(USATODAY.com) - The San Joaquin River in central California — one of the sources of San Francisco's drinking water and an agricultural resource for the fertile San Joaquin Valley — is the nation's "most endangered river," according to a report from American Rivers.
The report, "America's Most Endangered Rivers for 2014," was released Wednesday by the Washington-based environmental group.
Widespread diversions of water for agriculture and human consumption, magnified by the current devastating statewide drought, have put the San Joaquin River at a breaking point, according to American Rivers.
"The river is so overtapped that it runs completely dry in stretches, threatening water quality, endangering fish and wildlife, creating uncertainty for farmers and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of more frequent and severe droughts," the report states.
The San Joaquin was listed because of pending decisions about the river that state and federal government are likely to make in the upcoming year, according to John Cain, American Rivers' California conservation director.
The group is calling on the state's water agency to increase flows in the river and is urging Congress to preserve agreements and laws designed to protect the river.
"This year's drought only heightened the urgency," says Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers. More than 99.8% of the state of California is in some form of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website.
Other rivers on this year's list include the Upper Colorado River system in Colorado; a stretch of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky; the Gila River in New Mexico and the San Francisquito Creek in California.
The list is not a series of the "worst" or most polluted rivers.
Three factors govern the rivers' selections, according to Irvin: "One is the significance of the river for human and natural communities," he says. "The second is the magnitude of the threat for a particular river, while the third is a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year."
Environmental advocacy group American Rivers has been compiling an annual list of the nation's most endangered rivers since 1984.
"We've seen a lot of terrific results as a result of listing these rivers" in previous years, Irvin says, citing examples such as the Elwha River in Washington and the Penobscot River in Maine.