The Gila River of New Mexico

The environmental group American Rivers published their annual list of the “most endangered” rivers in the U.S. and this year the Gila River took the top spot because of a planned diversion project that would block the last free-flowing river in New Mexico.  According to USA Today, the rest of the top five most endangered were: the Hudson River, New York; the Upper Mississippi River, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri; the Green-Duwamish River, Washington; and the Willamette River, Oregon.

  • The group’s President and CEO, Bob irvin, said in a statement, “America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action. We must speak up and take action, because climate change will profoundly impact every river and community in our country.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the group named the Cuyahoga River in Ohio as the “River of the Year” due to the progress Cleveland has made in cleaning up the Cuyahoga.  It was a fire on the Cuyahoga 50 years ago that helped ignite the environmental movement in this country.  American Rivers has been publishing the list since 1984.

The criteria are not what you would think — and these rivers aren’t the nation’s “worst” or most polluted. According to American Rivers, “three factors put rivers on the list: the significance of the river to human and natural communities; the magnitude of the threat to the river and its nearby communities, especially in light of a changing climate; and a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year.”

Why This Matters:  While some of the factors in determining the most endangered river — like climate change — are hard to impact, the most endangered river is usually one that can be “saved” from impending doom. In this case, alternatives to damming the Gila must be developed.  The positive reinforcement for Cleveland’s cleanup of the Cuyahoga River is just as important or more from an advocacy perspective.  But our clean water problems are hardly solved — nutrient pollution from farms leads to toxic algae blooms, chemicals leaching into groundwater are making it hazardous, and the lack of water caused by climate change leads to dust storms and fires are all grave threats that are not being addressed.  Just this week, the EPA issued new more lax guidance under the Clean Water Act, saying that pollution that travels through groundwater to regulated waterways isn’t subject to the landmark pollution law. Our rivers will remain endangered until our leaders take action to address these threats.

What You Can Do:  To learn how you can help to save the Gila River, click here.

The Cuyahoga River on fire in 1969.

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