Whether you know it or not, if you live in, eat in, drink in, water your lawn in, or visit the United States, you are connected to the Colorado River.

We need water. Fresh water is crucial to every living thing on this planet, especially humans. Brushing your teeth, making your morning coffee, eating the lettuce in your sandwich or salad, the strawberries on your cereal…. Fresh, clean water is a crucial part of our life.

If you live in the Southwest, you are entirely dependent on the Colorado River Basin for your food and water. The Colorado River is a lifeline in the desert, its water sustaining tens of millions of people in seven states, as well as endangered fish and wildlife. Not to mention the millions more who eat food from the basin (which is pretty much everyone), or who flock from across the country and the world to the river to boat and raft, and those who stand in awe atop the Grand Canyon to witness the breathtaking formations formed by this magnificent and powerful river.

The Colorado River is an invaluable and irreplaceable landmark, an artery that pumps water to quench our insatiable thirst — and we are killing it. Our demands on the river’s water now far exceed its supply, leaving the river so over-tapped that it runs dry 80 miles from the Sea of Cortez.

Watch filmmaker Pete McBride’s new video about the Colorado River:

For more than two decades, American Rivers has released its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The 2013 list was put out this week, and the river at the top — the most endangered river in the nation — is, you guessed it, the mighty Colorado.

But it’s not just the Colorado River. This is a national problem that spans from the Southwest to Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin. This report makes it clear: When we suck too much water out of rivers, communities and wildlife suffer. It’s time to put water back in.

2013’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS

1. Colorado River. Runs through seven western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming (Threat: outdated water management)
2. Flint River, Georgia. (Threat: outdated water management)
3. San Saba River, Texas. (Threat: outdated water management)
4. Little Plover River, Wisconsin. (Threat: outdated water management)
5. Catawba River, North Carolina and South Carolina. (Threat: coal ash pollution)
6. Boundary Waters, Minnesota. (Threat: copper and nickel mining)
7. Black Warrior River, Alabama. (Threat: coal mining)
8. Rough & Ready and Baldface Creeks, Oregon. (Threat: nickel mining)
9. Kootenai River, British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho. (Threat: open-pit coal mining)
10. Niobrara River, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. (Threat: sediment buildup and flooding)

  • Special mention: Merced River, California. (Threat: cutting Wild and Scenic protections)

Rivers are remarkably resilient. We can remove dams. We can stop mining. We can put water back into rivers, where it belongs. And we can take the first steps today.

Here are three things you can do today to make a difference:

1. Stop wasting water. Pay attention to your water use, and conserve where you can. Even if that means just turning the water off when you brush your teeth. Every little bit helps.
2. Knowledge is power. Share this news with your neighbors, your friends, and your social networks.
3. Take action to save the Colorado, and all of the rivers on this list. Urge President Obama and other elected leaders to make freshwater conservation a priority and put water back in our rivers.

Copper and nickel mining threaten Boundary Waters, putting the recreation economy and drinking water at risk. Photo: River Point Resort & Outfitter