Celebrate Rivers: Did You Know 600,000 River Miles Are Impounded Behind Dams?
Monday, we celebrated World Water Day and it got us thinking about rivers in our own backyard… We took a look around and our rivers are in trouble. So, we’re going to dedicate every Thursday to celebrating rivers — it may be a kick-ass photo from one of our favorite runs, or some stunning statistics about waterways, or it might be a call to action. Check back here each week and we’ll have a little bit of river trivia that will hopefully raise awareness and motivate you to protect a waterway in your own backyard.
As paddlers, we have a special connection to the rivers, lakes and streams where we all love to play. We anxiously await spring runoff and consistent winter storms to fill our favorite streams with the fresh water that allows us to do what we love–get outdoors and go for a paddle.
The freshwater that feeds our rivers also sustains our lives–we drink it, use it to irrigate fields and water gardens, use it to manufacture goods and extract minerals from the Earth. This supply is limited though, and through our activities we are able to literally remove water from the water cycle, to make it completely unusable anymore. And because of rapid population growth, industrial production and climate change, thousands of people now die every day because they can’t access safe drinking water.
So today, when the world is focused on our freshwater resources, let’s all take some time to think about our favorite river. Is it clean and healthy? My favorite river, the Little White Salmon River in Washington, is abnormally low because of a dismal snowpack. But it’s running for now, and I’m taking today to celebrate the fact that I’m able to paddle its cool waters.
Looking at the meager flows in our rivers this season, it’s a good reminder that we should take every day to celebrate and protect our water and our rivers. And for a real kick in the pants, check out these sobering facts from our friends at American Rivers:
- More than 235,000 river miles in the United States have been channelized.
- More than 600,000 river miles are impounded behind dams.
- More than 25,000 river miles have been dredged for navigation.
- More than 50% of wetlands have been lost or destroyed nationwide in the past century.
- Nearly 40% of the rivers and streams in the U.S. are too polluted for fishing and swimming.
- Thirty percent of the native freshwater fish species in North America are threatened, endangered, or of special concern.
Rivers are threatened. They are the lifeblood of America — flowing from melting glaciers in the mountains to the sea and bridging state and international borders. Some our most iconic species — salmon, eagles and bears — come to the river to feed and live.
And we come to the river to be challenged, motivated and to play. We’ve made protecting the world’s waterways our life’s work, so while World Water Day gave us a day to celebrate rivers, we’re going to go ahead and extend our appreciation to rivers every single day of the year. We’ll never stop celebrating, we’ll never stop exploring and we’ll never stop protecting our rivers.