Big Sunflower and Yazoo Rivers Names Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2024

April 16, 2024

Region needs flood protection solutions that prioritize safety, river health 

Washington, D.C. – Today, American Rivers named the Big Sunflower and Yazoo Rivers, integral parts of the Mississippi Delta’s ecosystem, among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2024. These rivers are severely threatened by a proposed agricultural drainage project known as the Yazoo Backwater Pumps that will also perpetuate the Delta’s systemic racial injustices. 

“The Yazoo Pumps will not reduce flood risk for residents of the South Delta,” said Kelsey Cruickshank of American Rivers. “Instead of reviving this extraordinarily destructive and expensive boondoggle, local leaders and Congress should invest in more affordable and effective flood risk reduction measures to protect these vulnerable communities.” 

In light of the recent Sackett v. EPA decision, as well as the historic cumulative loss of 80 percent of wetlands and native forests in the Lower Mississippi alluvial floodplain, the Yazoo Pumps could impact many tens of thousands of acres of nationally significant wetlands. 

After finding it was too environmentally damaging, George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped the project in 2008 by issuing a rare veto through the Clean Water Act. In their analysis of the project, the EPA also highlighted the Corps’ failure to consider other flood relief options that would be more effective and cheaper than the pumps. Recently, the Corps has revived the project that would have devastating impacts to this ecologically rich area while perpetuating structural inequities for underserved communities.  

Pumps would make wetlands drier and reduce the number of days fish can swim during crucial spawning seasons. This is especially problematic since aquatic life is already seeing regular die-offs in the area due in part to agriculture and water management decisions.   

The pumps would reinforce historic racial and environmental injustices for some of the nation’s poorest communities, especially for Sharkey and Issaquena Counties, which are 70 percent Black with poverty rates significantly higher than Mississippi’s average and more than triple the national average. The Yazoo Pumps, which will likely cost federal taxpayers more than $1.4 billion, would provide little protection to homes in the sparsely populated area that the pumps are supposed to protect, and could worsen flooding in downstream communities.  

“In this transformational moment, we urge the Administration to demonstrate its conservation, climate, and environmental justice commitments by deploying federal flood relief programs that can protect marginalized communities and birds that depend on the Mississippi Flyway,” said Jill Mastrototaro, Mississippi Policy Director for Audubon Delta. “The Yazoo Pumps must be abandoned once and for all.” 

Instead of pursuing this destructive, costly, and ineffective pump proposal, American Rivers and partners are urging EPA and the Corps to drop the pumps project from this and any other Yazoo plan once and for all; advance proven, effective nature-based, non-structural flood solutions to protect people and the environment; and to uphold the 2008 Clean Water Act veto.  

In the heart of the Mississippi Delta, the Big Sunflower River begins in Coahoma County and flows for 250 miles until it reaches the Yazoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. According to the EPA, the Big Sunflower supports some of the nation’s “richest wetland and aquatic resources,” including nearly 29 million migrating birds annually. These findings are based on analyses by the National Audubon Society, using data from eBird Status & Trends from Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Partners in Flight Population Estimates Database from Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (2020). Hunting, fishing and nature tourism fuel the state’s annual $3.37 billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy and the river is an area rich in culture and heritage. Many famous blues musicians launched their careers on the banks of the Big Sunflower, including Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, 2020 Grammy nominee Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, and more.   

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.    

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Pearl River in 2023 and 2015, Mississippi River in 2022, Turkey Creek in 2021, Big Sunflower in 2020 and 2018, and the Pascagoula in 2016. Threats to those rivers included new dam construction, pollution, wetland and habitat destruction from development projects.     

  1. The river’s significance to people and wildlife 
  2. The magnitude of the threat to the river and communities, especially in light of climate change and environmental injustice 
  3. A decision in the next 12 months that the public can influence 

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2024 

#1: Rivers of New Mexico   
Threat: Loss of federal clean water protections  

#2: Big Sunflower and Yazoo Rivers (MS) 
Threat: Yazoo Pumps project threatens wetlands  

#3: Duck River (TN)  
Threat: Excessive water use   

#4: Santa Cruz River (AZ, Mexico)  
Threat: Water scarcity, climate change  

#5 Little Pee Dee River (NC, SC) 
Threat: Harmful development, highway construction  

#6 Farmington River (CT, MA) 
Threat: Hydro dam  

#7: Trinity River (CA)  
Threat: Outdated water management  

#8: Kobuk River (AK) 
Threat: Road construction, mining  

#9 Tijuana River (CA, Mexico) 
Threat: Pollution  

#10: Blackwater River (WV) 
Threat: Highway development  

About American Rivers 
American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on RiversSM.