Middle Fork of the Vermilion River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

April 10, 2018


David Moryc, American Rivers: (503) 827-8648

Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network: (217) 344-2371 x 208

Lan Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative: (773) 556-3417


Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018, citing the threat toxic coal ash poses to Illinois’ only Wild and Scenic River. More than 3 million cubic yards of waste from the Vermilion Power Station are sitting in three unlined pits along the bank of the river. The plant’s owner, Dynegy, is seeking approval to cap and abandon the pits forever.

“This is a critical year for the people of this region to stand up for clean water and claim the kind of future they want for their river,” said David Moryc with American Rivers. “Now is the time to raise our voices and demand that Dynegy stop polluting this Wild and Scenic River and act to ensure the company’s coal ash pits do not pose a perpetual threat to the health of the Middle Fork or create a financial burden on taxpayers.”

“I am pleased that this river is being recognized as an important resource,” said Michael Marron, Vermilion County Board Chairman. “The County is concerned about all of our resources and that includes the Middle Fork River. It is an important part of our economy and recreation. We hope for any positive steps in maintaining them responsibly.”

The beautiful and ecologically vibrant Middle Fork of the Vermilion flows through the heart of Kickapoo State Park, which attracts over 1 million visitors each year. Flanked by nearly 10,000 acres of public land, the Middle Fork of the Vermilion is home to the blue breast darter and silvery salamander, as well as 22 other threatened or endangered species. An archeological site along the river’s east bank is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes 1,000-year-old burial mounds.

“This river changes people. There aren’t many ways to experience nature like this in Illinois,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “The Middle Fork needs to be protected from coal ash, so that future generations can enjoy its scenic beauty.”

In warm-weather months, thousands of visitors paddle a 13-mile river trail that passes directly by the coal ash pits, which are leaching arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel and sulfate into the river. These contaminants are known to cause birth defects, cancer and neurological damage in humans, and can harm and kill wildlife, especially fish.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The people of Illinois are standing up for the Middle Fork Vermilion, the state’s only Wild and Scenic River,” said Moryc. “It’s time for the Illinois EPA and the Governor to listen, and ensure a positive legacy for future generations.”

“The coal ash pits were built irresponsibly close to the river,” said Mike Camp, local resident. “Making matters worse, natural river forces are eroding the riverbanks, so one huge flood could breach the pits tomorrow. Capping the pits won’t solve the problem. The only solution is to move the coal ash away from the river.”

In June of 2012, the Illinois EPA issued Dynegy a Notice of Violation of Class I Groundwater Standards. Six years later, the issue remains unresolved, and the IEPA is considering a cap and leave option. Dynegy hopes to have a final decision on its proposal to cap and abandon the pits this fall. American Rivers and partners are calling on the Illinois EPA to require Dynegy to stop polluting the river and ensure that their ash pits do not pose a continuing threat to this Wild and Scenic River. Dynegy must either remove the coal ash or demonstrate they can provide another solution that prevents the coal ash from polluting the river and does not leave taxpayers on the hook for ongoing monitoring, maintenance or cleanup in the event of a catastrophic coal ash spill.

“With recognition of the Middle Fork as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, the spotlight is now directly on the Governor and the Illinois EPA,” said Lan Richart, Co-Director of Eco-Justice Collaborative. “Will they require Dynegy to clean up their waste, or allow them to abandon the site and leave behind 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic ash for future generations?”

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 Buffalo River (2017), Middle Mississippi River (2014), and Ozark National Scenic Riverways (2011).

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.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.orgFacebook.com/AmericanRivers and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.