The Snake River in the Pacific Northwest is the nation's most endangered river of 2021, according to a report released Tuesday by the environmental advocacy group American Rivers.
"Rarely has a river been in such need of bold, swift action than the Pacific Northwest’s Snake River," American Rivers said in a statement. "Once the largest salmon producer in the Columbia River Basin, today Snake River salmon runs are at the brink of extinction. The loss of salmon is an existential threat to Northwest tribes who depend on the fish for their cultures and identities."
Salmon are a crucial component of the Northwest’s economy. Recreational fishing in the Pacific Northwest generates more than $5.3 billion a year in economic benefits and supports more than 36,000 jobs, according to American Rivers.
The report suggests that to solve the problem, removing four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington is essential, along with increasing flow over downstream dams. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, proposed a $33.5 billion framework to remove the dams, recover salmon and revitalize the region’s infrastructure and economy.
His proposal includes investments to replace the energy produced at the dams and increase the energy grid’s reliability and upgrade transportation and irrigation services that the lower Snake River dams provide, the report says.
Such a project would be the biggest river and salmon restoration effort in history.
American Rivers President and CEO Tom Kiernan said that “on the Snake River, we have an opportunity for the greatest river restoration effort the world has ever seen. A well-crafted, comprehensive solution would be a down payment on a future of abundance and prosperity in the Pacific Northwest."
The rivers on the list aren't the nation's "worst" or most polluted rivers. According to American Rivers, three factors put rivers on the list:
The magnitude of the threat.
The significance of the river to people and nature.
A critical decision point in the coming year.
Over the years, publicity about the top 10 list has helped spur many successes, including the removal of outdated dams and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
“Rivers are among the most degraded ecosystems on the planet, and threats to rivers are threats to human health, safety and survival,” Kiernan said in a statement. “If we want a future of clean water and healthy rivers everywhere, for everyone, we must prioritize environmental justice.”
The top 10 most endangered rivers of 2021
American Rivers has compiled an annual list of the nation's most endangered rivers since 1984. Here's the 2021 list:
Snake River (Idaho, Washington, Oregon)
Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River
Lower Missouri River (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas)
Threat: Outdated river management and flooding fueled by climate change
Boundary Waters (Minnesota)
Threat: Pollution from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining
South River (Georgia)
Threat: Sewage pollution due to lax enforcement
Pecos River (New Mexico)
Threat: Pollution from proposed gold, copper and zinc mining
Tar Creek (Oklahoma)
Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site
McCloud River (California)
Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam, flooding state Wild and Scenic River
Ipswich River (Massachusetts)
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals
Raccoon River (Iowa)
Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming
Turkey Creek (Mississippi)
Threat: Two major developments exacerbating flood risk
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Most endangered rivers: Snake River tops the list from American Rivers