Willamette Riverkeeper was founded in February of 1996, originally known as “Friends of the Willamette River.” Shortly after, the name was changed to Willamette Riverkeeper, with the organization becoming the 12th of the relatively new realm of “Riverkeeper” organizations nation-wide. The first organization to be called Riverkeeper was Hudson Riverkeeper, from which all of the like-minded organizations have borrowed the name since.
Today there are over 150 Riverkeeper, Baykeeper, and Coastkeeper organizations worldwide. Each organization is independent, but all of the organizations are dedicated first and foremost to implementing and enforcing the Clean Water Act. Depending on where the river or other waterway is located, the approach to resolving a range of issues may differ, but all are willing to utilize legal means to protect the Public Trust. All of the organizations maintain the Riverkeeper trademark by implanting key programs and meeting solid standards of operation and conduct.
Instrumental to WR’s first four years after its founding, and tackling Willamette River issues and growing the organization's capacity were Joe Coffman, a founding Board member and Rita Haberman, who served as Executive Director. In 2000, Travis Williams was hired as the Riverkeeper & Executive Director, and he maintains that position today. Since that time, WR has grown a range of programs and projects that address everything from Clean Water Act compliance and river education, to Superfund cleanup and habitat restoration. Today WR has a an impassioned and effective staff, with an office in Portland, and an office in Eugene working on a range of issues and projects each and every week.