Top Ten Endangered Canadian Rivers Named

David Braun with Sean Markey
National Geographic News
July 7, 2003

View a photo gallery of the top ten most endangered Canadian Rivers. GO >>

Seven percent of the world's freshwater flows through Canadian rivers. But industrial development and pollution threaten many of Canada's rivers, according to the environmental groups EarthWild International and Wildcanada.net. To highlight rivers at risk, the groups announced their second annual list of the country's ten most endangered rivers today.

Topping the list is New Brunswick's Petitcodiac River. A long-standing causeway on the river dams tidal flow from the Atlantic Ocean, adversely impacting river health. Quebec's Eastmain and Rupert rivers, threatened by a planned hydro-electric project, follow in second place. Other rivers on the 2003 National Endangered Rivers List include three in British Columbia: the Okanagan (third), and the Taku and Iskut rivers (tied for fourth place); followed by Ontario's Groundhog River (fifth); Alberta's Milk and Bow rivers (sixth and tenth, respectively); the Yukon and Northwest Territory's Peel River (seventh); Manitoba's Red River (eighth); and Labrador's Churchill (ninth).

National Geographic News recently spoke with David Boyd, chairperson of Canada's Endangered Rivers Committee for Vancouver-based EarthWild International, about the list.

Five rivers on the list cross the Canada/U.S. border. Are there special concerns associated with such transboundary rivers?

By their very nature, rivers that cross borders are subject to multiple demands and multiple abuses, creating potential tension between those people living upstream and those living downstream. Transboundary rivers like the Red, Milk, and Taku offer an opportunity for neighbors like Canada and the U.S. to cooperate in conserving and protecting rivers that are important to both nations. Although certain tools exist, like the International Joint Commission and the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, governments on both sides of the border have been slow to take the actions required to adequately respect and protect great rivers like the Taku, which runs through Alaska and British Columbia.

Most of the rivers on the list seem to be located close to urban centers. Are rivers nearer to cities under greater threat in Canada?

Canada's most endangered rivers fall into two broad categories—those that pass through or near major cities and wilderness rivers far from urban areas. Rivers in or near cities often face a wide range of threats including industrial and agricultural pollution, sewage effluent, dams, and habitat destruction (from logging, mining, and urban sprawl).

Wilderness rivers appear on the list when there is an ill-advised proposal to build a dam, open a mine, or rip a road into one of these dwindling reservoirs of beauty and biodiversity.

What would you say are the top three most common threats facing Canada's rivers?

Pollution, dams, and industrial development have been the three most common threats to Canada's rivers for several decades. In recent years, climate change has emerged as an additional problem that jeopardizes the health of every river on Earth—through warmer water, changing water levels, and the introduction of alien or exotic species.

Dams feature prominently as a threat to many of these rivers. Are all dams problematic? Is it possible to generate hydroelectricity without devastating the surrounding watershed?

Continued on Next Page >>


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