APALACHICOLA-CHATTAHOOCHEE-FLINT RIVER BASIN [AL, FL, GA]

Threat: Outdated Water Management
Outdated water management practices and wasteful water use threaten the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers — the source of metro Atlanta’s drinking water and lifelines for agriculture, industry, fisheries and recreation.
Unless Georgia, Alabama and Florida reach a transparent water-sharing agreement that protects both people and wildlife throughout the basin, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improves water management, the region will face lasting economic and environmental damage.
You can take action today by urging the Tri-State Governors to work together for a shared resource.

About the RiverThe Flint and Chattahoochee rivers both begin in Georgia — the Chattahoochee in the mountains north of Atlanta, and the Flint near the Atlanta airport — and they join together near the Florida border to form the Apalachicola, which flows to Apalachicola Bay.

More than four million people, including 70 percent of metro Atlanta, rely on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers for drinking water. A powerful trio, the ACF rivers provide water for industry, power generation, agriculture, recreation and fisheries. The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, home to the country’s first National Water Trail, attracts more than three million visitors and generates more than $290 million annually. The Flint, one of the most biologically diverse aquatic ecosystems in the Southeast, is one of only 40 rivers left in the United States that flows for more than 200 miles unimpeded by dams.

Historically one of the northern hemisphere’s most productive estuaries, Apalachicola Bay once yielded more than 10 percent of the nation’s oyster harvest as well as abundant shrimp, crab and fish harvests.

The ACF Basin provides 35 percent of the freshwater and nutrients to the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, supporting commercial fisheries valued at more than $5.8 billion and the livelihoods of Gulf communities and multi-generational fishing families.

The basin is also home to several threatened and endangered mussels and fish including Gulf Sturgeon.

The ThreatExcessive water use, particularly in fast-growing Georgia, is the chief threat to the ACF Basin, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement exacerbating the problem.

The upper Chattahoochee River drains one of the smallest watersheds providing water supply to a major American city (Atlanta). The Flint River’s headwaters supply water to Atlanta’s southern suburbs at great expense to property values and river health. The Army Corps, which manages multiple dams along the length of the Chattahoochee River, has been unable to reconcile Georgia’s growing water demands with needs downstream in Alabama and Florida. Across the lower basin, thousands of agricultural withdrawals from streams and the Floridan aquifer in all three states are dewatering the river system. Major lower-Flint tributaries run at low flows even in normal water years. In droughts, many run dry.

Excessive water consumption throughout the ACF Basin is having disastrous consequences for Apalachicola Bay, where oyster, crab, shrimp and finfish populations were decimated in 2012 and have scarcely recovered. In order to keep the Atlanta-area reservoir Lake Lanier full, the Apalachicola River’s flow is artificially held at drought levels for extended periods during dry conditions, cutting the river off from its floodplain and impacting the natural pulse of river flows and the estuary’s health. While the estuary is displaying the worst effects of over-allocation, the impacts are felt throughout the ACF Basin.

The Army Corps, Congress and the three states share responsibility for the mismanagement of water in the ACF Basin. Rather than seeking real and workable solutions, the three governors, Congressional representatives and other political leaders have been locked in litigation and political jockeying over water use for more than 25 years. The lack of a resolution to the tri-state water conflict allows status quo water mismanagement to continue. The latest legal battle is Florida’s U.S. Supreme Court suit against Georgia, putting the basin’s health and sustainability in the hands of Special Master Ralph Lancaster. Unless a negotiated settlement breaks the litigation cycle, the Special Master’s decree, for better or worse, may have long-term and unforeseeable consequences.

What Must Be Done
To address this water allocation issue in a sustainable way, Alabama, Florida and Georgia must work cooperatively to reach a water-sharing agreement that protects the rivers, floodplains and Apalachicola Bay while promoting sustainable water use basin-wide.

The three governors should create a transboundary water management institution, as recommended in the ACF Stakeholders’ 2015 Sustainable Water Management Plan, to foster transparent, science-based adaptive management throughout the ACF Basin. Water conservation and wiser, more efficient water use in all sectors throughout the basin can help bring sustainability to the river system.

Additionally, the Army Corps must substantially improve water management to sustain ecosystems in the ACF Basin. Especially important is variability in flow releases from facilities managed by the Corps to maintain the health of the Apalachicola River, floodplain and bay system. The Army Corps should meaningfully involve the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other federal and state natural resource agencies in the update and implementation of the ACF Water Control Manual. Finally, a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is necessary in order to support the revision of the manual with up-to-date information concerning future water needs, especially in North Georgia, as well as to evaluate environmental impacts extending from the headwaters to Apalachicola Bay.

Take Action
Don’t let politics and litigation ruin one of our nation’s most important river basins. Tell Georgia, Florida and Alabama to work together to protect all three rivers and Apalachicola Bay and promote sustainable water use.
Take Action »America’s Most Endangered Rivers®
The report highlights ten rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year, and encourages decision-makers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support.

Take Action
Most Endangered Rivers Bad Info In Means Bad Results Out

CONSERVING CLEAN WATER

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2015 Report has water crises in the top 10 of the most likely and highest impact problems that we will face in the next 10 years.

Did You Know

  • 100 Gallons Each American uses 100 gallons of water per day at home
  • 1% Earth’s surface is 70% covered by water, but less than 1 percent is available for human use
  • 65% Percent of our drinking water that comes from rivers and streams
  • 44% Percent of assessed waterways in the United States too polluted for fishing or swimming

American clean water supplies are becoming increasingly stretched each year—the pressures of rising population, agricultural and energy demands, and the growing effects of climate change all have a major impact on rivers and water resources.
If we do not embrace innovative solutions, delivering clean drinking water will become more and more difficult.

Fortunately, water efficiency and conservation provide cheaper, faster, and more reliable water than costly and harmful new dams and other short-sighted water storage projects. This is good news for rivers, fish and wildlife, and communities. We need to safeguard the clean water that is the lifeblood of our communities and environment.

Polluted Runoff and Sewage in Our RiversBy focusing our efforts on stopping pollution from sewage spills and stormwater runoff, American Rivers is working to ensure that our rivers and streams are safe for drinking, fishing, swimming and boating.

Protecting the “Roots” of Rivers
It makes sense: small streams lead to larger streams and rivers that provide the drinking water for 117 million Americans. By safeguarding those small streams and wetlands, we are preserving nature’s ability to filter and supply clean water. As droughts, floods and waterborne diseases intensify with global warming, this “natural infrastructure” will become more important than ever.

Working For A Strong Clean Water ActAmerican Rivers is working to protect clean water for people and wildlife in the face of 21st century challenges such as aging infrastructure, polluted runoff, and increasingly variable and frequent floods and droughts.

Climate Change And RiversThe impacts of climate change will hit rivers and river communities first and worst, in the form of increased droughts, floods, and waterborne diseases. Along with decreasing global warming pollution, protecting and restoring rivers must be part of the solution. Healthy rivers boost community safety and security, building resilience against these impacts and helping communities thrive in the face of a changing climate.

WHAT IS GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE?

Green infrastructure is a term that can encompass a wide array of specific practices, and a number of definitions exist

Green infrastructure is an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle. Green infrastructure is effective, economical, and enhances community safety and quality of life.
It means planting trees and restoring wetlands, rather than building a costly new water treatment plant. It means choosing water efficiency instead of building a new water supply dam. It means restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees.

Green infrastructure incorporates both the natural environment and engineered systems to provide clean water, conserve ecosystem values and functions, and provide a wide array of benefits to people and wildlife.
Green infrastructure solutions can be applied on different scales, from the house or building level, to the broader landscape level. On the local level, green infrastructure practices include rain gardens, permeable pavements, green roofs, infiltration planters, trees and tree boxes, and rainwater harvesting systems. At the largest scale, the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes (such as forests, floodplains and wetlands) are critical components of green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure investments boost the economy, enhance community health and safety, and provide recreation, wildlife, and other benefits.

Many forward-looking cities are already embracing green infrastructure, including New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, as well as many others.

Why Choose Green Infrastructure?Nature works best: Rivers, streams, wetlands, floodplains, and forests provide a suite of critical services like clean water and flood protection, and should be viewed as essential and effective components of our water infrastructure. New York City has great quality tap water because the city invested in water protection by purchasing land around its Catskills reservoirs to ensure that polluted runoff from roads and lawns doesn’t enter the water supply.The city’s $600 million investment in Catskills land protection and restoration did the job of $6 billion in capital costs to construct a water filtration plant as well as $200-300 million in annual operation and maintenance costs.

We can’t waste money: Spending money wisely means investing in multi-purpose solutions that lower costs and provide more benefits. Recently, the City of Indianapolis announced that by using wetlands, trees, and downspout disconnection to reduce stormwater flows into their combined sewer system, the City will be able to reduce the diameter of the planned new sewer pipe from 33’ to 26’, saving over $300 million.

We must enhance community safety and enjoyment: Traditional infrastructure isn’t designed to handle the increased floods and droughts that come with global warming, so we need a modern approach to protect public health, safety, and quality of life. Green solutions give communities the security and flexibility they need. Napa, CA solved flooding problems by choosing to restore the Napa River’s natural channel and wetlands, rather than lining the river with concrete. The effort has protected 2,700 homes and prevented $26 million in flood damage each year, and has created new parks and open space.

Green Infrastructure Is Good For Jobs And The EconomyThese green solutions create good jobs in many sectors, including plumbing, landscaping, engineering, building, and design. Green infrastructure also supports supply chains and the jobs connected with manufacturing of materials including roof membranes, rainwater harvesting systems, and permeable pavement.
New York City’s broad sustainability plan, PlaNYC, includes substantial investments in green infrastructure to reduce stormwater and sewage overflows and protect drinking water supplies. The City estimates that full implementation of PlaNYC will create 4,449 water infrastructure jobs of all types per year.
Other countries are utilizing green water technologies at a much higher rate than the United States. We cannot afford to fall behind other nations in this vital area, it is a matter of economic competitiveness as well as quality of life and community security.

A New Vision For WaterWe are at a crossroads today in how we manage our water. Traditional water infrastructure will continue to play a role, but it is static, solves only a single problem, and requires a huge expense to build and maintain. We must use this transformational moment to move from old 19th Century infrastructure to a wiser combination of green and traditional infrastructure that will meet the needs of the 21st Century.

HOW SEWAGE POLLUTION ENDS UP IN RIVERS

3.5 million Americans get sick each year after swimming, boating, fishing, or otherwise touching water they thought was safe.Where does human waste mingle with household chemicals, personal hygiene products, pharmaceuticals, and everything else that goes down the drains in American homes and businesses?
In sewers.

And what can you get when rain, pesticides, fertilizers, automotive chemicals, and trash run off the streets and down the gutters into those very same sewers? Sewage backing up into people’s basements. Sewage spilling onto streets and parks. Sewage pouring into rivers and streams.

Each year, more than 860 billion gallons of this vile brew escapes sewer systems across the country. That’s enough to flood all of Pennsylvania ankle-deep. It’s enough for every American to take one bath each week for an entire year.

After bursting out of a pipe or manhole cover, this foul slurry pollutes the nearest body of water. Downstream, some of it may be pumped out, treated, and piped into more homes and businesses. From there, it goes back into a sewer system, and the cycle resumes.
A threat to human healthUntreated human sewage teems with salmonella, hepatitis, dysentery, cryptosporidium, and many other infectious diseases.

One hundred years ago, epidemics of these diseases helped limit the life expectancy of a U.S. citizen to about 50 years. Estimates vary for how many people sewage still sickens or kills each year, but they are all large.
Germs linger even after the stench of sewage has dispersed. Healthy adults may never realize that yesterday’s swim caused today’s cough, diarrhea, or ear infection. Young children, their grandparents, and people already weakened by illness are more likely to become seriously ill or die. Scientists believe as many as 3.5 million Americans get sick each year after swimming, boating, fishing, or otherwise touching water they thought was safe.

A 1998 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology blamed water pollution for one-third of all reported gastroenteritis cases and two-thirds of all ear infections. It’s not just the people who play in and around the water who are at risk. Between 1985 and 2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documented 251 separate disease outbreaks and nearly half a million cases of waterborne illness from polluted drinking water in the United States. Another study by the CDC and the National Academy of Sciences concluded that most illnesses caused by eating tainted seafood have human sewage as the root cause.

Each year, more than 860 billion gallons of sewage escapes sewer systems across the country. Where does it end up?

That changed when Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the federal government began making significant investments to modernize sewage treatment infrastructure serving communities across the country.

Today, many of the plants built with that initial investment are undersized or are near the end of their effective lives.

There are 600,000 miles of sewer pipes across the country and the average age is 33 years. Some pipes in cities along the eastern seaboard are nearly 200 years old. Some are even made of wood. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s wastewater infrastructure a “D” grade overall.
Runaway developmentToday, poorly planned development compounds the problem of aging infrastructure. As urban areas sprawl into the countryside, new expanses of concrete and asphalt increase the amount of stormwater surging into sewers — and the amount of pollution spewing out.
A single acre of wetlands can hold up to 1.5 million gallons of rain or melting snow. Otherwise it winds up in the sewer system.

Trees help keep water out of sewer systems, too. In fact, the group American Forests estimates that as Washington, D.C.’s tree canopy thinned by 43 percent between 1973 and 1997, the amount of stormwater running into the city’s aging sewer system increased by 34 percent.

Older sewage systems combine stormwater with household sewage, but even in systems where they are separated some stormwater ends up in the sewer, where it contributes to raw sewage overflows.
SolutionsAll people deserve clean water free of the many dangerous pollutants found in sewage. The only way to ensure this is to stop sewage overflows and leaks and ensure that no sewage is released into our streams, rivers, and lakes untreated. It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and take decades to update the nation’s wastewater infrastructure to this level.

That changed when Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the federal government began making significant investments to modernize sewage treatment infrastructure serving communities across the country.

Today, many of the plants built with that initial investment are undersized or are near the end of their effective lives.

There are 600,000 miles of sewer pipes across the country and the average age is 33 years. Some pipes in cities along the eastern seaboard are nearly 200 years old. Some are even made of wood. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s wastewater infrastructure a “D” grade overall.
Runaway developmentToday, poorly planned development compounds the problem of aging infrastructure. As urban areas sprawl into the countryside, new expanses of concrete and asphalt increase the amount of stormwater surging into sewers — and the amount of pollution spewing out.

A single acre of wetlands can hold up to 1.5 million gallons of rain or melting snow. Otherwise it winds up in the sewer system.

Trees help keep water out of sewer systems, too. In fact, the group American Forests estimates that as Washington, D.C.’s tree canopy thinned by 43 percent between 1973 and 1997, the amount of stormwater running into the city’s aging sewer system increased by 34 percent.

Older sewage systems combine stormwater with household sewage, but even in systems where they are separated some stormwater ends up in the sewer, where it contributes to raw sewage overflows.
SolutionsAll people deserve clean water free of the many dangerous pollutants found in sewage. The only way to ensure this is to stop sewage overflows and leaks and ensure that no sewage is released into our streams, rivers, and lakes untreated. It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and take decades to update the nation’s wastewater infrastructure to this level.

WHAT IS THE WATER CYCLE?

Where does our water come from? And how did it get there?For some folks the answer is the grocery store (and Fiji) but for most of us the answer is that it flows out of the tap when we turn it on. Though the reality is that the water does not just magically appear in either place; it is a long process.
One of the most interesting things about water is that there is not really a beginning or an end to that process- there is what is referred to as ‘the water cycle’ and it points to the fact that the water we have today is the same water that we have been using since the dawn of ages, it just keeps getting recycled.

How the Water Cycle Works

Let’s inject ourselves in to a part of the cycle that seems like a good starting point – rain. Rain water falls from the clouds, landing on our backyards, roof tops, roads, lakes, and rivers (and everything else).
Here water has two choices: it can settle into the landscape (infiltration) or it can wash away (run-off).
The water that is absorbed by the landscape works its way down through layers of leaves, dirt and rock until it runs into the water table or ground water (also called an aquifer).
The water that washes away follows gravity down hills, into water drains picking up speed and debris (leaves, trash, dirt, pet waste) as it goes; this water ends up washing into our streams and creeks causing them to fill up and flow faster.
But, where did that creek come from? Our creeks start as small trickles that bubble up from the water table at a point called a ‘spring’.
These trickles of water come together as they head downhill to the ocean with each merger they increase the amount of water that runs in them and they become creeks, streams, and rivers.
This inner connection of hundreds or thousands of creeks, streams and rivers is called a watershed.

The water that flows in the Mississippi River (the largest river watershed in the country) past New Orleans could have started near Pittsburg, PA in the Ohio River or Bismarck, ND in the Missouri River or Oklahoma City, OK in the South Canadian River.

Everyone that lives in our watersheds needs some of that water to be clean enough to drink so they can live. Some people, businesses, farmers, and towns use wells (holes drilled deep into the ground) to pull water from the underground water table. This water is cleaned up as is filters its way down through the dirt, rock and clay of the earth’s crust.

It is critical for that water supply that there are areas that are clean and open enough for water to be able to be absorbed into the ground and that the ground that the water is moving through is clean.
Other communities use water pulled directly from our rivers for their drinking water. In this case it is critical that the water that is washed into those creeks, streams, and rivers or that bubbles up from springs is as clean as possible before being pulled from the river.

Once a community system [PDF] pulls that water from a river (and in some cases a well), the water is treated to federal and state required purity levels before being pumped and piped to our houses as clean drinking water.
It is only at this point that the water is able to come out of your tap when you turn the faucet on.

WHAT MAKES A RIVER?

The United States has more than 2.9 million miles of rivers.
They range from small streams and wetlands to large waterways. No two of these rivers are the same. Each river is unique to its landscape, winding through low foothills and valleys, rushing clear and cold from mountain forests, or sweeping warm and muddy down desert canyons.

Anatomy of A River
No matter how different our rivers are, however, all rivers share some basic anatomy features.


Tributaries

A tributary is a river that feeds into another river, rather than ending in a lake, pond, or ocean.
If a river is large, there’s a good chance that much of its water comes from tributaries. How do geographers decide which river is the “main” river and which is the “tributary” when they’re naming rivers?  Usually the bigger river gets to be the “main” river, but sometimes history or other factors come into play.
Up and down, right and leftDownstream always points to the end of a river, or its “mouth.” “Upstream” always points to the river’s source, or “headwaters.” As you look downstream, your right hand corresponds to “River Right.” Your left hand corresponds to “River Left.” As in, “Hey, river cleanup volunteers – here’s a nasty tire downstream on River Left! Let’s go get it!”
HeadwatersThe beginning of a river is called its headwaters. Even if a river becomes big and powerful, its headwaters often don’t start out that way. Some headwaters are springs that come from under the ground. Others are marshy areas fed by mountain snow. A river’s headwaters can be huge, with thousands of small streams that flow together, or just a trickle from a lake or pond. What happens in the headwaters is very important to the health of the whole river, because anything that happens upstream affects everything downstream.

Channel
The shape of a river channel depends on how much water has been flowing in it for how long, over what kinds of soil or rock, and through what vegetation. There are many different kinds of river channels – some are wide and constantly changing, some crisscross like a braid, and others stay in one main channel between steep banks. The bends in a river called “meanders” are caused by the water taking away soil on the outside of a river bend and laying it down the inside of a river bend over time.  Each kind of river channel has unique benefits to the environment.

Riverbank
The land next to the river is called the riverbank, and the streamside trees and other vegetation is sometimes called the “riparian zone.”  This is an important, nutrient-rich area for wildlife, replenished by the river when it floods. In the West, these riverside areas provide habitat for more bird species than all other vegetation combined. These areas also provide valuable services like protection from erosion during floods, and filtering polluted run-off from cities and farms.

Floodplains
Floodplains are low, flat areas next to rivers, lakes and coastal waters that periodically flood when the water is high. The animals and plants that live in a floodplain often need floods to survive and reproduce. Healthy floodplains benefit communities by absorbing floodwaters that would otherwise rush downstream, threatening people and property. It has been estimated that restoring the 100-year flood zone of the five-state Upper Mississippi River Basin could store 39 million acre-feet of floodwaters — the same volume that caused the Great Flood of 1993 — and save over $16 billion in flood damage costs.

Mouth/Delta
The end of a river is its mouth, or delta. At a river’s delta, the land flattens out and the water loses speed, spreading into a fan shape. Usually this happens when the river meets an ocean, lake, or wetland. As the river slows and spreads out, it can no longer transport all of the sand and sediment it has picked up along its journey from the headwaters. Because these materials and nutrients help build fertile farmland, deltas have been called “cradles” of human civilization. Deltas are “cradles” for other animals as well, providing breeding and nesting grounds for hundreds of species of fish and birds.

Wetlands
Wetlands are lands that are soaked with water from nearby lakes, rivers, oceans, or underground springs. Some wetlands stay soggy all year, while others dry out. Although wetlands are best known for providing habitat to a wide variety of plants and animals, they also help protect our communities by acting as natural sponges, storing and slowly releasing floodwaters. A single acre of wetland, saturated to a depth of one foot, will retain 330,000 gallons of water – enough to flood thirteen average-sized homes thigh-deep.  Wetlands also help provide clean water by naturally filtering out pollution.

Flow
“Flow” refers to the water running in a river or stream. There are two important aspects to a river’s natural flow. First, there is the amount of water that flows in the river. Some rivers get enough water from their headwaters, tributaries, and rain to flow all year round. Others go from cold, raging rivers to small, warm streams as the snowpack runs out, or even stop flowing completely. A river’s natural ups and downs are called “pulses.” Like a human being’s pulse, a river’s natural flow of water is life support for animals, plants, and fish, delivering what they need to survive at the right times. When we divert water away from a river, we change the river’s natural flow.

The second component of natural flow is how water moves through a river’s channel. In a natural, wild river, the water runs freely. But in more developed or degraded rivers, dams and other structures can slow or stop a river’s flow.  When a river’s flow is blocked, migratory fish like salmon can suffer, unable to move up or downstream.

WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS ARE SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, VALUABLE AND UNSPOILED ENVIRONMENTS LEFT IN THE UNITED STATES.

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Did You Know

  • Less than 1/4 of 1% Of US rivers are protected as National Wild & Scenic Rivers
  • 12,709 Miles of rivers are protected as Wild and Scenic
  • 2.9 million milesOf rivers in the US cover the United States
  • 600,000 miles Of river are blocked by dams in the US

 

What is a Wild and Scenic River?The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 (Public Law 90- 542; 16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.) to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
The Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.
Visit our Wild and Scenic Rivers map to see if one of your favorite rivers is protected, or needs protection.
Wild and Scenic Rivers have one or more special features. These may include:

  • Pristine water
  • Beauty and scenery
  • River recreation
  • Richness of animal and plant life
  • Importance to our country’s history and culture

Some Wild and Scenic Rivers are remote and ideal for a multi-day float trip, such as Idaho’s Salmon and Selway. Others are more developed with roads and bridges, close to population centers, such as New York’s Upper Delaware.
Often, only sections of a river are designated as Wild and Scenic, while other parts of the river may have dams or other development.

Benefits of Wild and Scenic RiversRivers that are protected as Wild and Scenic help people and nature in many ways. These rivers:

  • Are home to some of the best fishing, boating, hiking and scenery anywhere
  • Naturally filter and store clean water
  • Reduce the impacts of floods
  • Preserve some of the most important ecosystems on the planet
  • Enable native plants and animals to thrive
  • Preserve the cultures of communities who once lived by the river
  • Provide amazing adventures, recreation and wildlife viewing
  • Contain fabulous rock and geologic formations that help us understand the evolution of our planet

River protection: A uniquely American ideaBy the 1960s, decades of dam construction had taken a toll on our nation’s rivers. Thousands of miles of fish habitat and rapids, and acres of riverside forests and farmland were buried by dams and reservoirs. Pollution, logging, and other harmful development had also degraded the health of rivers nationwide.

Many of our nation’s best rivers were dying, their beauty and benefits destroyed. Very few rivers and their surrounding lands remained in their natural state.

John and Frank Craighead – identical twins and famed researchers of wild grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park – helped envision and write the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Maryland natives, they first found their interest in wild waters and animals along the Potomac River. Their studies of wildlife ecology and their documentary film series “Wild Rivers” helped pave the way for river protection. In Montana, John was involved in the fight to stop a proposed

Army Corps of Engineers dam at Spruce Park on the Middle Fork of the Flathead.  “Rivers and their watersheds are inseparable, and to maintain wild areas we must preserve the rivers that drain them,” he wrote.
Their ideas about creating a system of protected rivers formed the foundation of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed into law in 1968.

While writer and historian Wallace Stegner described our National Parks as America’s “best idea,” the protection of Wild and Scenic Rivers is another important American conservation innovation – safeguarding these priceless resources for the public and future generations.
This history of American Rivers is intimately connected to the protection of Wild and Scenic Rivers. We were founded in 1973 to fight the construction of harmful new dams and to get more rivers designated as Wild and Scenic.

Three Levels of  Designation

Wild River AreasThose rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America. Examples include the Chattooga River in Georgia, the North Fork American in California and the Middle Fork Salmon in Idaho.

Scenic River AreasThose rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads. Examples include the Niobrara River in Nebraska and the Pere Marquette River in Michigan,

Recreational River AreasThose rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past. Examples include the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord rivers in Massachusetts and the John Day River in Oregon.

How Wild and Scenic designations protect riversThe Act protects the free and natural flow of a river and its special features. In particular it:

    • Safeguards clean water
    • Prevents activities that would significantly harm the river’s character and benefits
    • Prohibits new dams or damaging water projects
    • Protects land along the river — a quarter-mile protective buffer is established along Wild and Scenic Rivers flowing through publicly-owned lands.
    • Requires a management plan with input from local landowners and other stakeholders
    • Engaging local communities and landownersThe Act recognizes that people and their needs change. The goal is to preserve the character of a river, and engage the local community in its management for the long-term.
  • The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System works with many landowners around the country.  In fact, landowners often want rivers that cross their land to be protected as Wild and Scenic. They realize the many benefits of a protected river, which include:
  • Preserving their quality of life
  • Protecting the value of their property
  • Boosting the local economy with recreation and tourism dollars

RIVERS ARE THE ARTERIES OF OUR PLANET

  • The steady flow of clean, fresh water is an essential element for vast ecosystems and the health and survival of billions of people.

A river may have its source in a spring, lake, from damp, boggy places where the soil is waterlogged, from glacial meltwater, or simply from rain flowing off impermeable rock or man-made surfaces. Almost all rivers are joined by other rivers and streams, termed “tributaries’, the highest of which are known as headwaters. Water may also be recruited to a river from ground-water sources.

Throughout the course of the river, the total volume transported downstream will often be a combination of the free water flow together with a substantial contribution flowing through sub-surface rocks and gravels that underlie the river and its floodplain. For many rivers in large valleys, this unseen component of flow may greatly exceed the visible flow.

The area drained by a river and its tributaries is called a catchment, catchment basin, drainage basin or watershed. The term “watershed” is also used to mean a boundary between catchments, which is also called a water divide.

Floodplains and deltas
A river’s water is generally confined to a channel, made up of a stream bed between banks, but in larger rivers there is also a wider floodplain shaped by flood-waters over-topping the channel.

Flood plains may be very wide in relation to the size of the river channel. This distinction between river channel and floodplain can be blurred especially in urban areas where the floodplain of a river channel can become greatly developed by housing and industry. Rivers that carry large amounts of sediment may develop large deltas at their mouths, if conditions permit.

Species
The flora and fauna of rivers have developed to utilise the very wide range of aquatic habitats available from torrential waterfalls through to lowland mires

Although many organisms are restricted to the freshwater in rivers, some, such as Salmon and Hilsa have adapted to be able to survive both in rivers and in the sea.

Flooding
Flooding is a natural part of a river’s cycles. The majority of the erosion of river channels and the erosion and deposition on the associated floodplains occur during flood stage. Human activity, however, has upset the natural way flooding occurs by walling off rivers, straightening their courses and by draining of natural wetlands.
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Human uses of riversRivers have played an important and life-sustaining role in human societies for thousands of years, which is why many of the world’s great cities sit on the bank of a great river.

We love our rivers and we abuse them. We have used them as a source of water, for food, for transport, for recreation, as defenses, as a source of power to drive machinery, and as a means of disposing of waste.

Navigation
The earliest evidence of river navigation is found in the Indus Valley Civilization, in Northwestern India around 3300 BC and riverine navigation is still used extensively in major rivers of the world like the Ganges, Nile, Mississippi, and Indus.

Food
Rivers continue to be a very important source of food for societies around the world. Apart from being a rich source of fish, rivers indirectly aid in cultivation with its supply of water for the crops.

ManagementMany of the great rivers of the world snake through different countries and different states and have historically been used to identify borders. For this reason their proper management and protection requires a high level of cooperation amongst governments.

Rivers are often managed or controlled to make them more useful and less disruptive to human activity.

  • Dams or weirs may be built to control the flow, store water, or extract energy.
  • Levees may be built to prevent run-off of excess river water in times of flood.
  • Canals connect rivers to one another for water transfer or navigation.
  • River courses may be modified for navigation, or straightened to increase the flow rate.

WHEN A DROUGHT REVIVES A RIVER — AND A POIGNANT PIECE OF HISTORY

California’s relentless four-year drought has had some unexpected consequences. It’s uncovered lost bits of history — ancient petroglyphs and remnants of mining towns at the bottom of reservoirs.  And in the canyons of the Sierra foothills, the legendary rapids of the Stanislaus River are back.

TAKING STOCK OF THE WORLD'S LAKES NEW GLOBAL DATABASE WILL HELP SCIENTISTS TRACK ROLE OF LAKES IN EARTH'S ECOLOGY

Date:
December 15, 2016
Source:
McGill University
Summary:
The most complete global database yet of the world’s lakes promises to help scientists better understand the important role of lakes in the Earth’s complex environmental systems.

The total shoreline of the world’s lakes is more than four times longer than the global ocean coastline. And if all the water in those lakes were spread over the Earth’s landmass, it would form a layer some four feet (1.3 metres) deep.

Those are just two of the big-picture findings to emerge from the most complete global database of lakes to date, compiled by geographers at McGill University. Their research, published in Nature Communications, promises to help scientists better understand the important role of lakes in the Earth’s complex environmental systems — from the hydrological cycle and weather patterns, to the transport, distribution or storage of pollutants and nutrients through the landscape.
“Lakes are changing, in a changing world,” says senior author Bernhard Lehner, an associate professor in McGill’s Department of Geography. “Some are disappearing as there is less water to keep them filled, others are created or growing in regions where there is more rainfall. So we need a good inventory of the current status of lakes to understand and monitor their changes and the effects that this may have for our global environment.”

Filling data gaps
While there are plenty of measurements for lakes in some regions of the world, significant gaps have remained in the global data. In principle, the surface area or shoreline length of a lake can be directly measured on maps or satellite images, for example, but it’s much more difficult and time-consuming to estimate the amount of water stored beneath a lake’s surface.
An intuitive theory has long held that lakes in hilly or mountainous regions should tend to be deeper than those in flat landscapes. But until recently, it wasn’t easily possible to determine a clear relationship between the degree of hilliness and the depth of a lake.

Taking advantage of the latest improvements in satellite data providing precise measurements of land surface elevation, the McGill researchers related the slopes found around lakes with thousands of existing lake-depth records. (Lakes in hilly surroundings did tend to be deeper). They then used computer models to extend those calculations to all unmeasured lakes on Earth. Based on this, they calculated the volume of water stored in more than 1.4 million lakes that are larger than 10 hectares, or roughly 14 soccer fields. The grand total: more than 180,000 cubic kilometres.

Beneath the surface
The researchers also estimated how long water typically “resides” in each of the lakes — the amount of time from the moment it enters a lake until it flows out. On average for all lakes, the residence time worked out to about five years. But there are many with much shorter times; and, at the other extreme, more than 3,000 lakes have residence times estimated at 100 years or more.
There are more than seven million kilometres of total lake shorelines on Earth, the researchers estimate. That’s about 10 times the distance to the moon and back. “When you think of all the processes that take place at the interface of lakes and their landscapes, from providing habitat for aquatic or amphibian species to contributions to greenhouse-gas emissions, it underscores the importance of lakes in the Earth’s ecosystems,” notes Mathis Messager, the study’s first author, who worked on the project as an undergraduate student in Lehner’s lab.

Canada’s glacial legacy
Lakes are constantly formed and filled over long time scales through geological and natural environmental processes, so the lake distribution on Earth today represents a snapshot of a steadily changing pattern. The world’s 10 largest lakes contain about 85% of the Earth’s lake water. The remaining 15% is sprinkled across more than 1.4 million lakes — most of them in Canada. With nearly 900,000 lakes covering more than 10 hectares, Canada accounts for 62% of the world’s total — a legacy of glaciers’ scouring action and their subsequent melting at the end of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago.
The McGill team is making its new database available for use by researchers around the world. The researchers are also working on new features that could be added, such as data on the surrounding watersheds that feed the lakes.

“It is often argued that we know more about the surface of the moon or Mars than the ocean floor,” Lehner says. “While lakes may be better studied in some ways than the vast ocean, there is certainly a similar lack of understanding of what exactly is going on underneath all those lake surfaces on Earth.”

EXTREME DOWNPOURS COULD INCREASE FIVEFOLD ACROSS PARTS OF THE US WARMING CLIMATE WOULD ALSO BOOST INDIVIDUAL STORM INTENSITY

Date:
December 5, 2016
Source:
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Summary:
At century’s end, the number of summertime storms that produce extreme downpours could increase by more than 400 percent across parts of the United States — including sections of the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, and the Southwest — according to a new study.

The figure shows the expected increase in the number of summertime storms that produce extreme precipitation at century’s end compared to the period 2000 – 2013.

Credit: Andreas PreinAt century’s end, the number of summertime storms that produce extreme downpours could increase by more than 400 percent across parts of the United States — including sections of the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, and the Southwest — according to a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, also finds that the intensity of individual extreme rainfall events could increase by as much as 70 percent in some areas. That would mean that a storm that drops about 2 inches of rainfall today would be likely to drop nearly 3.5 inches in the future.
“These are huge increases,” said NCAR scientist Andreas Prein, lead author of the study. “Imagine the most intense thunderstorm you typically experience in a single season. Our study finds that, in the future, parts of the U.S. could expect to experience five of those storms in a season, each with an intensity as strong or stronger than current storms.”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR’s sponsor, and the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.
“Extreme precipitation events affect our infrastructure through flooding, landslides and debris flows,” said Anjuli Bamzai, program director in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences, which funded the research. “We need to better understand how these extreme events are changing. By supporting this research, NSF is working to foster a safer environment for all of us.”

A year of supercomputing time
An increase in extreme precipitation is one of the expected impacts of climate change because scientists know that as the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water, and a wetter atmosphere can produce heavier rain. In fact, an increase in precipitation intensity has already been measured across all regions of the U.S. However, climate models are generally not able to simulate these downpours because of their coarse resolution, which has made it difficult for researchers to assess future changes in storm frequency and intensity.
For the new study, the research team used a new dataset that was created when NCAR scientists and study co-authors Roy Rasmussen, Changhai Liu, and Kyoko Ikeda ran the NCAR-based Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model at a resolution of 4 kilometers, fine enough to simulate individual storms. The simulations, which required a year to run, were performed on the Yellowstone system at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.

Prein and his co-authors used the new dataset to investigate changes in downpours over North America in detail. The researchers looked at how storms that occurred between 2000 and 2013 might change if they occurred instead in a climate that was 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer — the temperature increase expected by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.
Prein cautioned that this approach is a simplified way of comparing present and future climate. It doesn’t reflect possible changes to storm tracks or weather systems associated with climate change. The advantage, however, is that scientists can more easily isolate the impact of additional heat and associated moisture on future storm formation.

“The ability to simulate realistic downpours is a quantum leap in climate modeling. This enables us to investigate changes in hourly rainfall extremes that are related to flash flooding for the very first time,” Prein said. “To do this took a tremendous amount of computational resources.”

Impacts vary across the U.S.
The study found that the number of summertime storms producing extreme precipitation is expected to increase across the entire country, though the amount varies by region. The Midwest, for example, sees an increase of zero to about 100 percent across swaths of Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa. But the Gulf Coast, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico all see increases ranging from 200 percent to more than 400 percent.

The study also found that the intensity of extreme rainfall events in the summer could increase across nearly the entire country, with some regions, including the Northeast and parts of the Southwest, seeing particularly large increases, in some cases of more than 70 percent.

A surprising result of the study is that extreme downpours will also increase in areas that are getting drier on average, especially in the Midwest. This is because moderate rainfall events that are the major source of moisture in this region during the summertime are expected to decrease significantly while extreme events increase in frequency and intensity. This shift from moderate to intense rainfall increases the potential for flash floods and mudslides, and can have negative impacts on agriculture.

The study also investigated how the environmental conditions that produce the most severe downpours might change in the future. In today’s climate, the storms with the highest hourly rainfall intensities form when the daily average temperature is somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees C (68 to 77 degrees F) and with high atmospheric moisture. When the temperature gets too hot, rainstorms become weaker or don’t occur at all because the increase in atmospheric moisture cannot keep pace with the increase in temperature. This relative drying of the air robs the atmosphere of one of the essential ingredients needed to form a storm.
In the new study, the NCAR scientists found that storms may continue to intensify up to temperatures of 30 degrees C because of a more humid atmosphere. The result would be much more intense storms.
“Understanding how climate change may affect the environments that produce the most intense storms is essential because of the significant impacts that these kinds of storms have on society,” Prein said.