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.


Spotlight on Mental Health

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

New Maps Show U.S. Rivers With High Natural Values

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Several Indigenous communities around the world speak of freshwater systems as “living waters,” testament to the life-giving and sustaining value of rivers, lakes, wetlands, bogs, and more.

Rogue River, Oregon
Rogue River, Oregon

How Much Do You Know About U.S. Rivers?

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They benefit people, wildlife, ecosystems, and economies—but many face serious threats.

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Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

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How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.