Neuse River awarded “River of the Year” honor by American Rivers

October 17, 2022

National recognition celebrates progress and is a call to action for clean water

October 17, 2022

Contact: Amy Souers Kober, 503-708-1145,

Peter Raabe, 202-441-6174,

(Washington) – Celebrating community leadership and progress for clean water and river health, American Rivers today named the Neuse River the “River of the Year” for 2022.

“The River of the Year honor celebrates outstanding progress toward a cleaner, healthier Neuse River that is vital to every person who lives in this region,” said Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers. “We applaud the frontline communities and partners who speak up for the river every day and continue to push for solutions. This river is a success story that we must keep writing together.”

The national honor comes on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act – bipartisan legislation that protects the fundamental right to clean water nationwide. Before the Act was signed into law in 1972, the Neuse River was choked with pollution from textile mills and other manufacturing. The federal safeguards provided by the Clean Water Act, combined with local efforts to stem polluted runoff, improve water management, and remove outdated dams have been the major drivers in the river’s ongoing recovery. Over the years, local governments and the state have invested millions to upgrade failing wastewater facilities, reduce polluted runoff, and protect critical areas of the watershed. 

“The Neuse shows what’s possible when strong federal clean water safeguards meet innovative, community-led solutions,” said Samantha Krop, Sound Rivers’ Neuse Riverkeeper. “And we have more work to do. Frontline communities have long been burdened by pollution and flooding. We must uphold clean water safeguards. Now is not the time to turn back the clock on protections for clean water and public health.”

“The Neuse river is a major waterway in North Carolina, flowing through much of the state and providing clean drinking water to millions of North Carolinians,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “I will continue my work to improve our infrastructure to ensure our water sources are clean and safe for both wildlife and the people of North Carolina.”

The Neuse River flows 275 miles from the Piedmont of North Carolina to Pamlico Sound on the Atlantic coast. Roughly 2.5 million people, a quarter of North Carolina’s population, live in the Neuse River watershed, which includes Raleigh-Durham, Johnson County, Goldsboro, and New Bern. The river provides drinking water for the vast majority of the watershed’s population. 

Because no dams block the river from Raleigh to the Atlantic, the river’s free-flowing nature provides excellent recreation opportunities. In 2021 the Neuse River Blueway was launched creating an interconnected network of paddle and walking trails from Raleigh to Clayton. From Smithfield, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail returns to the water as a paddle trail past the impressive 100-foot Cliffs of the Neuse canyon and ending at Havelock just before Pamlico Sound. 

American Rivers underscored that while communities along the Neuse should be proud of the River of the Year honor and should celebrate the river’s progress, important work remains. Ongoing commitment from national leaders and local communities is critical to address growing challenges such as agricultural pollution, aging water infrastructure, and increased flooding driven by climate change. Systemic injustices disproportionately burden Black, Latino, Tribal Nations, Indigenous, and other communities of color with pollution and flooding. And with the Supreme Court considering Sackett v. EPA, a case that could severely weaken Clean Water Act safeguards, federal protections hang in the balance on the Neuse and nationwide.

“The Neuse River is deserving of national recognition — it’s also deserving of added protection from the ongoing threats the river faces from climate change and pollution,” said Brian Buzby, executive director of North Carolina Conservation Network. “With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and other federal legislation that will provide resources to our state, we see great opportunities ahead for investments that, if done equitably, will help communities up and down the Neuse improve their relationship with the river and with one another and will carry us toward a cleaner, more resilient Neuse River for generations to come.”

American Rivers urged leaders across the watershed to continue to work together to reduce pollution, and to advance just, equitable clean water solutions for all communities. The Lower Neuse Basin Association, the Upper Neuse River Basin Association and community activists will continue to play critical roles. The Environmental Protection Agency will also continue to play a vital role in supporting the improvements in the watershed driving science and investment in clean water. The additional investments coming to communities through the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the focus that the newly launched Office of Environmental Justice at EPA will help fulfill the promise of the Clean Water Act. 

“Healthy rivers are essential to all life. This River of the Year honor should serve as a rallying cry for continued progress on the Neuse, setting a positive example for rivers and communities nationwide,” Kiernan said.

American Rivers has awarded previous River of the Year honors to Ohio’s Cuyahoga River (2019) and the Delaware River (2020). 

American Rivers thanks True North, presenting sponsor of River of the Year 2022.

About American Rivers

American Rivers believes a future of clean water and healthy rivers for everyone, everywhere is essential. Since 1973, we have protected wild rivers, restored damaged rivers and conserved clean water for people and nature. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 300,000 supporters, members and volunteers across the country, we are the most trusted and influential river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions for a better future. Because life needs rivers.