Water Is Life: Fighting to Protect our Nation’s Rivers

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.” – Steve McQueen 

‘Water is life’, is a phrase that has historical and present meaning. Since the beginning of human civilization, society has been built around water. As the West developed, those in charge ignored the advice of John Wesley Powell. They continued to develop cities where they could not sustainably succeed without the manipulation of river systems.

Today, we still rely on those manipulated natural systems, but we also have a very important choice: to either continue to fight for our rivers, or to turn a blind eye as our new administration overturns laws established to protect human and civil rights. On Wednesday, Scott Pruitt submitted legal documents that will suspend the Obama-Era Clean Water Rule for the next two years. There are federally designated wild and scenic rivers in California that are in danger of losing their protection, unless they are also protected under state law. If these rivers lose their protection, more infrastructure will be built, drilling will occur, and overall disruption of sacred systems will result. 

What are some ways by which you can protect your regional water systems? Talk to your representatives, join a local clean-up crew, donate to larger organizations dedicated to protecting our water systems, or see how you can encourage your local government to continue the work of the Clean Water Rule.

Infographic provided by the NRDC

Why do we need to protect our rivers? 

As the main source of the planets fresh water, watersheds provide homes for plants and animals in many different climates. Not only that, but rivers are also places of spiritual sanctuary. Despite whether or not these sacred places have an impact on the individual, they are worth fighting for because they are the foundation for the health and prosperity of society.

Imagine being in a place where you can hear the constant flow of rushing water as you look up at high stone walls or endless mountain tops. The network of canyons encompasses you for miles on end. It is quiet except for the natural sounds of the earth. Then you realize your mind is being restored to a place of open understanding, reflection, and higher levels of concentration.

Environmental psychologists have found that all of the previously listed reactions to nature are a result of awe on the psyche. There is an overall health benefit for the individual if they are able to access and be in nature.

Awe impacts the psyche at varying levels. This psychological shift can be achieved in an urban park or in the middle of what our western society considers “wilderness”. Despite awe being evoked in any natural setting, the impacts of awe are stronger and more long lasting if an individual had been immersed in a “wilderness” setting for three days or longer. The Great Outdoors Lab, a lab co-sponsored by the Sierra Club and the University of California Berkeley, has started to conduct more experiments concentrating on the quantitative awe factor of river trips.

The experience of awe improves one’s health, in addition to encouraging self-reflection of the small self, versus the vast world, encouraging a sense of curiosity, encouraging one to think beyond oneself and be able to sacrifice for the larger group, and encouraging the link between community integration and physical health. Studies have found that after experiencing awe and allowing for the impacts to settle on the psyche, there is a decrease of cultural malaise, self-focus, greed and materialism, anomie, stress and narrow thought, and underperforming health. After an individual has been immersed in nature they will start to feel a sense of expanded self, generosity, purpose, and perspective. Awe promotes personal growth and provides health benefits.

Edward Abbey wrote: “wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and is as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

We have a choice, to continue to fight for our rivers. What work can you do in your state? Let’s stop remapping our waterscapes and start protecting these wild systems. Water is life.

Dakota Goodman

Dakota Goodman is a senior at UC Berkeley double majoring in History and Society & the Environment with a minor in Human Rights. Her future goals are to attend law school for water rights and to start her own non-profit based on environmental justice promotion through experiential outdoor education on the river. Dakota works as a river guide with O.A.R.S. during the summer and is an avid outdoor adventurer year-round. She is also passionate about poetry and photography.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. I cannot believe we are going backwards on environmental stewardship today. We are lucky to have the places that our predecessors protected still with us. I think the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act cleaned up our cities enough that many to take these protections for granted. Many were born after the dirty air pollution of the 70’s or the filthy rivers and bays of the 60’s and 70’s. We fought hard to clean up and protect these areas. And now they are trying to take our quality of life away along with these protections. We must be vigilant and keep fighting and educating about the importance of environmental preservation. Thanks for writing this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *