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America’s Ten Most Endangered Rivers of 2016

American Rivers is sounding the alarm about rivers and clean water with its annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report. Dried up rivers…collapsing ecosystems…dwindling water supplies for farms and cities: the 2016 report highlights how outdated water management is threatening rivers and communities from the east coast to the west coast. In the Southeast’s Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river...

Infographic: America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2016

American Rivers is sounding the alarm about rivers and clean water with its annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report. Dried up rivers…collapsing ecosystems…dwindling water supplies for farms and cities: the 2016 report highlights how outdated water management is threatening rivers and communities from the east coast to the west coast.

In the Southeast’s Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin (#1 on the list), and on California’s San Joaquin River (#2), wasteful water use and outdated management are killing the lifelines we depend on for drinking water, agriculture, industry and recreation.

Watch a short video about these Endangered Rivers

More than eight million people depend on clean drinking water from these two river systems combined, and water shortages threaten billions of dollars in agricultural production and fisheries.

There’s a lot at stake, and we have a choice: Will we let waste and mismanagement drain our rivers dry, or will we work together to ensure healthy rivers can benefit all for generations to come?

Water is one of the most critical conservation issues of our time. In the Southeast, in California and in river basins nationwide, we must move away from an era of water conflict to a new era of water cooperation.

This means working for better balance among all users and ensuring a legacy of healthy rivers benefiting communities upstream and downstream – today and far into the future.

Learn more about this year’s report at


America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2016

#1: Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin
(Alabama, Florida, Georgia)
Threat: Outdated water management

A water conflict has been raging in the Southeast for more than two decades, and rivers and
communities are at a breaking point. Outdated water management practices and wasteful water use threaten the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers – the source of metro Atlanta’s drinking water and lifelines for agriculture, industry, fisheries and recreation. Unless Georgia, Alabama and Florida reach a transparent water-sharing agreement that protects both people and wildlife throughout the basin, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improves water management, the region will face lasting economic and irreversible environmental damage.

#2: San Joaquin River
Threat: Outdated water management

The San Joaquin is Central California’s largest river, supporting endangered fish and wildlife,
communities, and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. However, the river is so over-tapped that it runs completely dry in stretches, threatening water quality, endangering fish and wildlife, creating uncertainty for farmers, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of more frequent and severe droughts. The California Water Resources Control Board must act this year to increase flows in the San Joaquin so that the watershed is healthy enough to support fish and wildlife, sustainable agriculture and resilient communities for generations to come.

#3: Susquehanna River
(Pennsylvania, Maryland)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

The Susquehanna River is a vital resource and economic engine for communities, and a major influence on the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna is threatened by pollution, but is also imperiled by the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam, which alters river flow, blocks fish and impacts water quality. The Exelon Corporation is seeking to renew its federal license to operate Conowingo, and Maryland has the authority to require that the dam meet state water quality standards before a new license can be issued. However, a bill pending in Congress, H.R. 8, would take away Maryland’s authority to hold Exelon accountable for pollution, putting the Susquehanna River further at risk.

#4: Smith River
Threat: Mining

Hidden in a deep canyon amongst central Montana’s forested mountains, the Smith River is a treasured destination for paddlers and anglers alike. But this legendary trout stream is in danger of permanent degradation from a proposed copper mine. The State of Montana must require the mining company, Tintina Resources, to prove beyond any doubt that their operation will produce no acid mine drainage or cause any environmental harm to the Smith River or its tributaries before the project is allowed to proceed.

#5: Green-Duwamish River
Threat: Outdated dam and floodplain management, pollution

The Green-Duwamish River flows from the Cascade Mountains north of Mt. Rainier, winding through farmland and the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, before reaching Puget Sound. Decades of pollution, floodplain development and harmful dam operations have taken their toll on the river and its salmon and steelhead runs. Two key actions this year can put the river on the rebound: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must build a long-delayed system for young salmon and steelhead to migrate downstream past a large dam, and governments at all levels must work collaboratively to manage the river for the benefit of salmon and communities.

#6: Pee Dee River
(North Carolina)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

The Pee Dee River provides abundant habitat for fish, mussels, birds and other wildlife. But the health of the river is at risk thanks to irresponsible and harmful operations of the Duke Energy Tillery Hydroelectric Project. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not take steps to improve dam operations through the project’s license, the river’s health will suffer for decades to come.

#7: Russell Fork River
(Kentucky, Virginia)
Threat: Mountaintop removal mining

Locals and visitors love the Russell Fork River for its clean water, whitewater rapids and unique beauty. However, all of this will be compromised if Paramont Coal Company’s proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal coal mine gets the green light. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Virginia must reject Paramont’s permit application in order to protect the Russell Fork’s many environmental and economic values for today’s communities and future generations.

#8: Merrimack River
(Massachusetts, New Hampshire)
Threat: Polluted runoff

Birthplace of American industry, drinking water source for over a half million people, and home to Eastern brook trout and other fish and wildlife, the Merrimack River is one of New England’s treasures. However, its forests are disappearing, cut down to make way for developments, roads and parking lots. Unless the Environmental Protection Agency acts now to protect sensitive lands and implement green infrastructure solutions, the river and its communities will be harmed by increasingly polluted runoff.

#9: St. Lawrence River
(New York)
Threat: Harmful dam operations

The St. Lawrence River has been a lifeline of the region for thousands of years, rich in history and biodiversity. Unfortunately, the river’s dam management is stuck in the 1950’s, a time when little consideration was given to environmental values. Unless U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion approve a proposed plan for improved dam operations, the river and its fish and wildlife will suffer irreversible damage.

#10: Pascagoula River
(Mississippi, Alabama)
Threat: New dams

The Pascagoula River is a free-flowing treasure that runs through the Gulf Coastal plain in the southeastern United States. The river and its associated marshes and wetlands are a haven for fish, wildlife, and visitors looking to experience the area’s unique natural beauty. All of this could be irreversibly damaged if local counties are successful in their effort to build new dams on Pascagoula tributaries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should deny the permit request for this unnecessary and environmentally damaging project.

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Meet the Author

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