A Deep Dive Into America’s Rivers

New research reveals where and how policymakers can protect precious resources

California’s Region 1 Water Quality Control Board initiated an analysis of the Smith River (above) as an ONRW but has not completed the effort. This river, a pacific salmon stronghold, is worthy of the designation.
Rivers, such as California’s Smith River, provide vital benefits that support human health and the conservation of species and habitats well beyond their banks. States and the federal government can harness this value by protecting river ecosystems.
Brett Cole

Clean, free-flowing rivers and their associated tributaries and wetlands support diverse, complex, and dynamic ecosystems that deliver myriad important benefits to people, nature, and the economy. In addition to serving as a foundation for freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity, river systems provide clean drinking water; groundwater recharge; protection against soil erosion and natural hazards; food; cultural, recreational and educational opportunities; and sediment and nutrients to downstream communities and ecosystems, including nearshore marine habitats.

But the country’s rivers systems are increasingly threatened by irresponsible development, overuse, fragmentation, and pollution, and very few are protected. For example, less than 1% are protected nationwide under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

To support greater awareness of and protection for the nation’s most ecologically important rivers, The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned Conservation Science Partners to conduct assessments of the rivers in six Western states: California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. The reports found tens of thousands of waterways that meet federal or state standards for conservation, and together they offer scientific underpinnings for protecting rivers, streams, and watersheds in the six states.

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Boaters make their way through Hell’s Canyon on the Snake River, one of the longest rivers in the West.
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