Vilander Bluff overlooking the Meramec River in Missouri. © Bill Duncan

Stories in Missouri

The Meramec River Project


kayakers on the Meramec River
Meramec Kayakers Kayakers explore the Meramec River at Castlewood State Park near St. Louis © Mark Godfrey/The Nature Conservancy

The Meramec River is beloved by Missourians as a favorite destination for floating, boating, fishing, and swimming, but it’s more than just a fun place to visit.  The top-ranked watershed in the Midwest, the Meramec is an irreplaceable freshwater resource and a key tributary to the Mississippi River.  It supports 31 species of global significance, including several species found nowhere else on Earth.  The river provides economic and recreational resources for local communities and supplies drinking water to approximately 70,000 households.  

Threatened by Overuse

The Meramec has been threatened by overuse from activities such as inappropriate livestock usage, mining, stream bank erosion, and urban and suburban development. These activities cause erosion and sediment buildup, habitat disturbance, nutrient loading, and contamination. As a result, the water quality of the Meramec has diminished, and habitats have been degraded and destroyed.

The negative impacts of overuse are not confined to the river’s plants and animals. Local communities and economies are affected as well. Habitat loss has reduced sport fish numbers and harms the fishing industry. Flooding increases due to altered natural water cycles, water purification costs increase, and recreational opportunities diminish.

Conservation Action Plan

The Conservancy collaborated with agencies, partners, and private landowners to implement a science-based conservation strategy that will unify efforts and maximize results.

Developing a Conservation Action Plan

The Conservancy partnered with a myriad of agencies and organizations to improve cooperation and coordination in Meramec watershed conservation. The Meramec River Conservation Action Plan, spearheaded by the Conservancy with input from 29 partners, is acting as a blueprint for groups working in the Meramec River watershed. The plan aims to unify, clarify, and intensify efforts to improve the overall health of the river.

The Conservancy and its partners are reaching out to community members. We are assisting ranchers with the implementation of sustainable ranching practices.  Several strategies are used to keep cattle out of the river, such as constructing cattle crossings, digging wells to provide alternate water sources, and erecting fencing to keep cattle away from the riparian buffer. Partner organizations are providing landowners with information about watershed conservation, sharing best practices, and demonstrating riparian buffer restoration.

Working Together
Our work with partners is maximizing the impact of restoration work throughout the Meramec watershed through sound scientific planning and collaboration.  This innovative undertaking will lay the groundwork for future conservation endeavors in the years to come and will allow future generations to enjoy the beauty of one of Missouri’s most popular rivers.

As part of this project, the Conservancy and partners are undertaking on-the-ground conservation work together to help restore habitats, streambanks, and floodplains. Projects such as the Growing a Healthy Meramec Project are having direct conservation impacts and are helping new audiences understand the importance of protecting this irreplaceable waterway. These efforts will help manage the river’s nutrient and sediment level, producing far-reaching results as the Meramec empties into the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Together, partners will help ensure the invaluable resources provided by the Meramec River stay intact for our children and grandchildren.