Middle Mississippi River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014

New levee threatens wildlife habitat and public safety

April 9th, 2014

Eileen Fretz Shader, American Rivers, (202) 243-7075
Melissa Samet, National Wildlife Federation, (415) 762-8264
Bruce A. Morrison, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, (314) 231-4181
Brad Walker, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, (314) 727-0600

www.americanrivers.org/Mississippi

Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named the Middle Mississippi River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014 today, shining a national spotlight on the threat a new levee at the New Madrid Floodway poses to wildlife habitat and downstream flood safety.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Eileen Fretz Shader of American Rivers. “Cutting off the Mississippi River’s connection with its floodplain would destroy critical fish and wildlife habitat and put communities at greater risk of flooding. The New Madrid Floodway project is completely at odds with modern floodplain management.” 

The Middle Mississippi is threatened by a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that would cut off the last connection between the Mississippi River and its natural backwater habitat in the State of Missouri. The Corps proposes constructing a new 1,500 foot levee across the gap at the bottom of the New Madrid Floodway.

In addition to allowing the river to sustain vital habitat, the floodway serves as a “relief valve”, operated during large floods to permit floodwaters to spread out on the Floodway instead of threatening upstream communities like Cairo, IL.

American Rivers and its partners called on the Corps to abandon the New Madrid Levee project, and urged the Environmental Protection Agency to veto the project if the Corps continues to move it forward.

“The levee closure project is an unjustified handout to a small group of landowners who farm within this essential floodway. Its completion would only serve to benefit their bottom line, while making it politically harder to operate the floodway during an inevitable future flood,” said Brad Walker, Rivers and Sustainability Director for Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

“Severing the last remaining connection the Mississippi River has to its floodplain in this part of the river would devastate fish and wildlife populations,” said Melissa Samet, Senior Water Resources Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. “This project is a subsidy for a small group of landowners that is not in the best interest of the American people. The Obama Administration needs to put a stop to this once and for all.”

“Why should taxpayers build a levee that may need to have a hole blown in it every time the floodway needs to be operated? In terms of the misuse of the public’s money, as well as damage to Missouri’s environment, this is the most wasteful Corps project we have seen in quite some time,” said Bruce Morrison, General Counsel for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

The Mississippi River once experienced seasonal floods that spread out over its floodplain, creating a mosaic of backwaters, wetlands, and sloughs. These periodic floods were the driving force behind robust and diverse ecosystems that were home to an amazing array of fish, birds, and wildlife.  The Missouri “bootheel”, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, was once one of the nation’s largest and richest wetland areas.

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.  Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014:

#1  San Joaquin River
California
Threat:  Outdated water management and excessive diversions
At Risk:  River health and resilient communities

#2  Upper Colorado River System
Colorado
Threat:  New trans-mountain water diversions
At Risk:  River health and recreation

#3  Middle Mississippi River
Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky
Threat:  Outdated flood management
At Risk:  Wildlife habitat and public safety

#4  Gila River
New Mexico
Threat:  New water diversions
At Risk:  River health, fish & wildlife, recreation, and tourism

#5  San Francisquito Creek
California
Threat:  Dam
At Risk:  Fish and wildlife habitat and public safety

#6  South Fork Edisto River
South Carolina
Threat:  Excessive water withdrawals
At Risk:  Fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and water quality

#7  White River (CO)
Colorado
Threat:  Oil and gas drilling
At Risk:  Drinking water supplies and fish and wildlife habitat

#8  White River (WA)
Washington
Threat:  Outdated dam and fish passage facilities
At Risk:  Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations

#9  Haw River
North Carolina
Threat:  Polluted runoff
At Risk:  Clean water

#10  Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers
Idaho
Threat:  Industrialization of a Wild and Scenic River corridor
At risk:  Scenery, solitude, world-class recreational values


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.