Cuyahoga River named 2019 River of the Year

“Rising from the ashes,” the crooked river’s rebirth is honored by American Rivers in this the 50th year since 1969 fire

Five decades removed from a blaze that could have been the crooked river’s flatline moment, American Rivers today announced the Cuyahoga River as its 2019 “River of the Year.”

American Rivers works to protect and restore rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature. The award is a sign of the river’s rebirth as well as a re-commitment to the work needed to ensure its healthy future.

“May other cities draw inspiration from Cleveland’s story, and may we all work together to spark an urban river renaissance nationwide,” American Rivers President Bob Irvin. “Because everyone in our country deserves clean water and a healthy river.”

This year is marked by #Cuyahoga50 celebrations at the City of Cleveland level and our #RiverReborn events regionally, commemorating the river’s past and embracing a better future.

Investigator Cisco Rivera collects a Cuyahoga River water sample. NEORSD file.

It’s tough to pick one statistic that best represents a river’s recovery. But our water quality investigators often reference a 1968 report that only two species of fish were observed in the lower Cuyahoga River. Since 2010, we have identified 63 species.

American Rivers’ press release draws particular attention to the Sewer District’s 1972 creation as critical to the Cuyahoga’s comeback story.

“ [The 1969 fire was] an event that sparked environmental awareness, policy, and advocacy around the country, including the Clean Water Act, which guides our work today,” Chief Executive Officer Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells has noted about this anniversary year. “Our regional progress over the last half century is a testament to what great work, great people, and a shared vision for a great future can do.”