On Threatened Rivers
I'm really not a coastal person, even though I live just a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, and I'm not a mountain person, even though I grew up in Idaho. I'm a river person, geologically speaking, which makes me closer to Mark Twain than to Herman Melville or Vardis Fisher. Rivers are ways out, obviously, but they are also ways back to some finer sources; their watersheds define continental divides; and I love the adjectives we create from rivers: estuarine, riparian.
A tremendous environmental organization, American Rivers, annually lists the ten most threatened rivers in the United States, a way to bring attention to specific (and correctable) threats to rivers. This year's list includes the Boise River, the river of my childhood, and the Caloosahatchee, the river of my current life.
The Boise River is truly a western river, fast moving, cold, and clear. Its sources are the Sawtooth Mountains, and two dams have been erected, Lucky Peak and Arrowrock, primarily to provide irrigation for the rich farmland of the Magic and Treasure Valleys. The current threat is the Atlanta Gold Mine Company's plans to blast out two deep mining pits, with the resultant likelihood of cyanide leaching into the river through extraction processing. This project had been abandoned two years ago, but investors from Japan have backed it due to the rapid rise in gold prices--thanks to concerns of America's involvement in the Middle East. Boiseans love this river, as it does go through the heart of the city, truly an oasis for fishing, tubing, and strolling. Culturally, however, Idahoans are extremely conservative, and they are not quick to intefere with free enterprise, but they may be bigoted enough to stop this foreign backed venture. Prognosis: salvageable, but for ugly reasons.
The Caloosahatchee was an oxbow meandering river, whose source was the sheetflow of the Everglades, a murky, wide, shallow, and lazy affair of a river. The Army Corps of Engineers, however, straightened it, and connected it by canals to Lake Okeechobee, so that it has become a mechanism of flood control for South Florida. Periodically, the water managers order "releases" of Lake Okeechobee, which floods the Caloosahatchee with "nutrient laden" run-off--essentially, the water polluted with fertilizers. While technically not toxic, this discharge creates an imbalance in the sediment, supercharging especially non-native plant species. Furthermore, the artificial release of this fresh water creates an imbalance in the brackish water in the bays at the Caloosahatchee's mouth, stressing oyster beds, mangrove habitat, and fish and crabs. The long-term threat to the river, however, is the urbanization of Southwest Florida, of which I have contributed to. The grand scheme of Everglade Restoration (and this is a joke, as it is more about creating an acquifer system for lawn maintenance than rehabilitating damaged ecosystems) seems woefully insufficient to redress this damage. Prognosis: terminal, I'm afraid.