Yesterday, the good people at American Rivers released their annual “Endangered Rivers” report, ranging from the Green-Duwamish in Washington to the highly-contested Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin in the southeast, where Atlanta gets most of its supply, and which is the darkhorse candidate for “first actual US water war”. Rivers on it include major ones like the St. Lawrence, the Susquehanna, and the San Joaquin.
The culprits are what you’d expect: outdated dam systems, the paving over of floodplains which leads to excessive runoff, over-tapping, poor upstream management, and pollution. Often, these work in concert to dry up rivers and posion what is left. A lot of this was done in good faith, or ignorance. Dams were needed, and land had to be built on. The effects of this took years to see, but now the bill is coming due, exacerbated by the multiplying impact of climate change.
Rivers are our heritage. They are how we traveled the nation in its early days. The original West, just beyond the mountains, were based around river cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Chicago is Chicago because the convergence of the Lakes, the Des Plaines, Illinois, and Mississippi connected the bulk of America with the Atlantic. But decades of expansion, development, and pollution, and overuse have threatened many of our main waterways. Vast ecosystems are being destroyed, and we’re undercutting our own water supplies. There have been people banging on heroically about this for decades, with some great successes. But the vastness of the problem needs bigger solutions.