American Rivers names Cleveland’s Cuyahoga “River of the Year”

April 16, 2019

Contact: Amy Kober, 503-708-1145

(Washington) – Celebrating the progress that has been made to clean up Cleveland, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, and marking the 50th anniversary of the river’s fire that sparked the nation’s environmental movement, American Rivers today named the Cuyahoga “River of the Year” for 2019.

“The Cuyahoga is a national success story,” said Bob Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers. “The ‘River of the Year’ honor spotlights the hard work and collaboration by so many in Cleveland to improve the Cuyahoga’s health and turn it into a true asset for the city’s residents and visitors. May this honor also spur continued momentum for clean water in Cleveland and in cities nationwide.”

On June 22, 1969 the Cuyahoga – smothered with oil and industrial waste – caught fire. The story of the burning river galvanized the public and created a turning point in the fight for clean water and healthy rivers. The Cuyahoga on fire became a symbol for the fact that many rivers nationwide were lifeless and choked with pollution.

The outcry over the Cuyahoga led to passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, which curtailed “point source” pollution from industry and wastewater treatment plans on rivers nationwide. The creation of a regional sewer district to address wastewater treatment needs, as well as pollution from industrial sources, was also key to the Cuyahoga’s recovery.

“The Cuyahoga and rivers nationwide wouldn’t be where they are today without strong clean water safeguards. We’ve come a long way and there is a lot to celebrate. But we still have a lot of work to do,” Irvin said. “Too many people in our country don’t have access to clean water and too many of our rivers are still threatened by pollution. We must keep speaking up because everyone deserves clean water and a healthy river.”

Despite the progress made thanks to the Clean Water Act, rivers and communities nationwide are still at risk. The Trump administration is working to dismantle the Clean Water Rule, which safeguards the small streams and wetlands that are drinking water sources for one in three Americans. And polluted runoff from farms and cities still threatens rivers and streams in Ohio and across the country. Manure, fertilizers and other runoff flowing into Lake Erie contributed to a toxic algae outbreak in 2014 that forced city leaders to shut off Toledo’s water supply.

American Rivers highlighted three actions necessary to ensure clean water and healthy rivers for the nation’s cities:

  • Defend existing protections: Polluters are trying to create loopholes in the Clean Water Act, but now is the time to strengthen, not weaken, protections for our rivers and drinking water.
  • Invest in infrastructure: Our water infrastructure is failing our communities—especially vulnerable populations, such as low-income communities and communities of color. We must invest in upgrading our nation’s water infrastructure, including cost effective, nature-based approaches.
  • Prioritize equity: Racism and classism go hand-in-hand with water challenges such as urban flooding and polluted rivers. Communities must have a voice in decisions about their rivers and water.

“Rivers are the heartbeat of our cities,” Irvin said. “May other communities draw inspiration from Cleveland’s ongoing success, and may we all continue to work together to ensure healthy rivers, equitable access and clean water in cities nationwide.”

American Rivers made the “River of the Year” announcement in conjunction with the release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2019. The annual list spotlights ten rivers facing urgent threats. See: