THE BLOG
06/02/2010 12:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Turning Endangered Rivers Into Success Stories

While all eyes are focused on the disaster that is the Gulf oil spill, there is another, different kind of clean water crisis unfolding in the Northeast, brought to you courtesy of the oil and gas industry. But the good news is, this is one disaster we can avoid.

Today, American Rivers released the 2010 edition of America's Most Endangered Rivers and we named the Upper Delaware River the number one Most Endangered River in the country. Gas drilling in the watershed - through a process known as shale fracking - threatens the drinking water source of 17 million people across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Fracking has a nasty track record of creating a toxic chemical soup that pollutes groundwater and streams, threatening public health and wildlife -- which is why each of us today should pick up the phone and call our representatives in Congress, urging them to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 (S.1215/H.R. 2766). We can protect the Upper Delaware and the region's clean water, but only if key safeguards and restrictions are in place before we give the oil and gas industry the green light to proceed.

For 25 years, our annual America's Most Endangered Rivers report has been one of our best tools for raising visibility about the threats facing rivers and the need for public action. The report illustrates how, every time a river's health is compromised, the health and safety of the river's people and wildlife are threatened, too.

The rivers on the 2010 list provide a snapshot of the state of our rivers nationally and the pressures they face. Calls for new water supply dams imperil North Carolina's Little River, number four on this year's list, and Idaho's Teton River, number eight. In both cases, adopting proven water efficiency measures would be a smarter, cheaper, faster, and more reliable water supply solution.

Our rivers are also threatened by mining. Mountaintop removal coal mining could devastate West Virginia's Gauley River watershed, listed at number three, and suction dredge mining is bad news for Oregon's Wild and Scenic Chetco River, listed at number seven. Outdated flood management is putting public safety and river health at risk on Iowa's Cedar River and California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, listed for the second year in a row.

But it's not all bad news. The report helps save rivers, and over the past 25 years, it has lead to some extraordinary victories. Take Maine's Penobscot River. The Penobscot has the dubious distinction of appearing on our Most Endangered list more than any other river. Here we not only prevented new dams from being built, but we played a key role negotiating an agreement to remove two dams and install fish passage on a third, all while increasing hydropower generation in the basin. The restoration of this river and its famed Atlantic salmon is a true endangered rivers success story.

Another exciting victory is the Klamath River in California and Oregon, which we listed as an endangered river for multiple years. Thanks to the publicity we generated, and our decade-long dialogue with tribes, farmers and fishermen, the river's four dams will be removed to restore salmon and help revitalize the basin's communities. When it is completed, it will be the largest dam removal and river restoration effort in history. We now need to move from the successful completion of the agreement to action in Congress.

Other endangered river success stories include the Susquehanna, the Elwha, the Neches, the Blackfoot, and the Big Sunflower. The list goes on and on. The America's Most Endangered Rivers report proves that when we shine the spotlight on urgent threats, and when citizens take action, we can accomplish great things for our rivers and the communities that depend on them. This is more important than ever, because our best defense against an extreme climate and extreme events - whether they are 'natural' events like floods and droughts, or man-made events like oil spills - is healthy natural systems, like rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

So take action, and help turn the 2010 endangered rivers into success stories. Tell your friends and spread the word. Let's save these rivers.