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America's Most Endangered Rivers: The Urgent Need for Action


Many American Rivers are endangered. Graphic.
Many American Rivers are endangered as a result of irresponsible action by people and industry. Time for action.

Last May, the United States Supreme Court overturned decades of federal Clean Water Act protections for over half the freshwater wetlands throughout the country. This decision poses a significant threat to the drinking water resources relied upon by millions of Americans.


However, this is only one of the pressures on America's water bodies, with additional challenges arising from highway construction, development, drought, and climate change—all of which threaten our ecosystems and environment.

 

In mid-April, the American Rivers Organization identified the ten most endangered rivers in America. Today, we'll explore the significance of this list, hear from experts, and discuss how we can protect these vital waterways.

 

The State of America's Wetlands and Rivers

Becky Ryon, North Coast Office Director with the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, sheds light on the critical implications of the Supreme Court's Sackett vs. EPA decision.


The ruling limits Clean Water Act protections to only those wetlands with a continuous surface level connection to other federally protected water bodies like rivers. With many wetlands instead having groundwater connections to rivers, significant areas are now unprotected, impacting drinking water, flood control, and wildlife habitats.

 

America's Most Endangered Rivers

Bob Gatty, host of the discussion, was particularly interested in the list of America's most endangered rivers. Janae Davis, American Rivers Southeast Conservation Director, explains that the American Rivers Endangered Rivers Program highlights threats to clean water and rivers nationwide. The program aims to spotlight rivers at critical decision points where action—or inaction—could severely impact these waterways.

 

The Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina, which ranks number five on the list, is a prime example of the threats our rivers face. Deborah Buffkin, Executive Director of the Winyah Rivers Alliance, described how the proposed I-73 interstate development poses a significant risk to this river’s ecosystems, economic benefits, and cultural heritage.

 

Community Action and Legislative Importance

Cheryl Cail, chairperson of Idle No More South Carolina and acting chief of the Waccamaw Indian People, emphasized the importance of individual responsibility and corporate accountability in protecting our rivers.


Simple actions, such as reducing plastic use and participating in river cleanups, can make a significant difference. Cail also stressed the importance of civic engagement to ensure that our elected officials prioritize environmental protection over corporate interests.

 

Deborah Buffkin highlighted the crucial role of upcoming elections in shaping environmental policies. The November 2024 election, she said, will determine the stance of policymakers on environmental regulations, conservation funding, and public land management. It’s not just federal officials, but also state legislators and county council candidates who play pivotal roles in safeguarding our rivers.

 

The Ecological and Cultural Significance of Rivers

The discussion also touched on the profound cultural and spiritual connections many indigenous communities have with rivers.


For the Waccamaw Indian People, the Little Pee Dee River is not only a source of life but also a link to their ancestors and cultural heritage. Protecting these rivers is about preserving a way of life that has sustained these communities for generations.

 

How You Can Help

Protecting endangered waterways requires concerted efforts from individuals and communities. Here are a few ways you can contribute:

 

1. Educate Others: Spread awareness about the importance of rivers through social media and community meetings.

2. Advocate: Contact local, state, and federal representatives to advocate for strong environmental protections.

3. Volunteer: Participate in river cleanups, water quality monitoring, and habitat restoration projects.

4. Support Conservation Organizations: Donate to environmental organizations like American Rivers, the Coastal Conservation League, Winyah Rivers Alliance, and others working to protect our waterways.

5. Adopt Sustainable Practices: Reduce the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and single-use plastics, and properly dispose of all waste.

 

A Critical Need

The fate of America's rivers is at a critical juncture. As stewards of the environment, it's our responsibility to take action—through advocacy, education, and responsible practices—to ensure that our rivers remain healthy and vibrant for future generations.

 

For more information and ways to get involved, visit the American Rivers website at www.americanrivers.org and explore the resources provided by the various organizations mentioned in this discussion. Together, we can protect the lifelines of our nation and preserve these precious ecosystems for generations to come.


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Gast
20 jun.

Great piece on our rivers at risk with knowledgeable presenters. Great civilizations that are now in desert environments got that way by ignoring river and wetlands protection. Horry County in particular is busy draining swamps to throw up single family housing communities. This is despite the threats of flooding, our water system contaminated with PFAS and a great loss of habitats.

Our river advocates make a difference- thank you for highlighting this issue.

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Bob Gatty
Bob Gatty
20 jun.
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Happy to do so and my thanks to my great guests who emphasize the urgency of protecting our rivers for the benefit of us all.

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