Washington, D.C. — American Rivers today announced its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, naming the Colorado River the Most Endangered River in the country. The Colorado River is endangered by outdated water management that is inadequate to respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought. American Rivers is calling on Congress to fund programs that encourage 21st century water management, while protecting rivers and the people, communities, and wildlife they support across the Colorado Basin.
“This year’s 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,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “The Colorado River, the #1 Most Endangered River in the nation, is so over-tapped that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea. We simply cannot continue with status quo water management. It is time for stakeholders across the Colorado Basin to come together around solutions to ensure reliable water supplies and a healthy river for future generations.”
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. Over-allocation and drought have placed significant stress on water supplies and river health, and the basin is facing another drought this summer. Lower river flows threaten endangered fish and wildlife, along with the $26 billion dollar recreation economy that relies on the Colorado River.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (December 2012), there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the basin’s current water demands, let alone support future demand increases. Scientists predict climate change will reduce the Colorado River’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050.
“Latinos and many others westerners are passionate about the Colorado River. It has been at the center of Latino life in the West for centuries. An endangered Colorado River is not only a threat to our drinking water, farming, and recreation, it is a threat to our very heritage,” said Andres Ramirez of Nuestro Rio. “We are ready to do whatever we must to help manage the supply and demand imbalances we face, and bring our beloved river back to vitality for our health and enjoyment, and for future generations to enjoy as we have.”
“Flowing across seven states, a healthy Colorado River system drives a quarter of a million sustainable, American jobs in a $26 billion outdoor recreation economy,” said Nazz Kurth, President of Petzl America. “Demand for Colorado River water now exceeds supply. Yet, for Petzl and hundreds of companies across the Southwest, the people we hire, the products we make, and the places we live depend on water for habitat, wildlife and outdoor recreation.”
“As young and beginning farmers, we of the National Young Farmers Coalition know that a healthy Colorado River watershed is critical to a resilient future for agriculture in the West,” said Kate Greenberg of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “As the next generation’s land stewards, we support the conservation of this essential resource to maintain a vibrant agricultural landscape for generations to come.”
American Rivers and its partners urge Congress to immediately follow the Bureau of Reclamation’s recent study with bold action and funding to build a future that includes healthy rivers, state-of-the-art water conservation for cities and agriculture, and water sharing mechanisms that allow communities to adapt to warmer temperatures and more erratic precipitation.
The 2013 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers also highlights other rivers across the country threatened by outdated water management. The Flint River in Georgia is going dry due to excessive agricultural withdrawals in its southern reaches, as well as increasing municipal demands. The San Saba in Texas is running dry due to excessive agricultural withdrawals. The Little Plover in Wisconsin is at risk due to withdrawals from high capacity wells.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013:
#1: Colorado River (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) THREAT: Outdated water management AT RISK: Water supplies, recreation, fish and wildlife
The Colorado River is a lifeline in the desert, its water sustaining tens of millions of people in seven states, as well as endangered fish and wildlife. However, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, leaving the river so over-tapped that it no longer flows to the sea. A century of water management policies and practices that have promoted wasteful water use have put the river at a critical crossroads. To address ongoing drought and increasing demand for water due to climate change, and to put the Colorado River on a path to recovery, the U.S. Congress must support robust funding of critical programs like WaterSmart that address water supply sustainability in the Colorado River Basin and across the West.