Celebrating 50 Years and Looking Toward the Future
American Rivers is kicking off our 50th anniversary year — and launching a vision that will carry us, and the rivers you love, into the future.
American Rivers’ story began in 1973, when a group of conservationists, policy experts, and river lovers, alarmed by the rate that rivers were being dammed and destroyed, decided to create an organization to protect our nation’s last free-flowing rivers. At a meeting in Denver, somebody threw $10 on the table. And another and another, until there was a small pile of money. American Rivers was born out of passion and $4,100.
That passion has led to some truly remarkable victories for rivers over the past five decades. Together with our partners and supporters, we have safeguarded over 150,000 miles of rivers and over 3 million acres of riverside land. We have organized local and national partners to drive policies that protect drinking-water sources for tens of millions of people. We have donned hard hats to blow holes in 150-year-old dams, put water in dried-up river reaches, and created river-friendly policies.
The only way an organization can survive for 50 years and achieve the level of impact American Rivers has enjoyed is with consistent support from dedicated people who believe in its mission. The health of rivers across the country has improved because of you and the thousands of staff, partners, Board members, donors, volunteers, and allies who have found a home in this organization. Thank you for standing by our mission to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature.
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Despite our incredible progress, the challenges ahead are dire. Our rivers are increasingly threatened by climate change, harmful dams, pollution, drought, floods, and outdated laws. Perhaps the greatest threat is simply a lack of awareness of how important rivers are to our lives.
American Rivers has always tackled challenges head-on. Now, because of these growing threats, we’re picking up the pace and scale of our work on rivers nationwide. By expanding our local connections, we will work on more rivers and with more communities around the country — particularly those that have been historically sidelined from decision-making. We are also connecting local river advocates across communities to ensure they have the tools, support, and community to get the job done. Finally, and maybe most importantly, we will double down on our commitment to collaboration, pragmatism, and results.
These strategies, with your support, will directly improve the health of rivers and water. Here’s how:
Protect 1 million miles of river.
We’re committed to restoring and protecting 1 million river miles in the United States, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. To do this, we are advocating for federal and state protections for some of our healthiest, most scenic rivers, as well as rivers in urban and suburban areas. We are also working with communities experiencing more frequent and damaging flooding and droughts to reconnect their rivers to their headwaters and floodplains. These rivers, and the watersheds that feed them, provide recreation, clean water, and natural habitat for the benefit of all of us.
Remove 30,000 harmful dams.
Free-flowing rivers promote healthy habitat for wildlife, reduce flood risk to communities, and support cultural traditions. There are more than 90,000 inventoried dams (and up to 400,000 dams total!) in our country. Up to 85 percent of them are unnecessary, harmful, and even dangerous. We must remove thousands of them quickly. Our work to remove dams has been central to our impact over the past decades and will be even more important as we work to restore rivers in the decade ahead. Because removing a dam is the single most impactful way to secure a rivers’ future health.
Ensure clean water for every community.
Over the past 50 years, American Rivers and partners have protected drinking water sources for tens of millions of people. Millions more are vulnerable to the health impacts of water pollution. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and Tribal Nations are more likely to be impacted by environmental hazards and are more likely to live near contaminated lands and be affected by unhealthy water. Everyone deserves clean water. At American Rivers, we’re increasing our community engagement so that no communities are left behind.
Champion a powerful river movement.
American Rivers has always been known for our ability to work with local advocates and partners from both private and public sectors to do what’s best for rivers and the people and wildlife that depend on them. We know that the challenges to rivers are increasing dramatically. We need an even stronger river movement to face those challenges. By deploying more American Rivers staff in the field, we will double our efforts to bring more local support to the cause of rivers and to work with others to coalesce a movement that restores and protects the rivers we treasure.
Are these goals ambitious? Absolutely. But the growing threats to our rivers require from us our ambition, ingenuity, and resolve.
This year, we are introducing a new tagline for the organization: Life Depends on Rivers. Along with our new logo, the tagline could not be a more appropriate description of the threats rivers face and the importance of our work.
Fortunately, rivers are resilient. Humans are, as well. Enabling rivers to heal is our best hope to address climate change, protect freshwater species, and equitably provide the benefits of healthy rivers and clean water to everyone. The way forward must include greater partnerships, community engagement, and growing a movement to protect rivers, from mountain streams to urban waterways.
So, it is with gratitude for your past support and enthusiasm for what comes next that I invite you to join us as we embark on the next 50 years of action for the rivers all life depends upon. Onward!