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Snake River named most endangered river in America by national advocacy group

UPDATED: Thu., April 15, 2021

Water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Wash.  (Nicholas K. Geranios)
Water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Wash. (Nicholas K. Geranios)

The Snake River on Tuesday was named the No. 1 most endangered river in 2021 by an influential national advocacy organization.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to save rivers in need of urgent action,” Tom Kiernan, president of American Rivers said in a news release. “We’re facing a critical choice on the Snake River. 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. We think the choice is clear and we’re calling on the Northwest congressional delegation to take action now.”

Salmon returns on the Snake River, which is the largest tributary into the Columbia River, have plummeted.

When four dams were built on the Lower Snake River – Ice Harbor , Lower Monumental , Little Goose and Lower Granite – they flooded 14,400 acres, washing away ancient Native American gathering sites, burial grounds, fishing holes and towns. Salmon populations plummeted with the dams, which cut off 55% of the Columbia Basin’s fish habitat. In 1991, Snake River sockeye salmon were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Snake River has appeared on the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report 12 times in the past 36 years. The list is not highlighting the most polluted American rivers. Instead, it focuses on rivers at “a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates.”

The report comes on heels of Rep. Mike Simpson’s $33.5-billion proposal to breach the four dams on the Lower Snake River. The proposal has drawn the ire of some farmers and energy advocates who argue the dams provide cheap, nearly carbon-free power and transportation. Some environmentalists have also attacked Simpson’s proposal because it would put a moratorium on Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The future of Simpson’s proposal is undetermined.

American Rivers called for congressional leaders in the Northwest to “build on Congressman Simpson’s proposal and advance a comprehensive salmon recovery solution that includes lower Snake River dam removal, as well as robust job-creating investments to replace the dams’ energy, transportation and irrigation services. This critically important legislation must be included in President Biden’s national infrastructure package.”

Below is the full list of rivers:

#1: Snake River (ID, WA, OR)

Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River

#2: Lower Missouri River (State: MO, IA, NE, KS)

Threat: Outdated river management and flooding fueled by climate change

#3: Boundary Waters (MN)

Threat: Pollution from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining

#4: South River (GA)

Threat: Sewage pollution due to lax enforcement

#5: Pecos River (NM)

Threat: Pollution from proposed gold, copper and zinc mining

#6: Tar Creek (OK)

Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site

#7: McCloud River (CA)

Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam, flooding state Wild and Scenic River

#8: Ipswich River (MA)

Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

#9: Raccoon River (IA)

Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming

#10: Turkey Creek (MS)

Threat: Two major developments exacerbating flood risk

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