J. Thomas Blate/Courtesy American Rivers
The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon tops the most-endangered conservation group American Rivers

5 Most Endangered Rivers of Turtle Island: Many Flow Through Indian Country

Konnie LeMay

It’s no secret that water pollution is clogging rivers across Turtle Island. But the annual list of the most endangered rivers in the U.S. announced on April 7 by the conservation group American Rivers confirms that a large number of them flow through Indian country, starting with Number One.

Topping the list? The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, thanks to not one but two tourism-development plans that opponents say pose much danger to the fragile ecosystems. Add to that the push to develop mineral resources there, and you have a river on the brink.

The rivers on this year’s list are found in Alaska, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington, and many of them affect tribal populations and flow through tribal or ceded territories. The annual list highlights river systems that face critical decisions within the coming year, American Rivers said. Proposed mining projects, water withdrawals and pollution concerns are the main reasons rivers made this year’s list. Since 1973 the Washington, D.C.–based American Rivers organization has worked to protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects and its annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. The organization has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters and volunteers, according to its website.

“This year’s report underscores the importance of healthy rivers to each and every American,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers. “Whether it's for clean drinking water, ample water supplies for farms and cities, abundant fish and wildlife, or iconic places vital to our heritage, we all have a stake in protecting our nation’s rivers.”

Below are the top five. Stay tuned for another batch in coming days.

Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona

American Rivers declared the Colorado the Number One endangered river because of what it calls “three serious threats, each with a key decision this year: the massive Escalade construction project in the heart of the canyon, pollution from uranium mining on the north and south rims, and expansion of the town of Tusayan that could deplete vital groundwater supplies. These threats would cause irreparable harm to the river’s unique wild character, clean water, and cultural values.”

The Grand Canyon Escalade project proposed at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers on 420 acres of Navajo land. The proposal features development of shops, a restaurant with more than 1,000 parking spaces, and access to a gondola tramway on the rim of the canyon, plus walkways, restrooms, a gift shop and restaurant at the end of the tram ride on the bottom of the canyon. The plans have raised both support and opposition within the Navajo Nation, and the area, as well as the river itself, covers traditional lands of multiple tribal nations.

“The Grand Canyon is the cultural homeland of many traditional people, and this project would be a sacrilege to them,” said Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director at the Grand Canyon Trust, in the American Rivers statement. “We’re honored to support Navajo community members opposed to this project as part of the Save the Confluence coalition.”

RELATED: Controversial Grand Canyon Gondola Grounded for a Year

Elsewhere, the American Rivers organization cites a proposed major expansion of the resort town of Tusayan near the south entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park and proposed uranium mining in the area as threats to groundwater and to the streams feeding the Colorado River. Mining could contaminate the waters and expansion of the town could deplete scarce water resources, according to American Rivers.

RELATED: Opposition to New Development Aims to Protect Natural Water Supplies


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