From sea to shining sea, plastic is clogging the lifeblood of America’s rivers.

Endangered rivers...do those exist? YES, the scourge of plastic pollution on our planet’s oceans is well known, and much has been written about the Texas-sized Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. But, it’s important to recognize, however, that the source of all those plastic bottles, bags, wrappers, containers and other “microplastic” pollution (tiny bits of polyester, acrylic and other synthetic textiles) that are released into the river supply is land-based. In fact, 80% of marine debris comes from trash and debris in urban runoff. Food containers and other disposable packaging make up the largest component of the American municipal solid waste stream—accounting annually for 80 million tons, or 31.7%! Polluting oceans around the globe, this disposable debris reaches the sea by polluting our domestic waterways en route, causing significant damage to water quality and our most valuable, inland ecosystems. Combined with the effects of climate change, chemical pollution can create freshwater algal blooms and “dead zones” once these pollutants reach the ocean—areas so deplete of oxygen that aquatic species suffocate. Where once our nation’s wetlands acted as a natural filter in such situations, we now have polluted territories too weak to filter, dwindling aquatic species and endangered rivers. As droughts, floods and waterborne diseases intensify with climate change, these “natural infrastructures” will become increasingly important, yet rampant pollution threatens their collapse.

Low Level on Lanier Lake, Flint River | America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2016

On April 12, our friends at American Rivers released their annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report. Dried up rivers…collapsing ecosystems…shrinking water supplies for farms and cities: the 2016 report highlights how outdated water management is threatening rivers and communities from the east coast to the west coast. In the Southeast’s Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin (#1 on the list), and on California’s San Joaquin River (#2), wasteful water use and outdated management are killing the lifelines communities depend on for drinking water, agriculture, industry and recreation.

 

Bay Delta, San Joaquin River | America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2016

More than 8 million people depend on clean drinking water from these two river systems combined, and water shortages threaten billions of dollars in agricultural production and fisheries. There’s a lot at stake, and we have a choice: will we let waste and mismanagement drain our endangered rivers dry, or will we work together to ensure healthy rivers for generations to come? Water is one of the most critical conservation issues of our time. In the Southeast, in California and in river basins nationwide, we must move away from an era of water conflict to a new era of water cooperation. This means working for better balance among all users and ensuring a legacy of healthy rivers benefitting communities upstream and downstream–today and far into the future. We need healthy rivers, not endangered rivers. Be part of the conversation. Together, we will make a difference for this year’s #EndangeredRivers

Ways to Take Action for Endangered Rivers:

• Organize or participate in a river cleanup with American Rivers’ National River Cleanup®. #RiverCleanup
• Contact your local lawmakers to let them know that the health of our rivers is vital to national health and prosperity, and vote accordingly.
• Support green businesses that protect and preserve our rivers; research what you buy before you buy it.
• Lessen the strain on America’s municipal water system (and ultimately its freshwater supply) by reducing your family’s water consumption. Practicing simple conservation—like fixing that leaky faucet or turning off the tap while you brush your teeth—can make a significant impact. You can also green your domestic infrastructure by planting a rain garden or collecting rainwater in rain barrels for watering plants and other household uses.
• Raise awareness; encourage friends and family to join the fight to protect America’s Rivers!