Gallery: America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2019

The Cuyahoga Success Story, Ohio

endangered rivers cuyahoga river success

(Image credit: Unknown/Share The River)

Last but not least, some good news. American Rivers named Ohio's Cuyahoga river its "River of the Year," celebrating this waterway's return from the brink.

The Cuyahoga runs through northeastern Ohio into Lake Erie. Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, it became horrendously polluted, with oil slicks inches thick floating on its surface. It caught fire several times, including a devastating blaze that damaged buildings along the banks in 1952.

One of these fires, in June 1969, captured national attention. That event, 50 years ago, helped lead to the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It's been a long road back for the Cuyahoga, but the river now hosts dozens of fish species and is no longer an industrial dumping ground. The river passed a major milestone just last month: The state EPA declared that fish caught in the river are safe to eat.

"We’ve come a long way and there is a lot to celebrate," Bob Irvin, the president of American Rivers, said in a statement. "But we still have a lot of work to do. Too many people in our country don’t have access to clean water and too many of our rivers are still threatened by pollution. We must keep speaking up because everyone deserves clean water and a healthy river."

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.