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Endangered Rivers

June 10, 2010Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Endangered Rivers

Among the bewildering array of public and private organizations devoted to protecting rivers in the United States, American Rivers has consistently argued for the connections between healthy rivers and healthy communities. Over nearly four decades, American Rivers has focused on restoring and protecting rivers, and on safeguarding water supply and water quality in rivers. More recently, the group has added a program area focusing on climate change and rivers.

Many preservation organizations of all stripes publish a “Ten (or 11 or 12) Most Endangered” list, and American Rivers is no exception. While the publicity from the list causes my “Google Alert” to light up for a few days, and, in some cases, starts up a smaller thread that lasts for a while, a big part of the value of this list is how the material American Rivers generates in support of its list summarizes and focuses important complex patterns.

Take this year’s nomination of the Cedar River in Iowa for example. The fact sheet and short video posted on the web site are simply excellent primers on the threats posed by outdated flood management and floodplain protection.Not everyone remembers the devastation of the floods that hit Iowa in summer 2008, but footage here brings those scenes back all too vividly.The accompanying analysis of physical conditions on the land, both in agricultural areas and in cities along the rivers, makes the nature of the problem abundantly clear. Moreover, proposed policy solutions are offered and, on the fact sheet, contact information provided for the people “on the ground” who are engaged in the front lines of protecting this river.

Taken together, the case studies of the Ten Most Endangered rivers offer a rich foundational base to understanding the threats facing American rivers currently. And, as they say on late night television “Wait, wait, there’s more!” For river geeks like me, the analysis of successes and updates from the program’s first 25 years offers lots to think about and analyze. How have the threats changed? How do urban issues come into play, both short term and over the long perspective? Are there any categories of threat that have largely ended?

For the teacher in me, all I can say to my future students is “Watch out–here’s where your next assignments are going to come from!”


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