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Group: River threatened by growth, sprawl

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - American Rivers, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., was to announce this week that the Snoqualmie River is among the 13 most threatened rivers in the nation.

The announcement was scheduled to take place Wednesday, after the Valley Record went to press, as part of the release of American Rivers' 16th annual "America's Most Endangered Rivers" report for 2001.

Thirteen rivers running through 27 states were included in this year's report, which ranks the rivers according to the environmental threats facing them.

American Rivers has more than 31,000 members across the country. It was founded in 1973 and promotes conservation and preservation of watersheds.

The Snoqualmie River was ranked No. 8 on the list because of growth pressures and sprawl development, American Rivers officials said. The Missouri River was ranked No. 1.

"Poorly planned sprawl development is the major immediate threat to Puget Sound rivers and salmon," said Rebecca Wodder, American Rivers president. "It's not too late to spare the Snoqualmie and other Puget Sound rivers from the fate of too many other rivers across the country."

Rob Masonis, northwest conservation director for American Rivers in Seattle, said the Snoqualmie River is "remarkably intact," and he applauded efforts to preserve watershed habitat. But more work needs to be done.

"One of the biggest concerns right now is the rezoning of forested upland areas," he said, which adds sediment to the river and its tributaries. But it's not the only concern. Several factors, including building impervious surfaces in the floodplain, have the potential to harm the river.

"[There is a] slow, steady degradation of the floodplain and the upland areas that ultimately reaches a point at which there's very significant damage," Masonis said.

Local leaders, however, believe the Snoqualmie River's placement on the list is unfounded.

"While I respect American Rivers for their long-standing commitment to protecting rivers, I think they made the wrong call on the Snoqualmie," said King County Executive Ron Sims.

Sims added that the county has worked to limit growth in the area, with more than 80 percent of the land in the Snoqualmie watershed committed to agriculture and forestry uses. And more than 11,000 acres of habitat, open space and farmland in the watershed, which totals nearly 700 square miles, have been preserved over the past decade, at a cost of $35 million.

North Bend Mayor Joan Simpson said the Meadowbrook Farm acquisition is an example of conservation efforts.

"North Bend could not have made the purchase of more than 450 acres of historic farmland alone," she said. "But with partners, we could purchase land and save it from imminent development."

Masonis said what's unique about the Snoqualmie River is that it's possible to save it now instead of cleaning it up later.

"When you look at the economics, the cost of protecting existing habitat is a lot less than restoring degraded habitat," he said.

For more information on the American Rivers' report, go to www.americanrivers.org.

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