American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers of 2018

The Big Sunflower River in Mississippi tops this year's list.
The Big Sunflower River in Mississippi tops this year’s list.

For the 33rd year, conservation group American Rivers has released its list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. From draining critical wetlands on Mississippi’s Big Sunflower River and mining in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and Alaska’s Bristol Bay, to building a border wall on the Lower Rio Grande, 2018’s list illustrates recurring attacks on clean water, people and wildlife.

“Healthy rivers are essential to public health, our economy, and the well-being of our nation,” says Jo-Ellen Darcy, former Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and American Rivers board member. “We must insist that those tasked with managing our water resources have the best interests of the public in mind. America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2018 highlights critical upcoming decisions and paints a stark picture of what’s at stake. It’s an important call to action that we must amplify nationwide,”

On the #1 river on this year’s list, the Big Sunflower in Mississippi, members of Congress are pushing to undermine the Clean Water Act to resurrect the Yazoo Pumps, one of the most environmentally damaging projects ever proposed by the Army Corps. If advanced, it would be the first time ever that an EPA veto of a Corps project (the George W. Bush EPA stopped the project in 2008) was overturned by Congress, undermining the authority of the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The Yazoo Pumps Project would damage more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Big Sunflower River watershed in the heart of the Mississippi River Flyway. More than 450 species of fish and wildlife, including the Louisiana black bear, rely on the wetlands habitat that would be drained by the project.

The Lower Rio Grande, #4 on this year’s list, is threatened by border wall construction that would cut the Rio Grande off from its floodplain, potentially exacerbating flooding and erosion and blocking access to this life-giving resource for people and wildlife.

“There is nothing American about building a border wall that threatens a great river and its wildlife and tears communities apart. Echoing President Reagan in West Berlin in 1987: Mr. Trump, tear down this wall,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV. “Water and rivers are an essential part of our life and if we don’t preserve them we’ll be doing an infinite amount of damage to future generations.”

The following rivers are on this year’s list:

  • Big Sunflower River (Mississippi), threatened by revival of the Army Corps of Engineers Yazoo Pumps project that would drain critical wetlands at enormous taxpayer expense.
  • Rivers of Bristol Bay (Alaska), threatened by the world’s biggest open pit mine that could devastate a $1.5 billion salmon fishery.
  • Boundary Waters (Minnesota), threatened by mining that would pollute pristine waters and harm a thriving recreation economy.
  • Lower Rio Grande (Texas), threatened by a border wall that would cut off people and communities from the river, exacerbate flooding, and destroy wildlife habitat.
  • South Fork Salmon River (Idaho), threatened by mining that could have lasting consequences for clean water and the Wild and Scenic mainstem Salmon River.
  • Mississippi River Gorge (Minnesota), threatened by obsolete locks and dams preventing revitalization of river health and recreation in downtown Minneapolis.
  • Colville River (Alaska), threatened by oil and gas development that imperils clean water and habitat for polar bears, wolves and caribou.

In its 33rd year, the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Rivers are chosen for the list based on the following criteria: 1) The magnitude of the threat, 2) The significance of the river to people and nature, and 3) A critical decision-point in the coming year.

Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.