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You might think water conservation groups have bigger concerns than your local creek. Not so. The work of their grassroots foot soldiers (that means you) can have the most immediate impact on a stream. Says Matt McClain, marketing director of the Surfrider Foundation, "We just want people to take ownershipbecome a member and volunteer, or pick up trash at your hometown beach." Here are some ways to get involved. Pay the annual membership fee. Your dollars help fund research projects, advertising campaigns, lobbyists, and lawyerslots of lawyers. Volunteer your time, and sweat a little. You could find yourself taking samples from local lakes, inviting experts on the Clean Water Act to speak about its finer points, or writing grants to sympathetic foundations. Commit democracy. Advocates propose local, state, and federal legislation (like that which protects endangered species' habitats), speak at public hearings, and work with environmental groups' national branches to devise policy campaigns to present to Congress. Listed below are organizations that need your help. WATER WARRIORS
AMERICAN RIVERS (202-347-7550, www.americanrivers.org) seeks to maintain the protected status of 160 rivers under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Each spring, AR names America's most endangered rivers; the 2003 list includes the Klamath River and the Rio Grande. Battlefront: fighting to preserve the Columbia River's endangered wild salmon and steelhead populations.
AMERICAN WHITEWATER (866-262-8429, www.americanwhitewater.org) fights for recreational access to rivers and maintains an excellent database of current river flows on its Web site. Battlefront: the decommissioning of the Dillsboro Dam, on North Carolina's Class II-IV Tuckasegee River.
EARTH ISLAND INSTITUTE (415-788-3666, www.earthisland.org), founded by late enviro great David Brower, assists local environmentalists in preserving and restoring waters under siege, such as Russia's Lake Baikal and Alaska's Inland Passage. Battlefront: ending the cruise- ship industry's practice of dumping sewage and other waste into U.S. oceans, which is still legal thanks to an exemption granted under the Clean Water Act.
NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY (212-979-3000, www.audubon.org) works to protect wetlands, rivers, and lakes that are habitats for numerous bird species. Battlefront: revitalizing the Mississippi River's adjacent wetlands from Lake Itasca, in Minnesota, south to Cairo, Illinois, to reestablish it as the major U.S. north-south flyway.
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION (734-769-3351, www.nwf.org) works with U.S. and Canadian governments to curb water contamination in the Great Lakes and targets air polluters as the leading source of mercury contamination in the Great Lakes basin. Battlefront: stopping Lake Michigan from shrinking; excessive urban demand has dramatically reduced water flow into the lake.
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL (212-727-2700, www.nrdc.org) litigates to protect drinking water, works to create marine preserves to stop on- and offshore development, and fights to enforce water-rights laws across the western U.S. Battlefront: attacking attempts by the real-estate-development, oil, chemical, agriculture, and mining industries to rewrite the Clean Water Act and weaken protections for some 80 percent of the nation's water. Their efforts would reopen trout streams, wetlands, and headwaters to pollution.
OCEAN CONSERVATORY (202-429-5609, www.oceanconservancy.org), with more than 900,000 members and volunteers around the world, protects newly discovered marine species and organizes International Coastal Clean-Up Day each September. Battlefront: combating overfishing; in the last 50 years, commercial harvesting has reduced large-fish stocks by 90 percent.
SURFRIDER FOUNDATION (800-743-7873, www.surfrider.org) concentrates on coastal conservation and water quality, with an eye toward maintaining clean water and recreational access to surf breaks. Battlefront: establishing a marine reserve at Tres Palmas, a surf break near Rincon, Puerto Rico, that's home to the Caribbean's last large expanse of elkhorn coral.
WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE (914-674-0622, www.waterkeeper.org), founded in 1992 by Hudson River fishermen, is now a global collective of 114 groups (with alliances in Bolivia, Costa Rica, and the Czech Republic) assigned to protect entire watersheds. Battlefront: halting mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which leaches mercury into the water table.