Friday, April 21, 2006

Endangered Rivers

Every year an organization called American Rivers releases its list of the country’s 10 most endangered rivers. It’s a bit of a publicity stunt, although it’s not, as publicity stunts go, a terrible one. But does it do any good?

The organization’s website has a long list of rivers that made the endangered list in previous years, in a section described as progress and successes. For example, shortly after the Susquehanna River was put on the list last year, Maryland and the federal government each made policy changes that presumably will benefit the river. After the Hudson was put on the list, in 2001, EPA ordered GE to clean up the PCBs that the company had dumped into the river.

Those are in fact examples of progress. But can they plausibly be linked to the endangered river listing? Probably not, but it didn’t hurt either.

Most importantly, though, the listing is an encouragement – it gives activists something to grab onto and publicize in their efforts to get governments and businesses to change the way they treat local rivers. It’s a tool that the people who know the issue best – the local activists – can use as they see fit.

So yes, it’s what media observers in the old days used to call a pseudo-event. But pseudo-events often fulfill their purpose, and my guess is that this is true for the endangered rivers list.

This year’s list, which came out this week, has a lot of rivers you’ve never heard of. You can see it at the American Rivers website, here or here.


Anonymous Rob Perks said...


We at American Rivers appreciate the plug for our 2006 report on America's Most Endangered Rivers. You're essentially right sbout the reason we do this annual report: we want to publicize far and wide what is threatening these wonderful rivers, in hopes of saving them.

As you know, small watershed groups fighting for their rivers need all the help (and attention) they can get. These local groups are playing David to the Goliath of foreign-owned mining companies that want to destroy streams for profit, or corporate conglomerates that want to pave over wetlands for a parking lot, and politically powerful developers who want to build subdivisions in floodplains.

These and other activities endanger the healthy rivers that provide communities with so many benefits, like drinking water, natural flood control, wildlife habitat and recreation.

Our report helps generate media coverage, which increases public awareness, which often leads to political pressure to protect the rivers we feature.

Thanks for helping to spread the word -- I hope your readers check out our report online ( They not only can learn about these great rivers, and the problems they face, but can also take action that may result in them being removed from our "endangered" list.

For anyone who loves rivers, that's a great thing to do for Earth Day.

12:53 PM  

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