Okefenokee Swamp Named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2023

April 18, 2023

Mining threatens clean water, wildlife habitat in national treasure 

Ben Emanuel, American Rivers, 706-340-8868 
Rena Ann Peck, Executive Director, Georgia River Network, 404-395-6250, rena@garivers.org 

Washington — American Rivers today named Georgia and Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing the threat that a proposed heavy mineral sands mine poses to this critically important wetland ecosystem. American Rivers and partners called on the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to deny the permits for the mine in order to preserve clean water, wildlife habitat, and natural and cultural heritage. 

“Some places are simply too special and should be off-limits to pollution and harmful development,” said Ben Emanuel, Southeast Conservation Director with American Rivers. “The Okefenokee Swamp is one of those places. The state of Georgia must do the right thing and stop the mine that would devastate the clean water and wildlife habitat of this national treasure.” 

Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency predict that the proposed mine, located within three miles of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and designed to extract titanium bearing minerals, would result in “permanent” and “unacceptable” damage to the Okefenokee Swamp, a unique wetland nearly half a million acres in size and home to alligators, carnivorous plants, an abundance of birds, several threatened and endangered species, and the Florida black bear. 

Independent hydrologists who have reviewed the proposed mining operation predict that the mine will lower water levels in the swamp by pumping millions of gallons of water from the aquifer that underlies the swamp and by altering the hydrology of Trail Ridge, a sandy rise of land that serves to regulate water levels in the swamp. 

“People across the state and nation, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, have called on Georgia’s leaders to stop this mine,” said Rena Peck, Executive Director of Georgia River Network. “The Okefenokee is an irreplaceable and one-of-a-kind wilderness; it should not be risked to obtain common minerals that can be more safely secured elsewhere.” 

More than 160,000 individual comments opposing the mine have been generated through the advocacy of the Okefenokee Protection Alliance and Georgia Water Coalition, which represent some 300 organizations. Recent polling shows that more than 70 percent of Georgia voters oppose the mine. 

American Rivers and partners called on the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to deny all permits that would enable the proposed mine to be built. American Rivers also called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do its duty and re-engage as the proper authority over permitting decisions regarding the proposed mine. 

The Okefenokee Swamp is part of the ancestral lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. A unique international treasure, it is a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site. Uncompromised by agriculture or industrial development, the swamp is one of the world’s healthiest large-scale freshwater ecosystems. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge—the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States—receives an average of 600,000 visits annually. In addition to more than $50 million in local spending annually, Okefenokee Swamp tourism supports an estimated 826 jobs and $17.5 million in employment income. 

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. 

The Okefenokee Swamp was listed among America’s Most Endangered Rivers in 2020. Other rivers in the region listed as endangered in recent years include the Ocklawaha (2020) and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (2016). 

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2023  

  1. Colorado River, Grand Canyon (Arizona):  

THREAT: Climate change, outdated water management  
AT RISK: Ecosystem health, reliable water delivery, regional economy  

  1. Ohio River (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois):  

THREAT: Pollution, climate change  
AT RISK: Clean water for 5 million people  

  1. Pearl River (Mississippi):  

THREAT: Dredging and dam construction  
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, local and downstream communities, fish and wildlife habitat  

  1. Snake River (Idaho, Oregon, Washington):  

THREAT: Four federal dams  
AT RISK: Tribal treaty rights and culture, endangered salmon runs, rural and local communities  

  1. Clark Fork River (Montana):  

THREAT: Pulp mill pollution  
AT RISK: Public health, fish and wildlife  

  1. Eel River (California):  

THREAT: Dams  
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife, tribal culture and sustenance  

  1. Lehigh River (Pennsylvania):  

THREAT: Poorly planned development  
AT RISK: Clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, rural and local communities, open space  

  1. Chilkat and Klehini rivers (Alaska):  

THREAT: Mining  
AT RISK: Bald eagle, fish, and wildlife habitat, tribal culture and sustenance  

  1. Rio Gallinas (New Mexico):  

THREAT: Climate change, outdated forest and watershed management  
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, farming, watershed functionality  

  1. Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida):  

THREAT: Mining  
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, water quality and flow

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 Rivers. For more information, please visit AmericanRivers.org