The San Joaquin River in Central California provides water for a huge agricultural area, generates up to 3,000 megawatts of hydropower a year, and delivers drinking water for 4.5 million people, including San Francisco’s residents. In large part because of it’s huge utility, the San Joaquin is also the nation’s “most endangered river,” according to the latest annual rankings put out by American Rivers.
Dams, “excessive diversions” for farming, and the effects of drought all threaten it, says the conservation group. “The river is so over-tapped that it runs completely dry in stretches, threatening water quality, endangering fish and wildlife, creating uncertainty for farmers, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of more frequent and severe droughts,” the report says.
San Joaquin isn’t the only one. The Top 10 list also includes the Upper Colorado River system in Colorado; the stretch of the Mississippi flowing through Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky; the beautiful Gila River in New Mexico; and San Francisquito Creek passing through California. Most of the rivers are threatened by withdrawals for human consumption, dams, agriculture, and industrial uses. For example, the White River in Colorado is imperiled by a Bureau of Land Management plan to open up 15,000 new oil and gas wells.
The 10 are chosen based on three criteria: the magnitude of the threat, the importance of the river to surrounding communities, and the imminence of an upcoming action (like the BLM plan). “The report highlights 10 rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year, and encourages decision-makers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support,” it says.