Rivers across the U.S. are crucial to our economy, health and happiness, but in a lot of places they’re overused, polluted and dammed up. The government isn’t doing much to protect them these days, so that work is falling to volunteers as well as to public and private environmental organizations.

Everyone needs clean water. Photo: Sergio Souza/Unsplash

Here are five important nonprofit advocacy groups working to keep rivers healthy, clean and flowing so we can have places to paddle and water to drink.

American Rivers

A major national advocacy, conservation and cleanup group, American Rivers works on everything from helping to set federal policy to orchestrating local stream stewardship efforts. Their yearly list of the most endangered rivers in the country is a bellwether for what’s happening (and should be happening) in conservation, dam removal and water-pollution reduction. (And they make beautiful movies.)

Waterkeeper Alliance

Rivers: Not just good for views. Photo: Jesse Bowser/Unsplash

An international organization focused on clear water, their goal is “drinkable, fishable, swimmable water everywhere.” The Waterkeeper Alliance is a coalition of 300 local organizations, each of which is focused on the water needs of their unique community. This means global reach, but local knowledge — a truly effective and strategic combination of resources.

Trout Unlimited

Looks fishy. Photo: Tyson Dudley/Unsplash

Started more than half a century ago by 16 fishermen who wanted to protect Michigan’s native trout, Trout Unlimited has evolved to become a national conservation group focused on healthy streams. They’ve been particularly good at forming alliances between fighting water users, like farmers and cities.

American Whitewater

Protected paddling. Photo: Filip Mroz/Unsplash

The biggest river-paddling advocacy group in the country, American Whitewater works with landowners and government agencies on access to rivers, but they’re also a big voice for conservation. Their database of which rivers are paddle-able and when you can get to them is a huge, valuable resource.

Friends of the Yampa

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Most river advocacy groups are local, so check what’s going on in your area (Waterkeeper is also a good source for this). Friends of the Yampa, which focuses on the Yampa River, the last undammed tributary of the Colorado, is doing big, important work by bringing warring water users together, getting them to talk about how to use their resources in ways that make the most sense for the most people.

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