorado)

Threat: Oil and gas drilling

At Risk: Drinking water supplies and fish and wildlife habitat

#8 White River (Washington)

Threat: Outdated dam and fish passage facilities

At Risk: Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations

#9 Haw River (North Carolina)

Threat: Polluted runoff

At Risk: Clean water

#10 Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers (Idaho)

Threat: Industrialization of a Wild and Scenic River corridor

At risk: Scenery, solitude, world-class recreational values


Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Amy Kober is the senior communications director for American Rivers, a national non-profit river conservation organization. She lives in Portland, OR.