This article by Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers and Marc Berejka, President of the REI Foundation, originally appeared in the Denver Post on July 20, 2018.
Upon signing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act on October 2, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson said, “Every individual and every family should get to know at least one river.”
Rivers have always been central to our country’s greatest outdoor adventure stories, both real and fictional: John Wesley Powell’s descent down the Green and Colorado rivers; Lewis and Clark exploring the Missouri, Snake and Columbia; and Huck Finn floating the mighty Mississippi.
Today, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, rivers are still pathways to discovery and connection: A grandparent takes a child fishing for the first time. Friends enjoy a multi-day rafting trip. A family shares a weekend picnic at a waterfront park.
From the heart of our busiest cities to our most remote wilderness, rivers give us opportunities to fish, float, swim and explore. Healthy rivers are vital to the outdoor industry, and every year Americans spend $86 billion on watersports. Rivers nationwide provide two-thirds of our clean drinking water supplies — essential to our health and communities. Here in the west, the Colorado River is vital to the economies of seven states, supporting $1.4 trillion in economic output, $871 billion in wages and 16 million jobs annually.
The importance of healthy rivers and clean water to our economy will be front and center this week, as thousands gather in Denver for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, North America’s largest tradeshow in the outdoor industry.
These brands, retailers, suppliers, athletes and conservation leaders are a powerful force. And now is the time to put our power to work on behalf of healthy rivers. Coast to coast, rivers and water supplies face increasing threats — including development on our public lands; new dams and diversions and drought; and other impacts from climate change.
The impacts have been particularly noticeable in Colorado in recent weeks as rivers from Denver to Steamboat have been closed to recreation due to low flows and warm temperatures. State wildlife officials have advised anglers to avoid fishing when water temperatures increase in the afternoon.
Those gathering in Denver this week are in the business of helping people get to know rivers and the great outdoors. We also all need to be in the business of river conservation, to ensure these special places endure for our children and grandchildren.
There are many ways business, nonprofit and elected leaders can make a difference. We have seen, first-hand, how efforts to embrace water conservation, support river cleanups and lead restoration projects create positive, lasting change. Now is the time to take action, together. Because rivers nurture our spirits, they power our economy, and they will carry us into the future.
Bob Irvin is President of American Rivers, which works to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature. Marc Berejka is President of the REI Foundation, which works to help ensure that tomorrow’s outdoor enthusiasts and conservation stewards reflect the diversity of America.