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In this article we compare the Canadian Heritage Rivers System with the US Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and analyze case law in order to identify the best means of ensuring preservation of Great Plains rivers. We find that fear of federal dictates provides a powerful political weapon for opponents of river preservation policies. Therefore, we conclude that national officials should work with state, provincial, and local officials to develop cooperative plans that enable local residents to participate in river management decisions. Cooperative river management policies avoid the perception of federal government action as threatening to state sovereignty, thereby removing a significant rhetorical and political obstacle to water preservation.