SAFEGUARDING WATER FOR PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE
Rivers, streams, springs, swamps, lakes and deepwater aquifers are all sources of the fresh water we need to survive. Besides being essential to humans for drinking and growing food , water is vital for recreation and for daily activities like brushing our teeth and washing our clothes.
Of course the fresh water we rely on is also essential to an amazing array of animals and plants: turtles, fish, dragonflies, frogs, crayfish, orchids, otters and countless others — from the top to the bottom of the food web.
FRESHWATER ACTIONS BY THE CENTER ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Click on the dots for links to Center actions to save freshwater species and habitat. Use your mouse to navigate and zoom in and out.
Simply put, water is life.
Though no major American river has recently caught on fire due to pollution — as Ohio’s Cuyahoga famously did in 1969, before the passage of the Clean Water Act — America’s fresh waters face an incessant, increasing barrage of threats:
There’s not enough surface water to go around, and what water there is gets overallocated.
- Groundwater is extracted and used unsustainably.
- Wetlands are destroyed and degraded (including by filling).
- Industrial exploitation (like fossil fuel extraction, agriculture, mining, logging, grazing, factory farms and pharmaceuticals) ruins water quality.
Faced with these threats, and the fact that only 2.5 percent of our planet’s water is fresh (and most of that locked up in glaciers), the protection of this life-giving resource couldn’t be more urgent.
The Center is working — and has been for decades — to safeguard fresh water for people, plants and animals. We have a vision of healthy waterways that are safe for drinking and swimming and provide high-quality habitat for the native food web that, in turn, keeps those waters in balance. Our vision includes thoughtful human communities committed to quality of life, conservation, and a smart use of water that leaves enough in waterways for wildlife to survive and thrive.
In the Southwest we’re fighting to preserve special places like Fossil Creek, the San Pedro and Verde rivers, the springs and seeps of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the Gila River in New Mexico — while also working to save endangered species dependent on desert rivers, including the southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, Chiricahua leopard frog and spikedace and loach minnow fish. We’re working to safeguard the Grand Canyon from uranium mining, as well as opposing the proposed Rosemont Mine, an open-pit copper mine that would dewater Cienega Creek (an important refuge for many endangered species) and destroy aquatic habitats in the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona. We’re also campaigning to protect Virgin River fish in Utah, which are threatened with extinction due to wasteful residential and agriculture overuse.
In California the Center is at the forefront of our nation’s sweeping, coast-to-coast movement against fracking, which threatens groundwater with contamination and loss through excessive withdrawal. We’re also working to protect the San Francisco–San Joaquin Bay Delta, challenging efforts to privatize the State Water Project, and opposing the proposed “twin tunnels” that would severely dewater the Delta and send dozens of aquatic species spiraling closer to extinction. The Center is fighting throughout the state to keep water flowing in rivers up and down California — including the Big Sur, Santa Clara and Santa Ana — to protect these rivers’ important ecosystems . We’re also actively opposing several groundwater mining projects in the Mojave Desert that would pump ecologically important groundwater to fuel unsustainable exurban sprawl in Southern California.
Farther north, in the Pacific Northwest, we’re working to protect salmon streams from silt pollution caused by logging and campaigning to keep coal- export barges off the Columbia River.
In Nevada we’re opposing the construction of a massive pipeline to Las Vegas that could dry up more than 300 springs in the Great Basin, jeopardizing small-town life, springsnails and other wildlife.
In Texas we’ve gained Endangered Species Act protection for the Austin blind salamander, Jollyville Plateau salamander and other unique, highly sensitive cave-dwelling animals seriously threatened by groundwater pumping.
In the Southeast, a global center for freshwater diversity — and, sadly, freshwater species extinction — we’re working to protect more than 400 aquatic species, including amphibians and reptiles, mussels and crayfish, and wetland birds like the black rail and Florida sandhill crane. We’re also working to end mountaintop-removal coal mining, which buries streams forever under tons of toxic mining waste and dirt. We’ve successfully campaigned for greater protections for southern and midwestern freshwater turtles and saved numerous Southeast species from the very brink of extinction, including the spring pygmy sunfish and dusky gopher frog.
The Center believes people must do a better job of keeping our waterways clean and sharing them with other species — or we risk erasing great beauty and unraveling ecological relationships that have been in play for eons. Above all, water is the source of all life: By protecting our streams and rivers and the wildlife that depend on them, we’re also protecting ourselves.
MAJOR MILESTONES IN THE CENTER'S EFFORTS TO PROTECT FRESHWATER SPECIES
Water in the West
- Forced Fort Huachuca to drastically reduce its water use to save the San Pedro River from dewatering and protect endangered species like the yellow-billed cuckoo, Huachuca water umbel, Sonoran tiger salamander, and the hundreds of birds and other species that depend on this rare intact riparian corridor for their journeys north.
- Forced the Forest Service to remove cows from hundreds of miles of streams to protect the southwestern willow flycatcher, loach minnow, spikedace fish and others.
- Spearheaded Fossil Creek dam removal, restoring this important refuge for native fish.
- Fought the state of Arizona’s issuance of a groundwater protection permit to Rosemont Copper, a proposed open-pit mine whose discharges could pollute the water supply used by the residents of Tucson and the beautiful Sky Island region’s wildlife. Obtained Endangered Species Act protections for dozens of species dependent on the Southwest’s rivers, including the southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, Gila, headwater and roundtail chub fishes, Mexican and narrow-headed garter snakes, and Chiricahua and relict leopard frogs.
- Challenged a “twin tunnels” proposal that would pump Sacramento River water under the Bay Delta and send it to Southern California.
- Fought for Endangered Species Act protections for numerous Bay Delta fish that have been in a population freefall because of excessive water withdrawals, including the delta and longfin smelts, green sturgeon, Central Valley steelhead and others.
- Obtained Endangered Species Act protections for dozens of other species dependent on the Golden State’s abundant freshwaters, including Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs, California tiger salamanders, and birds like yellow-billed cuckoos and southwestern willow flycatchers.
- Successfully challenged California Department of Fish and Game’s stocking of non-native trout in hundreds of lakes and rivers across the state, leading to sharp restrictions that prevent stocking in habitat for endangered amphibians or fish that are vulnerable to predators.
- Defeated a sprawl development project in the San Bernardino Mountains that would have significantly dewatered Lake Arrowhead.
- Challenged a scheme that would essentially privatize the State Water Project and the largest groundwater bank in the world.
- Defended the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Santa Ana sucker on its namesake river.
- Fought to keep water in the Kern, Santa Ana, Santa Clara and Big Sur rivers on behalf of special status species by advocating for their defense at California State Water Resources Control Board hearings.
- Obtained a landmark ruling in 2013 that rejected the state of Nevada’s allocation of groundwater from rural communities and important habitat areas toward unsustainable sprawl outside of Las Vegas .
Water in the Rocky Mountains
+ In the Rocky Mountain Region, we:
- Protected the last known population of greenback cutthroat trout, the state fish of Colorado, from a motorcycle trail that was causing Bear Creek’s highly erosive soils to bury the fish’s habitat.
- Forced the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct experimental test releases out of Libby Dam’s spillway in an effort to mimic spring floods and help the Kootenai River white sturgeon successfully reproduce, which it hasn't done since 1974.
- Fought for Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone, Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroat trout, as well as the Upper Missouri River grayling . Both the Rio Grande cutthroat and the grayling are expected to receive protection in 2014.
Water in the Southeast
- Obtained a landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fast-track Endangered Species Act decisions regarding 757 species, which has already benefited dozens of freshwater fish and mussels, including unique species with colorful names from “fuzzy pigtoe” and “snuffbox” mussels to “chucky madtom” fish.
- In 2010, filed an extensive scientific petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for 404 of the Southeast’s aquatic and wetland species . In 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that 374 of these species may warrant protection and they are all now under consideration.
- Forced the Tennessee Valley Authority to construct a state-of-the-art mussel rearing facility on the Cumberland River to replace one being torn down, also creating a safer space to dispose of coal-ash slurry in the area.
- Shut down many illegal off-road vehicle trails in the Big Cypress Preserve, protecting the swamp from sediment pollution.