A few months ago Gary Belan, Director of the Clean Water Program at American Rivers was a guest on #landscapechat. American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams, so I suggested he share some of his work in the form of a guest blog for ValleyCrestTakesOn. Below is his contribution about how rivers impact our lives. I’m sure you will enjoy it and look for American Rivers to be back on #landscapechat soon.
Rivers. It’s a pretty simple word to most people. Over countless millennia people have settled along rivers, built on rivers and depended on them as a cornerstone to a thriving city. They acted as defensive barriers, transportation, sources of food and drinking water, and in some cases they were incorporated into religious practices. So for thousands of years we were very aware of the impacts of rivers on our lives.
Rivers still have a tremendous impact on our lives. But if you ask many people in the United States today what the closest river to them is or why that river is important to them, they often don’t know. For example, most people don’t realize most of our drinking water comes from rivers. We also put our treated wastewater back into the river. Drinking tap water is fine by me – but this becomes alarming when untreated sewage or waste bypass this system and still end up in our rivers. This results in higher costs to treat our drinking water, increasing risks for illness while recreating on a river, and damage to the wildlife on that river.
Rivers and wetlands are built to absorb flood waters. They are actually made to flood. Uncontrolled development adds additional floodwaters to a river – rain falling on hard surfaces, like roads, is channeled directly into streams and rivers, rather than being absorbed into the soil. Filling in a river’s wetlands destroys its natural ability to absorb floodwaters, causing neighborhoods to plunge underwater.
Which leads me to the big question – what does this mean for you and me?
First, everyone should know that the land they live on is connected to a river. Whenever it rains, the water pouring off your roof, driveway, and lawn, trickles into a river near you – along with all the pollution it picks up along the way. This includes pesticides, fertilizers, oil and grease to name a few. It is important that every citizen educate themselves and spread the word. Find out which river your drinking water comes from and where your wastewater flows.
Once you are armed with this knowledge, take action to minimize your impact on the river. There are a lot of great landscaping techniques, like rain gardens , that can make your yard function more naturally, and benefit your local streams and rivers too. Even businesses and large buildings are getting into the act. American Rivers has been advocating for this type of work for nearly 40 years, and progress is being made.
Additionally, watching your water use is another great way to positively impact your river. The less water we take out of the river, the less stress there is on that river.
For immediate results, volunteer with National River Cleanup® . Cleaning the river you love directly benefits your clean water and community.
Gary Belan is the Director of the Clean Water Program at American Rivers. A specialist in stormwater management and planning, with particular expertise in green infrastructure, Gary manages staff located throughout the Great Lakes Basin who work to promote and implement green infrastructure. He advises multiple on-the-ground restoration projects, initiates state and federal policy initiatives, and works as overall green infrastructure adviser for American Rivers nationally.
Gary has written a number of publications and articles working to further promote and streamline the use of green infrastructure techniques and planning nationwide through education, direct implementation and federal policy, and is widely seen as one of the foremost experts on the topic in the Great Lakes. Gary has a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Virginia, an M.A. in Environmental Policy from American University, and a executive certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University.