12 Most Polluted Rivers in the US [Report 2024]


Kiernan stated that “Rivers are among the most degraded ecosystems on the planet, and threats to rivers are threats to human health, safety and survival”. He further advised that we need to prioritize environmental justice to build the future of clean and safe water for all.

In the US, there are many rivers that are polluted, contaminated and endangered. To make you aware of these rivers, here is the list of the most polluted rivers in the US.

1. Snake River

Snake River is one of the most polluted rivers in the US

Salmons are one of the favorite fish for Americans. The Snake River is one of the rivers that provides a huge amount of salmon. However, this river is suffering from the loss of salmon due to excess fishing and violating Native American rights.

The Lower Snake River has 4 federal dams that are mostly polluted and causing this critical state of insufficiency of quality salmon. To support the native culture and prevent the loss of salmon, different protective measures have to be taken, like forbidding fishing during the season of birthing of new salmon fishes.

According to scientists, the Snake River is the largest tributary of riches, so it is essential for restoring the salmon’s quality of life and removing the four dams in the lower part of eastern Washington to increase the flow over downstream dams.

2. Lower Missouri River

Lower Missouri River

Climate change is a burning problem in the present world. The rivers are also affected by the harmful effects of climate change. The Lower Missouri River is polluted due to poor river management and the pollution has increased due to climate change.

This river plays a vital role in America’s economy as it is a critical artery of the Great Plains. The main cause of pollution of this significant river is that the waterways have been altered countless times. The massive dam in the upper basin is causing frequent flooding fueled by climate change.

To avoid further destruction and overflowing, local governments should implement multi-benefit projects to restore the river to its original state.

3. Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, homes of the Boundary Waters. Rivers and streams of about 1200 miles flow, which is a major driver of the local economy of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Boundary Waters are threatened by the extreme pollution by sulfide-ore copper mining. These pollutants fall from the public waters to the wilderness area’s boundary.

This pollution by toxic wastes from mining is causing loss of habitat, and a devastated ecosystem along the river waters. The Biden administration must work on passing legislation to protect this vast water body.

Now, let’s check out the cleanest rivers in the US.

4. South River

Georgia’s significant river is the South River, which is suffering due to sewage pollution. The river originates from streams and creeks in Atlanta, but sadly, has been plagued by sewage pollution for over decades. This is not only choking the living beings of the river but also risking the quality of the life of the communities nearby.

The waters of this river have a long-standing environmental injustice by excreting sewer wastes. To save the communities near the South River and ensure the life of the river, the government has to implement new protection laws.

5. Pecos River

New Mexico is home to the Pecos River which has been polluted severely by copper, gold and zinc mining. The mining project is causing a dangerous threat to the critical habitat along the Pecos River, which is over 5,000 acres. The Pecos River is sacred to the Pueblo peoples.

Even though the river has a remarkable history of traditional Indigenous, due to the proposed rock mining, the wildlife habitat and the life of the river is in severe danger. The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division should cancel the proposal and take further steps to prevent the pollution of the river.

6. Tar Creek (Oklahoma)

The red flag of danger on Oklahoma’s Tar Creek is pollution caused by the Tar Creek Superfund Site. The specialty of this river is that it has one of the richest grasslands in the country, but due to heavy metal mining, the creek is contaminated.

The local residents along with the indigenous people have protested against the severe contamination due to the Superfund sites. The Environmental Protection Agency of America should develop a solution to prevent pollution and safeguard the river and the communities living along it.

Rivers can also be deadly, don’t believe me? Check out these most dangerous rivers in the US.

7. McCloud River

The McCloud River of California is protected by the Scenic River Act. This river is one of the highlighted treasures of California. The cultural values, history and identity of the people of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe are deeply intertwined with the life of the river. It is not a sacred site but also a vital habitat for diverse wildlife.

To save the river, the Shasta Dam, which is hindering the water flow and polluting the river, has to be lower. The Trump administration passed an awful infrastructural plan to raise the height of the dam, which will further damage the river. This law has to be overturned, and proper measures have to be taken to protect the McCloud River.

8. Ipswich River

The Ipswich River of Massachusetts is the prime drinking water source for the Northern side. Unfortunately, due to excessive water withdrawals, the river and the ecosystem surrounding it is severely at risk. Due to pollution and excessive water withdrawal, 2 severe droughts have taken place in the last 5 years.

The river management has not taken steps to control the pollution, so the climate change crisis is worsening the situation. If the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection does not take immediate action, then the residents who depend on the Ipswich River will face a severe water crisis.

9. Raccoon River

The main cause of most river pollution is the water discharge from industrial agriculture. The Raccoon River is also polluted due to this waste discharge along with factory farming wastes dumped on this river. The Raccoon River is the main drinking water source for over 500,000 people in Iowa.

The pollution fueled by climate change combined with toxic algae resulted in greater risk for the river’s ecosystem. To avoid such severe pollution, the government of the state has to monitor and enforce effective laws on the factory farms that pollute the river.

10. Turkey Creek

In Turkey Creek, there are two major developments that are exacerbating the flood risk and increasing pollution. This river on the coastal Mississippi has supported cultural and vibrant communities since the 1800s. However, due to toxic contamination and deforestation, the river is facing risky consequences.

This pollution problem not only harms the residents living along the river but also increases flooding. If this pollution continues, the community of Mississippi will face severe consequences and a scarcity of safe water. Mississippi state agencies should take steps to retract the developments and plant more trees around the river to protect the river.

11. Ohio River

One of the most contaminated rivers in the US is the Ohio River. The biggest issue is industrial trash, and AK Steel Corporation is the primary culprit. The high mercury content of the fish has been made known to fishermen.

12. Cuyahoga River

The Cuyahoga River has caught fire multiple times due to its extreme pollution. This river, which flows through Ohio, served as the impetus for the 1972 Clean Water Act. One of the most polluted rivers in the US is this one, which is overflowing with industrial garbage.

The government of the US is taking steps to check the rivers all around the US to annually keep track. You can also become aware and take steps to save the rivers from this list of the most polluted rivers in the US. Every step and petition counts. For human and wildlife’ safety, we should all come forward to make others aware as well.

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