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Nonprofit names Colorado River as nation’s most endangered waterway

Blue water cradled in rocky desert hills, with a few bushes nearby.
Colleen Miniuk-Sperry
American Rivers
The Earth's shadow rises at dawn above the landscape near Channel Island at the head of Virgin Canyon in Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border (Photo from Arizona)

The environmental nonprofit American Rivers has named the Colorado River as the nation’s most endangered waterway. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The report, released annually, says drought and climate change are major threats to the Colorado River system, combined with what American Rivers calls “outdated river management” and over-allocation.

It also points to a lack of water infrastructure for tribal nations.

The Colorado River provides drinking water to 40 million people in seven states and two countries. But the agreement that split the river a century ago assumed it carried more water than its typical average. Climate change scientists say its flows are expected to drop by 10 to 30 percent by midcentury.

This is the fifth time the entire watershed has appeared on the top-ten endangered rivers list.

The San Pedro River in southern Arizona is also listed, due to groundwater pumping and the loss of Clean Water Act protections. The group selects rivers based on the threats they face and whether the public can influence upcoming policy decisions.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.