Raccoon River named among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

April 13, 2021

Factory farm pollution threatens drinking water 

Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers, odorothy@americanrivers.org, 217-390-3658
Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch, pgalt@fwwatch.org, 207-400-1275
Abigail Landhuis, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, abigail@iowacci.org, 515-250-048

Washington, D.C. – Today, American Rivers declared Iowa’s Raccoon River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2021, citing the grave threat that factory farms and industrial agricultural pollution pose to drinking water supplies. American Rivers and its partners Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, call on the Region 7 administration of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate, monitor and enforce Iowa’s factory farm pollution violations to safeguard public health in the state.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers facing urgent decisions,” said Olivia Dorothy with American Rivers. “We’re sounding the alarm because pollution in the Raccoon River is putting drinking water supplies and public health at risk.”

The Raccoon River is polluted by more than 700 factory farms that confine thousands of animals. Waste from these industrial operations is spread on fields, often at rates that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it. The manure runs off into rivers and streams where it contributes to a clean water crisis impacting millions of people. Iowa’s legislature has given these polluting operations free rein, relying on an insufficient voluntary strategy to reduce agricultural pollution in rivers and lakes. This voluntary approach has failed to reduce dissolved nutrient levels and water pollution, while factory farms continue to expand unabated, with 300-600 new factory farms added to the state each year.

The Raccoon River suffers from this unhindered factory farm pollution. Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, utilizes the Raccoon River to provide drinking water to more than half a million people. The utility was forced to invest in one of the world’s most expensive nitrate-removal systems as a result of consistently unsafe levels of agricultural pollutants in the waterway.

Factory farm pollution, combined with drought conditions fueled by climate change, has also increased outbreaks of toxic algae in the river, which harm ecosystem health, limit the ability of people to safely enjoy river recreation and contribute to the growing dead zone downstream in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Iowa’s legislature has failed to protect us from corporate agriculture’s pillaging of our environment,” said Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit. “While our legislators write blank checks to industry executives and turn a blind eye to the dangerous pollution and public health crisis coming out of the tap, we call on the EPA to act where our elected officials will not. As one of the most endangered rivers in the country, the Raccoon River’s factory farm pollution crisis requires national intervention.”

”The state of Iowa has favored the profits of massive agribusinesses over the interests of Iowans for far too long. We cannot continue to disregard the serious harms of unrestricted agricultural pollution,” said Abigail Landhuis, a community organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “While the factory farm industry rakes in massive profits throughout Iowa, rural residents, independent family farmers and Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander communities are enduring disproportionate hardships as our water, our soil, and our climate are devastated by corporate polluters.”

American Rivers and its partners Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement call on the EPA to immediately ramp up its Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) inspections and enforcement actions in the Raccoon River watershed.

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 Lower Missouri River (2021 and 2020) and Upper Mississippi River (2019 and 2020).


#1: Snake River (ID, WA, OR)
Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River

#2: Lower Missouri River (MO, IA, NE, KS)
Threat: Outdated river management

#3: Boundary Waters (MN)
Threat: Sulfide-ore copper mining

#4: South River (GA)
Threat: Pollution due to lax enforcement

#5: Pecos River (NM)
Threat: Pollution from proposed hardrock mining

#6: Tar Creek (OK)
Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site

#7: McCloud River (CA)
Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam

#8: Ipswich River (MA)
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

#9: Raccoon River (IA)
Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming

#10: Turkey Creek (MS)
Threat: Two major developments