American Rivers honors River Champions of 2023 


From American Rivers:

American Rivers announced the recipients of the inaugural River Champion Award, recognizing national leadership for healthy rivers. The 2023 awardees are the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), and the Brunckhorst Foundations.

The awards were presented yesterday evening at American Rivers’ 50th anniversary celebration at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“We are thrilled to honor these extraordinary leaders who are improving lives and strengthening our nation by advancing solutions for healthy rivers and clean water,” said Tom Kiernan, American Rivers President and CEO.

“Rivers are essential to our health and our future, but they are facing growing threats. The River Champions of 2023 are demonstrating the courage, vision, and impact that is necessary to ensure rivers continue to sustain all life.”

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was honored for leading the coalition to remove the Ela Dam to repair more than 500 miles of stream and restore cultural connections to the Oconaluftee River, or Long Man. The Cherokees have always viewed the Oconaluftee River as “Long Man (Ga-na-hi-da A-sga-ya),” whose head lies in the mountains and whose feet lie in the sea. Long Man is a sacred figure who provides water to drink, cleanliness, food, and numerous cultural rituals tied to traditional and cultural ceremonies still being practiced today. Dam removal is the fastest way to bring a river back to life. The tribe’s advocacy underscores the importance of greater engagement and leadership by Tribal Nations in river conservation efforts across the country.

Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) was honored for his multi-year effort to advance solutions for the Northwest’s rivers, endangered salmon, and communities. In 2021, Rep. Simpson put forward the Energy and Salmon Concept/The Columbia River Initiative.  This creative and comprehensive proposal calls for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams to recover endangered salmon and fulfill obligations to Tribal Nations, while ensuring replacement of the dams’ transportation, irrigation, and energy services.

Representative Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) was honored for championing protections for rivers in New Hampshire, including the Merrimack River and Connecticut River, and for advancing solutions for rivers nationwide in an era of climate change. In 2021, Rep. Kuster sponsored the Twenty-First Century Dams Act which provides support for dam removal, rehabilitation, and restoration while also supporting tax credits for hydropower projects to add environmental improvements or dam safety improvements.  The bill ultimately had over 40 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Barbara Brunckhorst and the Brunckhorst Foundations were honored for helping American Rivers achieve our greatest victories over the past decades, including safeguarding more than 150,000 miles of rivers and 3 million acres of riverside lands vital to wildlife and human health. Their steadfast support for nearly 20 years has also allowed American Rivers to drive policies protecting drinking water sources for tens of millions of people. Generous gifts from the Brunckhorst Foundations have allowed American Rivers to consistently put our national expertise, on-the-ground presence, and policy experience to work, ensuring lasting impact for rivers.

Rivers are essential to all life, and healthy rivers are for everyone, not just a privileged few. In conjunction with its 50th anniversary celebration, American Rivers announced a new strategic vision that addresses the interconnected crises of climate change, loss of nature, and racial injustice impacting rivers nationwide. The vision is aimed at achieving four ambitious goals: 1) Protect one million miles of rivers, 2) Restore rivers by removing 30,000 dams, 3) Ensure clean water in every community, and 4) Champion a powerful river movement.

“Tackling the threats facing our rivers and clean water will take all of us,” said Kiernan. “Thank you to the 2023 River Champions for showing the way forward.”

About American Rivers 

American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on Rivers. For more information, please visit


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