A Most Endangered Year

Why do America’s Most Endangered Rivers still matter in the wake of a global pandemic?

Flooding in Davenport, Iowa | Photo by Emilene Leone

As the novel coronavirus upends our economy, our communities and our daily lives, do America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020 matter?

Today, American Rivers releases its list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2020.  This is our annual list of ten rivers under threat that all Americans can take action to protect. And it’s our most popular campaign, generating hundreds of news stories, thousands of visits to our website and – most importantly – tens of thousands of citizen actions to save rivers every year.  The success of the list is evident to anyone who has recently visited the Hoback River in Wyoming, the Elwha in Washington, the Buffalo in Arkansas, the Holston in Tennessee, or any one of dozens of rivers across the country that were spared from existential threat by actions rallied by the America’s Most Endangered Rivers list.  But it’s fair to ask, as the novel coronavirus inflicts personal tragedy, economic hardship and unprecedented societal damage across the country, does the list matter in 2020? 

Levee break in Winfield, MO | Photo by Nancy Guyton
Upper Mississippi River, MO | Photo by Nancy Guyton

American Rivers believes that we need clean water and healthy rivers more than ever now. Rivers provide the clean water that is absolutely vital to combat infectious disease; they keep our bodies hydrated, our hands and surfaces at home and in the workplace clean and disinfected.  In a time of social distancing and the lonely disconnection it fosters, rivers can provide solace and nourish the spirit, even if it’s only the daydream of a walk along the banks with a loved one, the perfect cast, or the ideal trim of a kayak.  Rivers and wetlands are home to wildlife and fish that bring joy to so many of us, whether you love the gleam of a trout’s scales, the goofiness of an otter’s play, or the chatter of a kingfisher as it looks for its next meal.  And while many of us are sheltering-in-place, others are still out there working, many on the rivers that continue to move our goods, treat our wastewater, generate our power, and feed our families.  We believe that life needs rivers, a conviction that is strengthened in a time when life seems more vulnerable than it did a few weeks ago.  We believe rivers connect us, and that connection is more important than ever.

Furthermore, American Rivers believes that we cannot rest even for a season in the battle against climate change.  The first river on our 2020 list, the Upper Mississippi, was ravaged last year by flooding exacerbated by climate change.  River cities and towns and local farmers barely recovered from last year’s floods are bracing for another onslaught in 2020.  Traditional community responses to flooding – volunteers rushing to build barriers against the rising water – will be undermined as people quarantined in their homes to combat the coronavirus are forced to choose between public health and public safety.   But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Bold and ambitious solutions that will help secure Upper Mississippi communities from devastating floods are at hand, and you can help make them a reality. 

Flooding in Pacific Junction, Iowa
Flooding in Pacific Junction, Iowa

Because above all, America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020 is about solutions.  It highlights threatened rivers and provides the public with an opportunity to take concrete action to create a better future.  And in this most endangered year, when it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a global pandemic, a little action-taking may be just what we need right now.  So, let’s get to it.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020:

  1. Upper Mississippi River (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin)
  2. Lower Missouri River (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas)
  3. Big Sunflower River Mississippi)
  4. Puyallup River (Washington)
  5. South Fork Salmon River (Idaho)
  6. Menominee River (Michigan, Wisconsin)
  7. Rapid Creek (South Dakota)
  8. Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida)
  9. Ocklawaha River (Florida)
  10. Lower Youghiogheny River (Pennsylvania)

The rivers on America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020 were selected based on 1) the significance of each river to people and wildlife, nationally or regionally; 2) the magnitude of the threat to the river; and 3) an impending decision about the river’s fate that the public (you) has an opportunity to influence over the next twelve months. 

  • There is no environmental threat of greater magnitude today than climate change, the key factor affecting the fates of the Upper Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Big Sunflower, the number one, two, and three rivers on the 2020 list.
  • The Puyallup is menaced by a salmon-killing dam that threatens not only the fish but the cultural heritage of local Native American tribes.
  • The South Fork Salmon, Menominee and Rapid Creek rivers and the Okefenokee Swamp are endangered by another all too common scourge to rivers: mining and the habitat destruction and pollution that comes with it.
  • The Ocklawaha River has been trapped and devastated by a dam built 50 years ago for a canal project that was never completed.
  • The Lower Youghiogheny is overrun by natural gas development, including fracking wells, tanks, pipelines, freshwater pump operations and other infrastructure.
Ocklawaha River, FL | Photo by Doug Eng
Ocklawaha River, FL | Photo by Doug Eng

In each case there is a solution, a course of action that will save the river and benefit the local communities that depend on it.  With your help, those solutions can be realized.  Learn more about our Most Endangered Rivers list of 2020 and take action today! 

Stay healthy.  Stay Safe.  And stay involved!

P.S.  And while you’re learning more about our Most Endangered Rivers of 2020, don’t forget to check out our featured River of the Year for 2020, the Delaware River, a dramatic comeback story of a horribly polluted river brought back to vibrant life by federal protection and community action.

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