Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Three Mississippi River Basin Waterways Listed on American Rivers "Most Endangered Rivers" List - in Unprecedented Move, Mississippi River Receives "Special Mention"

On May 17, American Rivers announced America’s Most Endangered Rivers, "a list of ten rivers facing urgent threats that call for our immediate, decisive action." The St. Croix and Chicago Rivers and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in the Mississippi River Basin were listed, and in an unprecedented move, the Mississippi River received "special mention" because of the ongoing record-breaking River flooding.

In taking the unique step of making "special mention" of the Mississippi River, American Rivers said that it was adding, in essence, an eleventh river to the annual "top ten" list because the recent "massive flooding throughout the Mississippi River Basin has devastated communities, and highlighted the fact that trying to control the river is not the solution."  The listing announcement stresses that "the Administration, Congress and federal regulators must prioritize natural flood management approaches to ensure that levees are not the only line of defense." In a related CNN video segment filmed last week, CNN’s Christine Romans interviewed American Rivers' Senior Vice President for Conservation Andrew Fahlund "about the country’s reliance on levees, what needs to change and what the next steps should be to contain the Mississippi river."

The St. Croix River, which begins in northwest Wisconsin and flows south, forming the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, was listed because of the controversy surrounding the four-lane highway Stillwater bridge over the Lower St. Croix River.  In 1972, the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was designated as a Wild and Scenic River.  The National Park Service (NPS) had recently concluded that a proposed replacement bridge in Stillwater would damage the Lower St. Croix’s scenic and recreational values. Since that determination, Federal legislation (HR 850) has been introduced by Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN-6) that would override the current NPS determination, allowing the originally-proposed bridge to be constructed.  American Rivers says in its listing statement that passing the legislation "would not only result in construction of a bridge that will harm the St. Croix River, it would also set a dangerous precedent for all Wild and Scenic Rivers under pressure from those who seek to rollback river protection." 

The Chicago River was placed on the list because "the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) dumps 1.2 billion gallons of undisinfected wastewater" into the River each day, according to the American Rivers announcement.  Recently, the River has made other, related news headlines concerning that sewage discharge.  The Natural Resources Defense Council, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club filed suit on May 3 against the MWRD over water pollution impacts resulting from wastewater discharges that reach from the Chicago River, downstream into Des Plaines, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. And later in the month, the US EPA notified the Illinois EPA to adopt more stringent water quality standards for the Chicago River and two of its tributaries, noting that the "EPA will promptly do so itself" by invoking its authority under the federal Clean Water Act should the state not act.

American Rivers describes the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri as "the region's premier rivers for paddling, fishing, and other recreation."  The Riverways were placed on the Endangered Rivers list because "National Park Service managers have allowed over development, proliferation of roads and motorized vehicles, scenic easement violations, and overcrowding."

This marks the second year in a row that three Mississippi River Basin streams were designated "Most Endangered" by the organization. The Cedar, Gauley and Monongahela Rivers achieved notoriety in 2010 by making the list (see our update on that listing here).

In announcing this year's listing, American Rivers noted that "The ten rivers named as America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2011 highlight an issue of urgent concern to all Americans: clean water. It is vital to the health of our families and communities. Sixty-five percent of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams, but many of our rivers are too polluted to use." A primary consideration in developing the list each year is American River's determination whether there is "a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year."

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