List of Top 10 Endangered Rivers Includes Two That Flow Through The National Park System

The Upper Delaware River, which streams through the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, is the most-endangered river in the country, according to American Rivers. NPS photo.

American Rivers came out there other day with its top 10 list of endangered rivers, and No. 1 was the Upper Delaware, which flows through the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in New York and Pennsylvania.

No. 3 also falls in the National Park System: West Virginia's Gauley River, around which the Gauley River National Recreation Area rises up from.

It would, of course, be difficult to build such a top 10 list without touching the National Park System, for within its landscape there are many incredible rivers that are confronted by issues. Streams such as the Merced River in Yosemite National Park that is at the center of development issues in the Yosemite Valley, the Gunnison River that flows through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and long endured minimum stream-flow concerns, and the Elwha River in Olympic National Park that has been dammed (though those dams are scheduled to come down beginning next year).

What are the specific threats to the Upper Delaware and the Gauley rivers? According to American Rivers, the Upper Delaware could be compromised "by natural gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale, where chemicals are injected into the ground creating untreatable toxic wastewater."

The entire Upper Delaware River and its watershed are located over a geological formation known as the Marcellus Shale. In order to access the reserves of natural gas in the shale, multinational energy corporations have acquired drilling rights to large tracts of land in the watershed. Two companies alone, Chesapeake Appalachia and Statoil, have a stated goal of developing 13,500 to 17,000 gas wells in the region in next twenty years.

Energy companies have requested permits to take clean water from the river to mix with over 650 chemicals (some toxic, undisclosed, and proprietary), to make hydraulic fracturing fluid for injection into wells to release the gas. Each well requires between three and nine million gallons of water for fracturing. Thousands of truck trips per well are required to transport this water, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and possibly leading to contaminated water spills.

As for the Gauley River, which runs through the heart of West Virginia, the surrounding landscape "is scarred by coal mining impacts and subjected to degradation from ongoing mining activity," the advocacy group says. Plans to continue mountaintop mining could increase pollution problems for the river, it said.

In its comments against the proposed mining, the National Park Service stated that, "pollutants pose a threat to aquatic life and human welfare. Precipitates of aluminum, iron, and manganese can coat stream bottom substrate limiting the available habitat for aquatic life, suspended solids are also harmful to aquatic life through the erosion of gills, and aluminum is known to be toxic to aquatic life, and has been associated with neurological and bone diseases in humans."

"... The proximity of these activities and discharges to GRNRA may limit the abundance and productivity of aquatic life in and around GRNRA, particularly mobile species that otherwise might use Rich Creek and its tributaries as refugia, spawning habitat or rearing habitat," the agency added.

At the National Parks and Conservation Association, Joy Oakes, the organization's senior mid-Atlantic Regional director, said the bottom line with both rivers is that their water quality be protected.

“What strikes me in having (the Upper Delaware River) be on that list is how many ways a national park is important. People go to the Upper Delaware to have fun, enjoy a hike, get on the river, get away from civilization to some extent," said Ms. Oakes. "And it’s also, as American Rivers points out, critical drinking water for 17 million people. That is something that must be protected, for the people who drink the water and the animals and plants that live in the park or travel through the park. That’s something that we really can’t take for granted.”

As for the Gauley, she pointed out that the "when people are traveling to enjoy a river for its water, for white-water opportunities, as well as fishing, kayaking, it's important that the water quality be good for that enjoyment, for that economic benefit to continue, as well as for the importance of the fish and the wildlife and the plants that depend upon clean water in the Gauley," Ms. Oakes said. "There are few things that are more important than clean water, and we take it for granted. It’s important for so many reasons. Clean water is the lifeblood of parks, like the Gauley, like the Upper Delaware, and needs to be protected.”

Another river cited by American Rivers that has national park connections is the Upper Colorado River, whose headwaters are in Rocky Mountain National Park and which is threatened by water diversions.

Comments

I have worked in Pike and Wayne County for almost 30 years on land-use protection, reforestation, etc - Lobbying by environmental groups are the only reason that the Delaware in that area would ever be classified as the most endangered rivers that "flows" through state parks. Personally - I found this action in the Delaware a slap in the face to all the effort that has been placed in this area and takes away from natural parks that have a real problem - Now.

For most of the watershed there is virtually no drilling - some exploirtory work and NY is pretty much closed. Environmental organizations can lobby very well- this action is more to goal or limit natural gas development than it is a real measure of the status of the river. The Delaware is not endangered from gas development - I would say there are impacts associated with land-use planning and concentrated development that in the watershed- such as existing water withdrawals, improperly managed stormwater, and older wastewater treatment plants.

Just my thoughts.

The upper delaware has been a constant fight between New York and several conservation/fishing groups. The New York DEC has limited drilling (only through special permit) for any area surrounding the NYC water supply. Below the dam, they have not imposed any special rules. The water below the dam is at the mercy of the New York DEC and the New York City DEC, both whose only concern is the New York City water supply. This week, May 31 to June 6, the water reached 80 degrees in Callicoon on 4 of the last 6 days. The NYDEC commented that there was nothing they could do, although the reserviors are 99% full and the release is minimal. IF the river were void of trout, NYC would not have to worry about releases and the NYDEC seems to agree. It is sad that New York does not appreciate what a great river and environmental resource they have. Any other state would make the minor adjustments in release to protect it. NY shoud be ashamed.

and people wonder why mars is like it is.

I live near Callicoon New York.I have been here my whole life.When i cross the bridge i look at the water level and it is not as high as it should be.This water that drains from the farmland is cleaner than it has ever been do to fencing creek lines and collecting barn yard wastes.There are no completed gas wells in Wayne County and no hydraulic fracturing has been done.There is one being drilled for exploratory purposes and more to come.Open land around here is what keeps the river water clean.Why can't the people against gas drilling get that.If this land up here gets developed there will be alot of household waste leaching in the creek waters.Farmers choices are sell to developer , which could mean 1 house every 3 acres or allow gas drilling. One of the toxic things in frac water for a lubricant is the same as what they make contact lenses with.You don't hear about that though. The river needs more water released into it.There are little critters living under the rocks that keep it clean and feed the fish.I for one am not worried about gas drilling.I am worried what will come if there is not.

The upper Delaware has been a constant fight between New York and several conservation/fishing groups. The New York DEC has limited drilling (only through special permit) for any area surrounding the NYC water supply. Below the dam, they have not imposed any special rules. The water below the dam is at the mercy of the New York DEC and the New York City DEC, both whose only concern is the New York City water supply.