Story at a glance

  • Advocacy group American Rivers released their annual endangered rivers report.
  • The top threats to America’s endangered rivers were listed as climate change, dams, factory farming and mining.
  • Minority communities were the most affected by the conditions of the rivers.

A new report by an advocacy group has highlighted climate change, dams, factory farming and mining as the top threats to America’s most endangered rivers.

According to American Rivers’ annual “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report, the river that is the most critically endangered is the Snake River.

Running through Idaho, Washington and Oregon, the Snake River is plagued by four federal dams. The dams are part of the Federal Columbia River Power System, aimed at powering renewable electricity and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. 


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However, the dams also stem much free-flowing water, which, coupled with climate change raising water temperatures, have hurt the river’s endangered salmon. The dwindling salmon populations begin a chain reaction affecting the ecosystem that rely on salmon for food, such as black bears and orcas

But it doesn’t stop there. The river and the salmon are also a source of food and clean water, as well as a part of the culture of Indigenous peoples of the area.

“Salmon are critical to the cultural lifeways of Columbia-Snake River Basin tribes, like my own people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon, and are integral to regional identity, economies, and even the orcas and the Puget Sound,” Alyssa Macy, CEO of Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters, told American Rivers.

“Removal of the four dams is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for salmon restoration that will benefit Tribal Nations, local economies, environmental ecosystems, and the Southern Resident Orca population for generations to come,” she added. 

This isn’t an isolated case, either. The report found that of the listed rivers that were endangered due to water pollution, minority communities were more commonly affected by it.

Ranking at No. 4, Georgia’s South River is heavily polluted by sewage and provides water to a largely Black community. New Mexico’s Pecos River, No. 5, is being proposed as a mining site for gold, copper and zinc, despite being a main water source for Indigenous and Latino communities. Tar Creek in Oklahoma, home to Indigenous populations, ranked No. 6 due to severe pollution from the Tar Creek Superfund Site.


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However, American Rivers states that there is still time to salvage and restore these rivers.

“We’re facing a critical choice on the Snake River,” Tom Kiernan, president of American Rivers, told Reuters. “We can either stay with the status quo, which means failing salmon runs, more costly litigation, increasing energy insecurity and broken promises to tribes. Or we can choose to invest in salmon recovery and infrastructure solutions that create a future of abundance and prosperity for the region.”

The report also suggests removing dams to restore free-flowing water, investing in infrastructure and clean energy, and closing sites contributing to pollution.

“On the Snake River, we have an opportunity for the greatest river restoration effort the world has ever seen … saving iconic salmon and orcas, bolstering clean energy and strengthening the region’s economy,” said Kiernan.

As President Biden prepares to unveil his infrastructure bill, activists are advocating for him to include a $33.5 billion plan, created by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), to remove the four dams from Snake River to aid in salmon recovery.


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Published on Apr 13, 2021