Colorado River Is #1 Endangered River in the Country

04/15/2013 03:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

It is hard to believe that the Colorado River that charges through famous rapids in the Grand Canyon is the same river that dries to a trickle before meeting the sea in Mexico. But we place many demands on this river which flows for more than 1,400 miles across seven states, using its water to quench our thirst, water our crops and lawns, and power our businesses and homes. The Colorado River is so drained, dammed, and diverted that today American Rivers is naming it the #1 Most Endangered River in the country.

I rafted through the Grand Canyon last September and got a firsthand look at the importance of this river to people and wildlife. The Colorado River is the last refuge of four species of endangered fish. The river and its tributaries support a $26 billion recreation economy, fueling a quarter million jobs. Thirty-six million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water. The river irrigates nearly four million acres of land, which grows 15 percent of the nation’s crops.

But demand for the river’s water is outstripping supply, threatening our desert lifeline. The Bureau of Reclamation’s report (Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, December 2012) stresses that there is not enough water to meet current demands across the basin, let alone support future demand increases. Scientists predict climate change will reduce the Colorado River’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050. To underscore the immediacy of the problem, the basin is facing another drought this summer.

This is the year to put the Colorado River on the path to recovery. That is why American Rivers and our partners at Nuestro Rio, Protect the Flows, and the National Young Farmers Coalition are calling on Congress to give cities and farmers across the basin the tools they need to build a future that includes healthy rivers and reliable, sustainable water supplies. Specifically, we are asking Congress to fund the Bureau of  Reclamation’s WaterSmart and Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse programs. These programs help stakeholders optimize existing water infrastructure, maximize available water supplies, and provide healthy river flows for communities and ecosystems.

While over-allocation of water is most pronounced on the Colorado River, it’s a problem we’re seeing on rivers nationwide. In fact, the top four rivers in America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013 suffer from outdated water management, allowing demand to outstrip water supply.

What’s clear for all of these rivers is that, if we are to manage them sustainably, we all need to be part of the solution. We all must work together if we want clean water supplies and healthy rivers for our children and grandchildren.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013

#1: Colorado River (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and


Threat: Outdated water management

At risk:  Water supplies, recreation, fish and wildlife

#2: Flint River (Georgia)

Threat: Outdated water management

At risk:  Water supply for communities, farms, recreation,  and wildlife

Threat: Outdated water management

At risk:  River flow for ranchers, citizens, and lakes

Threat: Outdated water management

At risk:  Fish habitat and water supply

#5: Catawba River (North Carolina, South Carolina)

Threat: Coal ash pollution

At risk: Drinking water and recreation

#6: Boundary Waters (Minnesota)

Threat: Copper and nickel mining

At risk: Recreation economy, drinking water, and wilderness

Threat: Coal mining

At risk: Drinking water quality and fish and wildlife habitat

Threat: Nickel mining

At risk: Clean water, wildlife, rare plants

#9: Kootenai River (British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho)

Threat: Open-pit coal mining

At risk: Clean water, fish and wildlife habitat

#10: Niobrara River (Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming)

Threat: Sediment build-up and flooding

At risk: Property, crops, and public safety

*** Special Mention: Merced River (California) ***

Threat: Intentional flooding of a Wild and Scenic River

At risk: Wildlife habitat and recreation