Tim Palmer / American Rivers

Colorado River endangered by developments, report says

River at the center of the Grand Canyon faces three serious threats, according to environmentalist group

The Grand Canyon’s segment of the Colorado River faces the greatest threat of environmental degradation out of a list of the 10 most endangered U.S. rivers, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Columbia River in Washington and Oregon was second, followed by the Holston River in Tennessee, in an annual report from environmentalist group American Rivers.

The Colorado River in the Grand Canyon faces three serious threats, the report said, including one from a “massive” Grand Canyon Escalade project. Designed to bolster tourism to the canyon, the project includes a tram that would bring what American Rivers says is 10,000 visitors to the canyon’s basin each day, where they would find a new series of walkways, restrooms and businesses.

Project organizers said there would be around 1,350 tourists on the river walkway at any given time and would generate between $350-450 million each year for the local economy.

“The massive amount of construction, noise and pollution would irreversibly harm the fragile heart of the canyon,” American Rivers said in a statement. 

The company behind the Grand Canyon Escalade project rejected American Rivers’ claims as “speculation.”

“Any report must be primarily based on speculation rather than any actual facts as plans for construction have not been finalized or released,” a public information officer at Confluence Partners, LLC., the company managing the project, emailed  Al Jazeera. 

“As part of both construction and operation of Grand Canyon Escalade and the Riverwalk, no materials, debris, or contamination of any sort will be allowed to enter into the Grand Canyon National Park or the Colorado River which are subject to National Park Service and United States Army Corp of Engineers jurisdiction and regulation respectively,” Confluence Partners added.

American Rivers said that uranium mining to the north and south of the canyon and the expansion of the bordering town of Tusayan, Arizona, threaten to damage the river’s environmental integrity. 

The report said that Tusayan’s expansion project “may require a substantial withdrawal of groundwater from the already-declining aquifer in an increasingly drought-stressed area of the country.”

Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan did not respond to an interview request by the time of publication.

The Columbia River, a key source of the nation’s salmon, is threatened by what the report called “outdated dam operations” that restrict the flow of water salmon need to migrate out to sea.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the Grand Coulee Dam in the Columbia River, said its parent agency, the Department of Interior, has been on record as supporting the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty — a U.S.-Canada pact promoting the development of dams in the upper Columbia River basin — advocated by American Rivers.

Americans Rivers said if the U.S. and Canada “fail to take action to modernize” the treaty, the consequences will be “detrimental” to salmon fish and overall health of the river. 

The Holston River is threatened by the release of chemical explosive RDX from the nearby Holston Army Ammunition Plant, the report said. 

"The Army is working closely with the operating contractor and regulatory agencies to reduce RDX wastewater discharges at Holston Army Ammunition Plant," Justine Barati, Joint Munitions Command spokeswoman said in an email to Al Jazeera. 

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