Big Sunflower River tops list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

March 29, 2018

Army Corps ‘Yazoo Pumps’ Project Would Burden Taxpayers, Destroy Vital Wetlands


Amy Kober, American Rivers, 503-708-1145

Andrew Whitehurst, Gulf Restoration Network, 601-954-7236
John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company, 662-902-7841

Shannon McMulkin, Lower Mississippi River Foundation, 870-753-8954

Louie Miller, Sierra Club, 601-624-3503

Washington — American Rivers today named the Big Sunflower River America’s Most Endangered River of 2018, shining a national spotlight on the threat a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, the Yazoo Pumps, poses to wetlands, wildlife habitat and the livelihoods of local communities.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the coming year,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “The Yazoo Pumps project is one of the most environmentally devastating and fiscally reckless projects ever proposed by the Army Corps. It’s time to kill this boondoggle project once and for all.”

Some members of Congress are pushing to undermine the Clean Water Act to resurrect the Yazoo Pumps, a project so damaging that the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush vetoed it using the Clean Water Act in 2008. The $300 million project would drain and damage 200,000 acres of wetlands (the size of all five boroughs of New York City) to support already-subsidized cotton fields.

“The project costs would exceed a quarter of a billion dollars and would benefit a handful of landowners. It’s effectively a multi-million dollar handout to each individual landowner, on top of the farm subsidies they already get,” said Louie Miller, director of Mississippi Sierra Club. “This pork-barrel project didn’t pass the smell test then and it doesn’t now. This project is the poster child for wasting taxpayer money.”

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. If allowed to advance, it would be the first Clean Water Act veto overturned by Congress, setting a dangerous precedent for overriding the authority of the Clean Water Act.

“The Big Sunflower River is holding its own as a functioning floodplain stream against many human impacts, primarily from agriculture,” said Andrew Whitehurst, water program director for Gulf Restoration Network. “Biologically, the river still supports a surprising variety of freshwater mussels, and research has shown that channel catfish growth is actually better there than in many other rivers around Mississippi, mainly because it is still connected to its floodplain. De-watering the Lower Yazoo River with pumps would degrade important functioning features of this river system.”

American Rivers and its partners called on Congress and the Trump administration to cease any efforts to resurrect and fund the Yazoo Pumps project. In addition, American Rivers urged Congress to defend the integrity of the Clean Water Act, including the vitally important Clean Water Act veto authority.

“Tens of thousands of paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts come to the Lower Mississippi Valley for our beautiful muddy bayous, cypress swamps and healthy water systems – not to see dried-out rivers,” said John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company. “Nature tourism is the fastest-growing segment of all tourism. We Lower Mississippi River paddlers and our clients are very concerned about the health of the remaining rivers and floodplains in the Deep South, including the Sunflower River.”

The Yazoo Pumps project will have a negative impact on local residents. It will increase flood risk downstream and degrade natural resources in the delta, an area where low-income and minority communities rely on fishing and hunting for subsistence.

“We have seen time and time again that decreasing wetland area increases the chances of flooding downstream,” said Shannon McMulkin, Executive Director of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. “Calling this project ‘flood control’ is like dumping trash in the river and calling it garbage control. It solves a problem by pushing it off on someone downstream.”

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 Pascagoula River (2016) and Pearl River (2015).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

  • Big Sunflower River, MS
    • Threat – Army Corps pumping project
    • At Risk – Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat
  • Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture
  • Boundary Waters, MN
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, recreation economy
  • Lower Rio Grande, TX
    • Threat – Border wall
    • At risk – River access, public safety, wildlife habitat
  • South Fork Salmon River, ID
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, salmon habitat
  • Mississippi River Gorge, MN
    • Threat – Dams
    • At risk – Habitat, recreation opportunities
  • Smith River, MT
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, recreation
  • Colville River, AK
    • Threat – Oil and gas development
    • At risk – Clean water, wildlife
  • Middle Fork Vermilion River, IL
    • Threat – Coal ash pollution
    • At risk – Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values
  • Kinnickinnic River, WI
    • Threat – Dams
    • At risk – Blue-ribbon trout stream

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 an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 275,000 members, supporters and volunteers.

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