Celebrate Clean Water: Finding Your Voice

I met Gina Salazar from Thornton, Colorado at our recent River Action Day. You can see from her story, as part of our Clean Water series, that she has a passion for rivers that runs deep.

The invitation to join advocates from around the country to attend the 2007 American Rivers Action Day was very timely.  A few months prior, I decided that I wanted to find a way to return to a passion developed in my youth and fulfill some of my personal dreams and promises.

As a child, my mother would tell me colorful stories of her childhood in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado.  These stories were often connected to the stories she heard about her ancestors throughout their lives.  Her family was among the adventurers who left Spain with land grants to explore and settle new lands in an area that would become part of the United States.  Her family came from different communities in “El Valle,” including a very small township bearing her family name, Garcia.  

Almost every story included water.  She played in the clear waters of the local river, Conejos.  Her family for generations enjoyed one of our state’s premier fly-fishing areas. She talked about the wells that provided water for the family.  She talked about the crops that grew on their small parcel of land that depended on the small creeks for irrigation.  She described how the water mixed with clay and straw made the adobe bricks that housed her family.  She reminisced about the delicious flavors of fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and fish. 

Her simple life living off the land changed when the patterns and flow of the local waters changed.  When she was entering her teens, her family moved to Denver to carve out a new life. The story of having to move away from her roots, from the valley her family knew for generations, was not a happy tale.  It was a story that marked both of our lives. It was a story she recalled even as she died from a brain tumor nine years ago.

That is how a child in grade school decided she wanted to fight and protect Colorado’s water.  In the early ’60s the only way I thought I could do this was to be an attorney.  I took every law class offered from junior to high school, as well as a graduate level water law course as an undergraduate at Colorado State University.

In college I took courses in natural resources, policy, sciences and communications.  I even volunteered to join a team of graduate students who were annotating the new Clean Air and Water Acts.  Back then we thought these Acts would protect our air, water, and public safety for generations to come.

Despite decades of preparation, I did not go to law school after graduating from college. Life opened another door, and I helped build a U.S. business with operations in Greece.  For the past two and a half decades, I have used my business and communications skills to foster many social initiatives for corporations and nonprofits. 

But it was just months ago, I asked myself, “What happened to my dream to be a voice for our rivers?”  I still don’t know today how I received the invitation from American Rivers to attend their River Action Day.  I signed up immediately without knowing the specific issues that I would discuss.  I just wanted to get back into the flow and see where the current would take me.

When I learned that I would speak about the Clean Water Restoration Act, I knew I was at the right place, at the right time even though my life took a different path to get here.  The Clean Water Restoration Act reaffirms the original intent of the Clean Water Act by ensuring that small streams and big rivers are protected alike. Here in Colorado, small streams help provide water during times of drought and are endangered from pollution and destruction without Clean Water Act protections. 72% of streams in our state do not flow year round – but it is these streams that are the lifeblood for clean water and for the fish that captivate me for hours on end. The DC trip reminded me that rivers are in my blood.  I am looking forward to this new chapter in my life.