for National Geographic News
New Mexico's Santa Fe River has earned the dubious distinction of being 2007's most endangered river in the United States.
The designation comes from the conservation group American Rivers, whose annual top ten list names the U.S. waterways most in need of aid during the coming year.
Candidates for the list, "America's Most Endangered Rivers," are nominated by grassroots organizations based on the waterway's risk factors, including pollution, water extraction, and dams.
"Each of these ten rivers is at a crossroads," said Andrew Fahlund, vice president of conservation programs at American Rivers. "Major decisions are coming next year that can either make them or break them."
The Santa Fe suffers from chronic water extraction that leaves its bed a dry ditch for most of the year. "Everybody can agree that a healthy, flowing Santa Fe River is good for the community of Santa Fe," Fahlund said.
"I think that the governor and the mayor are both solidly behind this, and I think that they are going to put some water back in the river. But it's a matter of the timing and the permanence of that."
The city's growing water needs have drained the Santa Fe's flow at the expense of dams and wells (related: "Florida's Thirst for Water Pressuring Wild River, Experts Say" [November 21, 2006]).
"The challenge comes when you really get down to paying the piper—are you really going to make the kind of commitment that's necessary or are we going to come up short because of competing demands?"
River Ups and Downs
Some rivers on the list appear poised for positive change.
Condit Dam blocks salmon and steelhead migration on endangered river number five, Washington State's White Salmon River, even though the aging facility isn't very productive.
The dam's owner, PacificCorp, has agreed to its removal, but federal authorities have not yet sealed the deal.
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