The environmental group American Rivers, released a list of the top ten rivers in the country facing imminent threats on Tuesday. A portion of the Colorado River which winds through the Grand Canyon sits at the top of that list. The group sites plans for a major construction project in the canyon, a proposed expansion of groundwater pumping, and a desire to reopen an inactive uranium mine in the area.
According to Sinjin Eberle, the group’s associate director of communications for the Colorado River Basin, the river on the list are not necessarily the ones with the most pollution, but rather those which could benefit most from community support.
The criteria is as follows:
- A major decision (that the public can help influence) in the coming year on the proposed action;
- The significance of the river to human and natural communities;
- The magnitude of the threat to the river and associated communities, especially in light of a changing climate
For millennia, the Colorado River has cut through layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale unobstructed, sculpting a canyon in Arizona that is more than a mile deep in places. Now however, the river is susceptible to dams upstream that have altered its flows, water temperatures, and pollution from nearby development. The 277-mile stretch of the lower Colorado, which includes the Grand Canyon, faces three major and permanent changes: the planned reopening of a nearby uranium mine, the proposed 1.6-mile tramway for tourists to travel from new commercial developments on the canyon’s rim to the canyon’s floor, and a major expansion of the Arizona town of Tusayan, including increased groundwater pumping.
The mine, Canyon Mine, reopening near the south rim would sink an additional 1,200 feet of shaft despite a federal moratorium on new mining in the area from the federal government in 2012. Since the mine is not new however, this moratorium does not apply. Nonetheless, environmental impacts are expected as uranium contamination in the groundwater of the area has been of persistent concern.
Beginning in 2012, the Navajo Nation and a private developer have been making plans to build hotels, restaurants, a dude ranch, and a spa at the rim and the gondola tramway into the canyon. Lower at the river, at the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers, a two-storey restaurant and elevated walkways are in the works.
The nearby town of Tusayan plans to expand residentially by an order of magnitude in addition to three million square feet of commercial space, in anticipation of increased tourism. As neighboring California well knows, groundwater pumping threatens to deplete water, and climate change will likely only make the problem worse.
The other rivers to make the list are as follows:
2. Columbia River: Washington / Oregon
Outdated dam operations are putting healthy runs of salmon and other fisheries at risk.
3. Holston River: Tennessee
Toxic chemicals from the Holston Army Ammunition Plant are putting local water supplies and the community’s health at risk.
4. Smith River: Montana
A proposed copper mine could harm a nationally-renowned wild trout fishery.
5. Edisto River: South Carolina
Excessive agricultural water withdrawals are putting water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation at risk.
6. Chuitna River: Alaska
A proposed mine threatens to destroy 30 square miles of irreplaceable wild river habitat.
7. Rogue-Smith Rivers: Oregon, California
Strip mining, road construction, and metal processing would devastate this fragile, precious wild area.
8. St. Louis River: Minnesota
Mining could destroy or degrade thousands of square miles of pristine forested wetlands and streams.
9. Harpeth River: Tennessee
Sewage pollution and water withdrawals are putting clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation at risk.
10. Pearl River: Louisiana, Mississippi
A new dam threatens to ruin healthy wetlands and wildlife habitat.
The full report from American Rivers can be found below!