Washington, D.C. — American Rivers released its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The conservation group put the Susquehanna River at the top of this year’s list, citing the rush to develop natural gas reserves in the region without considering the significant risk to clean water and public health. American Rivers added a “special mention” on the 2011 list for the Mississippi River, given the unprecedented nature of recent flooding and the opportunity to improve flood management for public safety and river health.

“Healthy rivers are great assets and give communities so many benefits, including clean water and natural flood protection,” said Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president of conservation at American Rivers. “This year’s list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a clear reminder that if we don’t protect and restore our rivers, public safety, the economy, and the environment will suffer grave consequences.”

On the Susquehanna River, the fracking process requires taking large amounts of water from rivers and streams, which is then mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped underground to extract the natural gas. According to American Rivers, current facilities can’t adequately treat the highly toxic wastewater that is generated, and there are insufficient government regulations to ensure the wastewater doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies. The Susquehanna provides drinking water for more than six million people. Last year’s No. 1 endangered river was the Upper Delaware, also threatened by natural gas extraction.

“Fracking poses one of the greatest risks our nation’s rivers have faced in decades,” said Fahlund. “We are taking a major gamble on the clean drinking water for millions of Americans.”

American Rivers called on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the states of New York and Pennsylvania to issue a moratorium on natural gas drilling-related permits until the industry can prove they can operate without damage to the river and clean water supplies. American Rivers also called on Congress to do away with the loopholes that have allowed the natural gas industry to avoid basic standards for public and environmental health.

In listing the Mississippi as a “special mention,” American Rivers pointed to outdated flood management strategies and over-reliance on levees that have contributed to the record flood damage. While levees and floodwalls will continue to make sense in some heavily populated areas, their overuse actually causes flood levels to rise as the river channel is narrowed and water has nowhere to go but up — making flooding worse for communities downstream, the group said.

American Rivers called for a strategy that combines structural flood protection solutions like levees with “natural defenses” such as healthy wetlands and floodplains that absorb floodwaters. Towns across the country from Nashville, Tenn., to Tulsa, Okla., to Napa, Calif., are embracing innovative flood protection solutions and should be models for other communities, the group said.

On May 4, the Obama Administration laid out a vision to protect and restore our nation’s clean water and healthy rivers and wetlands. American Rivers applauded that action and urged the Administration to improve flood management and policies that ensure public safety and river health. American Rivers also called on Congress to use the upcoming Farm Bill as an opportunity to expand programs that would restore wetlands and floodplains along the Mississippi. Congress and the Department of Agriculture should replicate model initiatives like the Iowa River Corridor Project, which gives landowners and farmers incentives to restore wetlands in exchange for payment, and to experiment with land uses besides traditional row crops.

“We need to give the river more room to move,” said Fahlund. “Unless we restore our natural defenses, we will burden future generations with increasingly disastrous floods.”

America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2011
SPECIAL MENTION: Mississippi River — Threat: Outdated flood management
1) Susquehanna River (NY, PA, MD) — Threat: Natural gas extraction
2) Bristol Bay (AK) — Threat: Massive copper and gold mine
3) Roanoke River (VA, NC) — Threat: Uranium mining
4) Chicago River (IL) — Threat: Sewage pollution
5) Yuba River (CA) — Threat: Hydropower dams
6) Green River (WA) — Threat: Exploratory drilling and mine development
7) Hoback River (WY) — Threat: Natural gas extraction
8) Black Warrior River (AL) — Threat: Coal mining
9) St. Croix River (MN, WI) — Threat: Rollback of longstanding protections
10) Ozark National Scenic Riverways (MO) — Threat: Overuse and poor management