Mississippi’s Big Sunflower River Named #3 on 2020 America’s Most Endangered List

A Wood Stork foraging in shallow water at sunset

For the second time in three years, Mississippi’s Big Sunflower River has been recognized as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers by American Rivers, a close Audubon partner. 

Named as #3 on America’s Most Endangered Rivers® list of 2020, the Big Sunflower is under serious threat from efforts to revive the devastating Yazoo Backwater Pumps Project in Mississippi’s South Delta. 

The agricultural drainage project would drain and destroy 200,000 acres of wetlands in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway. These hemispherically significant habitats support 257 bird species, such as the federally-threatened Wood Stork and the federally-endangered Interior Least Tern, along with hundreds of other wildlife species. 

The Pumps are so environmentally destructive that in 2008 the George W. Bush administration issued a Clean Water Act veto, which stopped the project—only one of 13 vetoes ever issued. The project was authorized by Congress in 1941 under the promise of flood relief. However, findings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have shown 68 percent of the area would still flood even with the Pumps in place, while 80 percent of the project benefits agribusiness by draining wetlands to plant crops.

Audubon Mississippi is working with American Rivers and partners to advance immediate, affordable, and effective alternatives that will provide flood relief and lasting protections for people’s lives, property and livelihoods in the South Delta. 

Learn more about the Big Sunflower River and our alternative flood relief strategy (PDF) for birds and communities that depend on the Mississippi Flyway.