Land & Water Stories

Conserving Fresh Water for Life on Earth

Freshwater systems are in trouble. But with a fresh approach, we can change the course for the better.

Fast moving water splashes in whitewater rapids.
Krupa River rapids The 4-mile Krupa River in Croatia boasts 19 cascades and is a popular destination for hikers and rafters. © Ciril Jazbec

Water connects us all.

If water is the lifeblood of the planet, rivers, lakes and wetlands are the hard-working systems that keep it pumping. 

These systems—which also include springs, deltas and intricate underground networks—feed communities, shape cultures and sustain the diversity of life on Earth.

But for too long, we’ve undervalued our freshwater ecosystems. We’ve over-extracted, overfished and over-engineered them. Now, these ecosystems are in trouble.

We need fresh water, and fresh water needs us.

Threats to the world's freshwater systems are stacking up.

  • Icon of a great blue heron in a marsh.

    83%

    Populations of monitored freshwater plants and animals have declined by 83% since 1970—far greater than any other biome.

  • Icon of a river flowing through trees.

    1/3

    Only 1/3 of the world’s longest rivers remain free-flowing.

  • Icon of cattails in a marsh.

    3x

    Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than tropical forests.

  • Icon of three water droplets.

    1/2

    Half of all people on the planet now live in water-stressed areas.

Deforestation, fragmentation from dams, unsustainable farming and fishing, and unchecked pollution are only adding to the increasingly frequent and damaging impacts of climate change.

But there is hope. Freshwater systems that are degraded can recover—and they can recover quickly. Where freshwater ecosystems remain healthy and connected, we can protect them. 

Green Up Your Inbox.

Get updates from nature every month.

Sign up for nature news

What’s at stake for fresh water

The Freshwater Imperative (2:30) Explore the beauty of Earth’s freshwater systems, the urgency to protect them and the role we can all play to ensure a water-secure future.

How We Protect Fresh Water

Fresh water is connected to everything The Nature Conservancy does, and we're determined to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems at unprecedented scales.

By leveraging our long history of innovation and collaboration, we know we can scale up breakthrough strategies for freshwater that are durable and long-lasting.

We're already working on close to 400 projects in nearly 40 countries, but we must go further and faster to achieve our goals for 2030.

Freshwater Goals to Achieve by 2030

  • Icon of a river flowing through a forest.

    1 M

    Safeguard or restore at least 1 million kilometers of rivers and streams.

  • Icon of a great blue heron in a marsh.

    30 M

    Conserve 30 million hectares of lakes, wetlands, deltas and floodplains.

  • Icon of three people standing.

    10 M

    Ensure over 10 million people benefit directly from healthy freshwater ecosystems.

Solutions Explainer Video

Take a 2-Minute Water Break

Explainer: Protecting Our Water (2:10) Hippos, spoonbills and pink dolphins, oh my! Freshwater habitats cover less than 1% of the planet’s total surface, and yet they are some of the most diverse in the world. Learn about the challenges to fresh water and what we can do about them.

Our Freshwater Approaches

Click tiles for examples from around the world.

Freshwater Stories

Cascades of blue water pour over lush vegetation.
Life-Giving Fresh Water The waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Plitviče Lakes National Park is a 295-sq.-km forest reserve in central Croatia. It's known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. Walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water. The Nature Conservancy is developing partnerships with European governments and development agencies to achieve shared conservation goals around the world. © Ken Geiger/The Nature Conservancy
A town of stone with an arched bridge spans a river.
Mostar's old bridge The city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar's iconic Old Bridge crosses the Neretva river. © Ciril Jazbec
An eel swims between two rocks in a stream.
American Eel An American eel rests on a rock in the Beaverkill River. © The Nature Conservancy/Mari-Beth DeLucia
3 women wear richly colored blankets on a river bank.
Montana Darnell Ridesatthedoor, her daughter, Mistee and her granddaughter Camee pick berries along Badger Creek which runs through her mother's land on the Blackfeet Reservation. © Louise Johns
3 people sit in the back of a small boat on a river.
Amazonía Amazonía © Juan Gomez
Cascades of blue water pour over lush vegetation.
Life-Giving Fresh Water The waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Plitviče Lakes National Park is a 295-sq.-km forest reserve in central Croatia. It's known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. Walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water. The Nature Conservancy is developing partnerships with European governments and development agencies to achieve shared conservation goals around the world. © Ken Geiger/The Nature Conservancy

We Must Save Fresh Water to Save Ourselves

Nicole Silk, TNC's Global Director of Freshwater Outcomes, details how and why we must accelerate the pace and scale of freshwater conservation.

A town of stone with an arched bridge spans a river.
Mostar's old bridge The city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar's iconic Old Bridge crosses the Neretva river. © Ciril Jazbec

A Coalition for Europe's Last Wild Rivers

As part of an effort to protect 13 incredible rivers in Europe's Western Balkans, local people are emerging as 'River Champions.' Immerse yourself in their stories of ecological revival and spiritual renewal.

An eel swims between two rocks in a stream.
American Eel An American eel rests on a rock in the Beaverkill River. © The Nature Conservancy/Mari-Beth DeLucia

The Secret Life of Eels

A pair of studies offer a tantalizing glimpse at the mysterious life cycle of the American eel.

3 women wear richly colored blankets on a river bank.
Montana Darnell Ridesatthedoor, her daughter, Mistee and her granddaughter Camee pick berries along Badger Creek which runs through her mother's land on the Blackfeet Reservation. © Louise Johns

How The Water Shapes Us

Our magazine asked photographers to document how water influences life across the Mississippi River basin. They delivered in this rich and captivating photo essay.

3 people sit in the back of a small boat on a river.
Amazonía Amazonía © Juan Gomez

Protecting the Dorado Catfish's Epic Migration

The dorado catfish connects the rivers and people of the Amazon basin as it journeys on the world's longest freshwater migration. Learning about this fish's 11,000 km route can go a long way to protecting ecosystems throughout the Amazon.