Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Report Offers Recommendations to Restore Health of Damaged Rivers and Streams in the American West
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Report Offers Recommendations to Restore Health of Damaged Rivers and Streams in the American West

Washington, D.C. — With the health of rivers in the American West bordering on a crisis, the Center for American Progress is offering a plan to protect and restore waterways.

The new report is a follow-up to the groundbreaking analysis earlier this year from CAP and Conservation Science Partners, which found that nearly half—49 percent—of all river miles in the West have been damaged by human development. That study showed how rivers in 11 Western states have been harmed by dams, abandoned mines, development in flood plains, irrigation, and other activities.

Damage to rivers has led to a decline in species, such as salmon, and left communities vulnerable to drought. As the West continues to grow, the declining condition of its rivers threatens the communities that rely on dependable water and healthy ecosystems to power agriculture, forestry, and the booming outdoor recreation economy.

Communities, businesses, and government agencies across the West have started taking steps to address these problems. However, many tools to protect or restore Western rivers are underused, and investments in restoration and management improvements are too rarely adopted.

CAP recommends the following approaches to protect these critical waters:

  • Guarantee permanent protection for half of the remaining large, natural rivers in the West that run through unprotected lands, including through additional Wild & Scenic River designations.
  • Conserve and restore headwaters by reforming mining laws and attracting investment from utilities and private firms to expand watershed restoration.
  • Rethink river infrastructure, such as dams and levees, to restore the natural flow of rivers and improve the health of flood plains.
  • Collaborate to improve the health of entire watersheds by reducing demand for water from landowners and cities, as well as supporting private lands conservation efforts that improve river health.

“Fifty years ago, Congress sought to restore balance on our nation’s waterways through the visionary Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” said Ryan Richards, author of the report and a senior policy analyst for public lands at CAP. “This anniversary should serve as an opportunity to acknowledge the declining health of many rivers in the West, and to energize local, state, and federal efforts to protect and restore these critical places.  Through policy shifts and thoughtful investments in rivers, western communities can have more secure water supplies and protect their natural heritage.”

Read the report: “Restoring Balance: Healthier Rivers and Secure Water Supplies in the American West” by Ryan Richards.

For more information or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at or 202-478-6327.