Clean Water

Our country has made real progress in improving water quality. However, our water pollution problems have not been solved – they have evolved.

The greatest threat to water quality today is polluted runoff from farm fields, parking lots, industrial sites, and backyards across America. That runoff, much less visible than discharges from a factory pipe, finds its way into the streams and rivers that flow through our communities and provide the water many of us use every day. Sixty-eight percent of Americans who don’t get their drinking water from a private well rely on these surface sources year-round.

Many people believe the government is monitoring and addressing water pollution problems, but that’s just not the case. Seventy percent of streams across America are not tested by any government agency. Of those that are tested, more than half do not meet basic safety standards for fishing, swimming, or as sources of drinking water. And while that water may pass through a treatment facility before reaching our tap, most of these facilities are not equipped to filter out the kinds of contaminants that pollute our waters today.

All over America, volunteers are stepping into the gap to ensure our water is safe – and the Izaak Walton League is the only organization training, equipping, and coordinating these volunteer heroes on a national scale.

Learn more about our volunteer water monitoring program

What’s In My Water?

And What Can I Do About It?

Today, water pollution can come from many sources – some of them right in our own communities! The safety and quality of our nation’s water can be damaged by:

  • Harmful agricultural practices. While many farmers work hard to protect land and water for all of us, some less sustainable practices are still common. For example, spraying crops with heavy doses of pesticides and fertilizers can cause these chemicals to end up in waterways, while leaving fields bare over the winter can result in streams becoming clogged with eroded soil. Learn more about our work for sustainable agriculture.

  • Urban and suburban development. When natural land is paved over, rain that falls on that land picks up all kinds of pollutants as it makes its way to a stream or into the ground. We can shorten the water’s journey and keep it cleaner by making smarter choices about how we manage our yards. Learn more about landscaping for clean water.

  • Invasive species. Aquatic plants and animals that find themselves far from home can seriously disrupt the health of waterways. These uninvited guests can outcompete native species, sicken people who recreate on affected streams and lakes, and wreak havoc on water treatment facilities. Learn how you can prevent the spread.

  • Heavy industry. Oil spills, chemical leakage, mining disasters, and the side effects of fracking can all harm stream health – and the corporations responsible often try to claim the pollution in nearby waterways has always been there. Learn why it’s important to monitor water quality before a stream becomes polluted.

  • Excessive use of road salt. Salt on roads and sidewalks helps us travel safely in the winter. But when it’s used in excessive amounts, the salt winds up in nearby streams, creating conditions that freshwater critters can’t survive. Plus, the salt can end up back in our drinking water systems, where it corrodes pipes and can pose a health threat for people who need low-sodium diets. Learn what you can do about excessive road salt.

Learn more about water quality in your community

Learn more about our clean water work in your region

Get Updates on Our Clean Water Work

We'll send you updates every other month on water quality issues and ways you can get involved.

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2023 Annual Report

In 2023, the Izaak Walton League's crowdsourced water monitoring programs exploded with growth, community excitement, and partnership. It was a banner year, with more people engaged in water quality monitoring and advocacy across the country. Click the image to view the highlights.

Save Our Streams annual report 2023

Read the complete annual report

News about Clean Water

  • Nitrate Watch test - credit Kim Hagemann, Iowa CCI

    The Spring Flush: Why are nitrate concentrations higher in the spring?

    Across the nation, especially in agricultural areas, Nitrate Watch volunteers are reporting higher nitrate concentrations than normal this spring. Why is that? And what are the consequences? We explain this “spring flush” of nitrate pollution and dive into the recent data. Full story
  • Excessive salting in a neighborhood - credit Dave Bell

    My Town Tried to Tell Me There’s No Road Salt in This Photo

    When a town in Pennsylvania spread excessive road salt and then denied they had salted at all, Streamkeeper Dave Bell sought better answers. His investigation led him to the League’s Salt Watch community science program… and to smarter ways of keeping streets safe in the winter. Full story
  • Dead fish - credit Karl Van Neste

    Something’s Fishy in Maryland

    Why was a local lake full of dead fish? One clean water advocate investigated the problem and worked for a solution. Read about Karl’s journey from community science to political advocacy. Full story

Click the icon at the top right of the player to see all our Clean Water videos.