Top Conservation Organizations to Support if You Love Rivers
We regularly see headlines about the ongoing fight to protect America’s public lands from development and keep them accessible. Less prominent in the mainstream, but just as crucial, is the need to conserve and advocate for our waterways. Our rivers are critical pieces of the ecosystem, as well as some of our most beloved recreation destinations—and they need our help to stay clean, accessible, and free-flowing.
Luckily, these top river organizations are doing essential conservation and advocacy work for our waterways. Whether you follow them on social media or join their email lists to stay informed, make a financial contribution, or you’re ready to jump in as a volunteer, here’s who to take your river protection cues from.
1) American Rivers
Founded in 1973, American Rivers uses a combination of national advocacy work and boots-on-the-ground field work in their mission to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature. The organization’s mission is more timely than ever: according to the organization, which publishes America’s Most Endangered Rivers list each year, 44% of assessed waterways in the United States are too polluted for fishing or swimming, and 40% of our freshwater species are at risk of extinction. These are scary statistics, which is why we need organizations like American Rivers to stand up for our wild rivers—both in person and in the nation’s capital.
2) American Whitewater
Whitewater enthusiasts have a home at American Whitewater, which seeks to protect and restore whitewater rivers so human-powered river runners have opportunities to safely enjoy them. Since its founding in 1954, American Whitewater has worked with agencies to remove more than a dozen dams (with several more on the chopping block), as well as being a founding member of national advocacy organizations like the Hydropower Reform Coalition and Outdoor Alliance. They also organize stewardship events and maintain the American Whitewater Safety Code, which includes important safety info for river runners of all stripes.
3) Friends of the Yampa
These days, free-flowing rivers in the American West are few and far between, which means the Yampa River and its tributaries are all the more special. The Yampa is a model of an intact, healthy river system—one that supports diverse flora and fauna, a vital economy, and one of the most beloved whitewater rafting trips in the West. The Friends of the Yampa was established in 1981 to protect this dam-less wonder, and since then, they’ve used education, advocacy, stewardship, and grassroots partnerships to do just that. With river cleanups, community events, and float trips galore, there’s no shortage of ways to get involved.
4) Grand Canyon Trust
The Grand Canyon Trust is tasked with protecting the Colorado River on its course through one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but its mission expands far beyond the towering sandstone walls of Grand Canyon to the entire Colorado Plateau. Plant and animal diversity, sovereign tribal nations, and a livable climate are their goals—which is why, since 1985, they’ve worked on issues like forest restoration, livestock grazing, and the ever-present threat of uranium mining. Through science, stewardship, policy, and art, the Grand Canyon Trust is working to build an American Southwest that’s inhabitable for current and future generations.
5) Idaho Rivers United
With more than 100,000 miles of waterways (including some of the most incredible, memorable river trips on the planet, like the Middle Fork of the Salmon), the Gem State is no slouch when it comes to wild, scenic rivers. That also means there’s lots of water that needs protecting and conserving, and fortunately, Idaho Rivers United is up to the task. Since 1990, they’ve helped revitalize populations of wild sockeye salmon, assisted in stopping the controversial Twin Springs Dam project, and helped provide state protection for the Priest, Payette, Henry’s Fork, Snake, and Boise Rivers.
6) International Rivers
International Rivers believes not just in the power of rivers themselves, but in the communities who depend on them for fresh water, food security, cultural traditions, and livelihoods. Since the organization’s founding in 1985, it’s worked with hundreds of NGOs in 24 river basins across the planet—that’s 17% of the earth’s total land area—and helped delay, prevent, or stop more than 200 dam projects worldwide. By supporting grassroots organizations, undertaking cutting-edge research, and directly engaging with communities where they work, International Rivers is leading the charge to protect watersheds the world over.
7) Rogue Riverkeeper
Oregon’s gorgeous Rogue River Basin is unparalleled in both ruggedness and scenic whitewater. It’s also home to native salmon populations, and both the fish and the surrounding communities need clean water to survive. Rogue Riverkeeper, founded in 2008, is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international advocacy network dedicated to fighting for clean water in more than 300 waterways around the world. Through advocacy, accountability for polluters, and engaging with the local community, Rogue Riverkeeper seeks to restore and protect the Rogue for generations to come.
8) Trout Unlimited
If you’ve ever cast a fly, watched a fish jump, or noticed the way certain insect species come out at various times of year, you’ve made first-hand observations about the importance of cold-water fisheries in our ecosystems. Trout and salmon are key species for sportsmen, but they’re also part of a healthy, intact ecosystem. That’s exactly why Trout Unlimited exists: to conserve North American fisheries and their watersheds. Founded in 1959, Trout Unlimited does fisheries and land management, watershed restoration, and education to connect future conservationists.
Photos: Grand Canyon – Josh Miller; Friends of the River Yampa rafting trip with OARS – Colleen Miniuk; Idaho’s Snake River, American Rivers’ Most Endangered River of 2021 – Andrew Miller; Oregon’s Wild & Scenic Rogue River – Cindi Stephan
*An earlier version of this post first appeared on the blog in 2015 and was last updated April 2021.