Protecting Our Rivers and Streams Where We Live
Take a moment to think about all the places you have lived, not by apartment or job or city, but by the closest river, stream, lake, or sea. It takes me just a few moments to trace back my life in relation to water. I learned how to swim as a baby in Long Island Sound, moved near Lake Norman in North Carolina when I went to college, spent my first job in the town of Potomac on the Potomac River, and then moved to the Baltic Sea when I fell in love.
Whether or not you think of yourself as a water expert, you can probably also remember the biggest threats to those watersheds: whether it was safe to swim in them, whether you could eat the fish, or whether trash polluted the beaches. My childhood on Long Island Sound coincided with the worst of its pollution, both from sewers and industry. My grandfather talked incessantly about the dolphins that used to chase his fishing boat around, but by the time I swam there, they had abandoned us for cleaner waters.
The body of water closest to my family now is the New River, a National River in the National Park System. When our clean water group, the New River Clean Water Alliance, decided to start a volunteer monitoring program on Arbuckle Creek, a tributary to the New River, at first I was amazed at just how many people wanted to give up part of their week to see what was really in the water. We have had so much interest in the volunteer program that we are going to expand its scope. And more than one volunteer has taken on extra projects just because they are so interested.
Of course, that makes sense. We drink it, swim in it, play in it. We sit by the water when we are feeling contemplative, we linger on foot bridges. We need to know what’s in the water. Before you can help a watershed you have to know it. Volunteering to monitor the water is volunteering to make a huge difference. The data we collect and the interest we express will have ripple effects down the New River, into the Mississippi, and all the way out to the ocean. And then, maybe because of the time we put in, our children will look back on their lives and be able to remember the places they have lived in clean waterways.
If you are in the New River Gorge area, you can contact our West Virginia Field Office at 304-469-4433 to sign up. If you’re not in West Virginia, you can get in touch with your local watershed association. Chances are there are opportunities to help your local creek, lake, or beach. If there isn’t a local watershed association—start one! Great resources exist at the Center for Watershed Protection: http://www.cwp.org/. You can also learn more about the state of the New River watershed at http://www.npca.org/news/reports/watershed_report.html.