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American Rivers names Arizona, New Mexico rivers on most threatened list

A river sparkles in the sunlight, flowing through a desert landscape with mountains and houses in the far distance.
Melissa Sevigny
A stretch of the Santa Cruz River in Tucson, Arizona, flowing with reclaimed wastewater.

The nonprofit group American Rivers released its annual list of the country’s most endangered waterways today. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, at the top of the list are the rivers of New Mexico.

A Supreme Court decision last year narrowed the number of rivers and wetlands that quality for Clean Water Act protections. Those protections now only apply to “relatively permanent” streams, eliminating many desert waterways that flow only during the rainy season. American Rivers says the ruling leaves 96 percent of New Mexico’s streams vulnerable to pollution.

Also on their top ten list is the Santa Cruz River in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, which the group says is threatened by the same rollbacks of clean water protections and by water scarcity and climate change.

The annual list focuses on rivers that are at a “crossroads,” with a decision coming in the next year that the public can influence. In New Mexico, the state is building its own water quality program. In Arizona, environmental groups are advocating for a national wildlife refuge along the Santa Cruz River.

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.