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Colorado, Snake rivers rank atop 'endangered' list

The Colorado River near Moab, Utah.
Mitch Tobin
The Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

A new report by the conservation group American Rivers lists the 10 most endangered rivers in the nation – and several are in the Mountain West.

At the top of the list is the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to major cities such as Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles. American Rivers says it’s in trouble because management plans are based on unrealistically high water estimates.

Our region’s long drought – and other pressures from climate change – are making things worse. American Rivers says officials who manage the Colorado must develop strategies quickly to adapt to a hotter, drier future. And federal infrastructure funds offer the opportunity to make that happen.

Tom Kiernan, president of Americans Rivers, called the river “ground zero for the climate crisis as water levels plummet — threatening the lifeblood of 30 federally recognized Tribal Nations, seven states and Mexico. In addition to improving river management and using water more wisely, we must also prioritize collaboration over litigation.”

Number two on the list is the Snake River, which runs through Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The report calls for removing four dams to restore the river’s salmon to healthier levels.

Number eight is the San Pedro River in Arizona. The report says some stretches have dried up because so much groundwater is being pumped out for development.

American Rivers wants state lawmakers to strengthen laws protecting groundwater supplies and the Biden administration to protect streams that flow into the San Pedro.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the managing editor of the Mountain West News Bureau, a regional public radio collaboration based at Boise State Public Radio. Being relatively new to the West, I'm fascinated by the range of issues here – from drought to wildfires, wolves to wild horses.

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