Living Lands and Waters

Rivers are the lifeblood of our planet, sustaining ecosystems, providing vital resources, and serving as conduits for commerce. Unfortunately, they are also susceptible to pollution and environmental degradation, threatening not only the health of our waterways but also the communities that depend on them. In the face of this challenge, organizations like Living Lands and Waters have emerged as powerful advocates for the conservation and restoration of our rivers.

Living Lands and Waters: Transforming Rivers and Communities, One Cleanup at a Time

A Mission of Stewardship and Restoration

Living Lands and Waters is a non-profit organization on a mission to aid in the protection, preservation, and restoration of the natural environment of our nation's major rivers and their watersheds. Founded in 1998 by Chad Pregracke, a young river enthusiast, the organization is dedicated to ensuring the health and vitality of our rivers for current and future generations.

The core mission of Living Lands and Waters can be summarized in three fundamental principles:

  1. River Cleanup: To actively engage in river cleanups to remove debris, trash, and pollution from our waterways, thereby restoring their natural beauty and ecological balance.

  2. Habitat Restoration: To rehabilitate and conserve critical habitats along riverbanks, supporting native plant and animal species that rely on these areas for survival.

  3. Environmental Education: To educate and inspire individuals and communities to become stewards of their local rivers and the broader environment.

Through these principles, Living Lands and Waters endeavors to foster a profound sense of responsibility and connection between people and the rivers that sustain us all.

A Journey of Dedication and Impact

Living Lands and Waters' journey began with Chad Pregracke's personal commitment to cleaning up the Mississippi River. At the age of 17, he started a one-man mission, using a small boat to collect trash along the riverbanks. Over time, his passion and dedication inspired others to join him, and this grassroots effort laid the foundation for the organization we know today.

In the years since its founding, Living Lands and Waters has grown exponentially, expanding its reach to rivers across the United States, including the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, and many others. The organization's impact is reflected in the staggering amount of debris removed from these waterways, totaling over 10 million pounds of garbage and counting.

However, Living Lands and Waters' impact goes beyond the tonnage of trash removed; it extends to the communities along these rivers, the ecosystems they support, and the individuals inspired to become stewards of our natural resources. The organization's work is a testament to the power of grassroots initiatives and the enduring commitment of individuals who refuse to stand idly by as our environment suffers.

Services and Initiatives

Living Lands and Waters offers a range of services and initiatives that align with its mission of river conservation and restoration. These services encompass river cleanups, habitat restoration, educational programs, and community engagement. Here are some of the key services and initiatives provided by the organization:

1. River Cleanups:

Living Lands and Waters organizes and leads large-scale river cleanups that mobilize volunteers to remove trash and debris from the water and riverbanks. These cleanup events are often monumental undertakings, requiring the coordination of logistics, equipment, and enthusiastic volunteers.

2. Habitat Restoration:

The organization is committed to restoring and rehabilitating critical habitats along riverbanks. By planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses, Living Lands and Waters helps stabilize riverbanks, reduce erosion, and support the biodiversity of these ecosystems.

3. Floating Classroom:

Living Lands and Waters operates a unique educational program known as the Floating Classroom. This program uses a fleet of barges equipped with classrooms and laboratories to bring hands-on environmental education to students and communities along the rivers. The Floating Classroom offers a range of educational experiences, including water quality testing, wildlife observation, and river ecology lessons.

4. Riverbottom Forest Restoration:

In collaboration with partners, Living Lands and Waters focuses on restoring riverbottom forests, which are vital to the health of river ecosystems. These efforts include planting trees, removing invasive species, and creating wildlife habitats.

5. Community Engagement:

The organization engages with local communities, schools, and businesses to promote environmental awareness and responsibility. Community cleanups, workshops, and presentations are essential components of this engagement strategy.

Impact and Success Stories

Living Lands and Waters' work has had a profound impact on the rivers they serve and the communities they engage with. Here are some success stories that illustrate the transformative power of their efforts:

The Great Mississippi River Cleanup:

One of the organization's flagship initiatives is the Great Mississippi River Cleanup, an annual event that spans hundreds of miles along the Mississippi River. Thousands of volunteers participate in this cleanup, making it one of the largest river cleanups in the world. To date, this initiative alone has removed millions of pounds of debris from the river, improving water quality and enhancing the river's natural beauty.

Riverbottom Forest Restoration:

Living Lands and Waters' riverbottom forest restoration projects have not only improved habitat quality but also contributed to flood mitigation efforts. By planting native vegetation, the organization helps stabilize riverbanks, reducing erosion and the risk of flooding for nearby communities.

The Floating Classroom:

The Floating Classroom program has educated countless students about the importance of river ecosystems and environmental stewardship. Students who participate in the program often gain a newfound appreciation for the rivers in their communities and a sense of responsibility for their preservation.

These success stories underscore the profound impact that Living Lands and Waters has on the health of our rivers and the communities they serve. The organization's commitment to river conservation and environmental education has ripple effects that extend far beyond the cleanup efforts themselves.

Funding and Sustainability

Living Lands and Waters relies on a combination of funding sources to support its mission and initiatives. These sources include grants, corporate sponsorships, donations from individuals and organizations, and revenue generated from merchandise sales. The organization is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, which means that contributions are tax-deductible and funds are used to further its mission of river conservation.

Furthermore, Living Lands and Waters emphasizes sustainability in its operations. The organization strives to minimize its environmental footprint by using sustainable practices and materials whenever possible. This commitment to sustainability extends to its educational programs, where it emphasizes the importance of responsible environmental stewardship.

How You Can Support Living Lands and Waters

Supporting Living Lands and Waters and its mission of river conservation is a meaningful way to contribute to the health and vitality of our natural environment. Here are several ways you can get involved and make a difference:

1. Volunteer:

Participate in a river cleanup event or habitat restoration project organized by Living Lands and Waters. Volunteering provides hands-on experience and a direct impact on the health of our rivers.

2. Donate:

Consider making a financial contribution to Living Lands and Waters. Your donation can help fund cleanup efforts, habitat restoration, educational programs, and community engagement initiatives.

3. Spread Awareness:

Raise awareness about Living Lands and Waters and the importance of river conservation within your community and on social media. Encourage others to support the organization's efforts.

4. Attend Workshops and Events:

Participate in educational workshops and events hosted by Living Lands and Waters. These events offer opportunities to learn more about river ecosystems and environmental conservation.

5. Partner or Sponsor:

If you represent a business or organization, explore partnership or sponsorship opportunities with Living Lands and Waters. Collaborative efforts can amplify the impact of river conservation initiatives.


Living Lands and Waters stands as a testament to the transformative power of grassroots environmental stewardship. Through its dedication to river cleanup, habitat restoration, education, and community engagement, the organization has become a driving force in the conservation and restoration of our nation's rivers.

As we reflect on Living Lands and Waters' history, its commitment to river health, and the countless success stories of rivers and communities it has touched, we are reminded of the profound connection between people and our natural environment. The organization's mission serves as a compelling reminder that our rivers are not only vital resources but also integral components of our shared heritage and well-being.

By supporting Living Lands and Waters, whether through volunteering, donations, or advocacy, we join a community of caring individuals and organizations dedicated to preserving the beauty, vitality, and resilience of our rivers. Together, we can ensure that future generations can enjoy the benefits of clean and healthy waterways, thriving ecosystems, and the profound sense of wonder that rivers inspire.