Lower Youghiogheny named among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020

April 14, 2020

Natural gas development and Power Generation threatens clean drinking water and recreation


Sean Jackson, American Rivers, 717-858-3671

Scott Taylor, Protect Elizabeth Township, 412-275-0011

Eric Harder, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper, (724) 455-4200 #2


Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Lower Youghiogheny River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing the looming threat of destructive Unconventional Natural Gas drilling (‘fracking’) operations and proposed power generation facilities to water quality and river health.  American Rivers and its partners urged Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to take immediate action to protect the Youghiogheny River’s natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values, and preserve the economic and environmental benefits this river provides to the entire Western Pennsylvania region.

“America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a call to action,” said Sean Jackson of American Rivers. “The Lower Yough is one of our state’s greatest natural treasures. Local communities, families, and visitors depend on this river for its clean drinking water and endless recreational opportunities. Fracking puts all of this at risk. The fate of the river and its communities are in Governor Wolf’s hands.”  

A vast network of large-scale drilling pads, wells, storage tanks, and pipelines are being built along both sides of the river’s steep terrain.  Up to 4 million gallons of water is being drawn from the river per day to feed these wells, and unknown amounts of toxic waste from natural gas drilling is being discharged into nearby streams, yet operations continue despite dozens of unresolved state permitting violations. Overriding the objections of most residents, one local government, Elizabeth Township,  has rezoned a 147-acre parcel of rural and conservation land next to the Youghiogheny River and Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail for the purpose of building a 550-Megawatt Electric Natural Gas-Fired Power Plant. Elevated temperature waste water and unknown amounts of toxic discharge from the power plant into the river is projected to be thousands of gallons daily. 

American Rivers and its partners appealed to Governor Wolf and his administration to take decisive steps to halt the threat to the Lower Youghiogheny.  Requested actions include suspending permits pending resolution of outstanding violations, requiring thorough environmental reviews conducted by independent entities, and providing full public transparency of proposals and public forums in advance of any official decision-making.

“Governor Wolf must direct his agencies and officials to weigh the irrevocable harm of situating a massive natural gas industrial operation in the heart of Western Pennsylvania’s premier recreational waterway,” said Jackson.

“This is like David versus Goliath, Big Industry with deep pockets versus the local citizens and their financially strained local governments. There is such a flurry of permitting and rezoning activity, so many environmental violations and concerns, it’s time to pause and assess the impacts to our communities and our health,” said Scott Taylor with Protect Elizabeth Township.

“Residents have repeatedly called on decisionmakers to slow the momentum of rezoning and permitting by engaging in thoughtful landscape-scale environmental impact assessments, but our pleas have so far been ignored,” said Taylor.

The Youghiogheny River, known as the ‘Yough’, flows 134 miles north from West Virginia and Maryland to Western Pennsylvania, where it empties into the Monongahela River in McKeesport. Downstream from the river’s whitewater rapids, the Youghiogheny flows quietly through the Appalachian ridges parallel to the (GAP) trail, passing wooded riverbanks, farmlands, small towns and riverside parks.

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 past years include the Monongahela River (2010), Laurel Hill Creek (2009), Potomac River (2012), Susquehanna River (2016, 2011, 2005 & 1993), and the Delaware River (2010 & 2007).


#1 Upper Mississippi River (Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin)

Threat:  Climate change, poor flood management

#2 Lower Missouri River (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas)

Threat:  Climate change, poor flood management

#3 Big Sunflower River (Mississippi)

Threat:  Yazoo pumps project

#4: Puyallup River (Washington)

Threat:  Electron Dam 

#5: South Fork Salmon River (Idaho)

Threat:  Gold mine

#6: Menominee River (Michigan, Wisconsin)

Threat:  Open pit sulfide mining

#7: Rapid Creek (South Dakota)

Threat:  Gold mining

#8: Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida)

Threat:  Titanium mining

#9: Ocklawaha River (Florida)

Threat:  Rodman Dam

#10: Lower Youghiogheny River (Pennsylvania)

Threat:  Natural gas development

River of the Year: Delaware River (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland)

Honored as a national success story for restoration and a model for equitable and innovative clean water solutions.