In October, I got an email from Lowell George, American Rivers‘ National River Cleanup Manager. It made my day. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you can probably guess where this is going and why I’d be excited.
Yes, Lowell wanted to talk trash or more specifically, litter. She stumbled onto my Make a Pact, Pack it Out initiative when I tagged one of my litter pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #rivercleanup. The picture populated in American Rivers’ online “Virtual Landfill,” a campaign to celebrate National River Cleanup’s 25th anniversary. She correctly guessed there’s synergy between the work we do and wanted to collaborate.
As it turns out, there’s exactly 25 days left in 2016, which means you can “bring it home” for American Rivers by joining its River Cleanup Pledge, a challenge to pick up 25 pieces of trash (more on the pledge below)—that’s just one piece of litter a day.
And because a little nudge never hurts, those who participate in the Cleanup and share at least one of your photos with me via email or social media, will be entered into a contest to have $25 donated to American Rivers by me in your name (one person will be chosen at random). A pretty sweet deal considering the American Rivers Board of Directors will match $2 for every $1 donated (up to $150,000 until December 31), so $25 becomes $75—tripling your stewardship efforts.
I interviewed Lowell to learn more about American Rivers, the River Cleanup Pledge, and the interconnectedness of our water systems. As she points out in the interview, a river cleanup can happen anywhere—your neighborhood, a park or on a trail—since rainfall and wind can carry litter to storm drains and then quickly into our rivers. Read on to learn more and then start your Pledge today!
What does American Rivers do?
American Rivers works to protect wild rivers, restore endangered rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign, and our National River Cleanup® program. We’re headquartered in Washington, DC but have offices and staff across the country. Through our river conservation work, we’re ensuring clean drinking water supplies, revitalizing fish and wildlife, improving recreation, and leaving a legacy of healthy rivers for future generations.
What are some threats to our rivers?
Our rivers are seeing constant threats. America’s clean water supplies are becoming increasingly stretched each year – the pressures of rising population, agricultural and energy demands, and the growing effects of climate change all have a major impact on our rivers and water resources. Old, dangerous, and ineffective dams, built decades or centuries ago, are obstructing natural flows and hurting populations of migratory fish and other river fauna. Imbalanced reliance on energy sources such as hydropower, mining, fracking, oil, and gas development can have significant and long-lived impacts on clean water and vitality of rivers. Strong floodplains and meadows are key to river health, but with increased development and mismanagement of these spaces, our waterways, and the communities that depend on them are jeopardized. Though even with all the threats and challenges to river health, we have the opportunity for innovative and effective solutions.
How does litter end up in our rivers and water systems?
Litter finds its way into our rivers and water systems in several ways. The most direct route is from an individual’s hand down into the river or onto its banks. This can happen when people are out enjoying the river and accidentally leave trash behind, or more directly, as people get rid of things they no longer need. Another way trash finds its way into the rivers is from runoff. Trash dropped on streets or sidewalks, thrown from car windows on highways, or spilled from garbage bags and cans can be washed or blown into a stream or river.
The debris can also be transported by rain or wind from the street into storm drains. From there, the water in the storm drain carries trash directly out to the river. During periods of high flow, the trash can be moved downstream, and when the flow weakens or tides go out, the trash is deposited on the banks or along the riverbed. Rivers are highly connected systems and being cognizant of litter anywhere you go is a great way to keep trash out of our waterways.
What’s the history of the National River Cleanup?
National River Cleanup (NRC) is a key public engagement initiative for American Rivers. What started as a single day event in 1991, evolved into a weeklong cleanup effort, and eventually became a yearlong celebration of rivers. Since its inception 25 years ago, NRC has engaged more than 1.3 million volunteers who have participated in thousands of cleanups across the country. We have covered more than 252,694 miles of waterways and removed more than 25 million pounds of litter and debris. In 2015 alone, 46,448 volunteers across 1,370 sites removed over two million pounds of trash. We’re guaranteed to beat those numbers in 2016!
What’s the River Cleanup Pledge?
We launched the River Cleanup Pledge this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of NRC and make river cleanups more accessible to the public. You don’t need to be on or in a river to do a river cleanup; by picking up trash around your house, in your neighborhood, or alongside a road, you are preventing litter from being carried into a waterway, where it can harm plants, animals, and even humans. Those who take the pledge are challenged to pick up 25 pieces of trash over 25 days. Once volunteers have picked up their trash, they are encouraged to take photos of their items and post them to social media with the hashtag #RiverCleanup.
The photos are pulled into our Virtual Landfill, creating a record of all the trash kept out of our rivers and the volunteers working hard to keep our waterways clean. The pledge will run until the end of 2016, when the 25th anniversary of NRC ends.
Can you share a memorable impact story?
I’ve heard a lot of highlights from organizers in the field and have had moving experiences of my own, so it’s hard to choose just one. One local organizer doing a cleanup on the Maumee River in Ohio reported back the highlight of her event was when she asked the volunteers what they had found during their cleanup, and one volunteer responded “my purpose.” While the reaction may seem strong to some, river cleanups can have that impact on people. There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with caring for your own backyard and making a big, visible difference in your community.
How can we protect and preserve our rivers?
There are a lot of small, easy things we can do on a daily basis. Be careful about where you put your trash and where it could end up with a little wind or rain. Limit water use at home to conserve our limited freshwater resources. Stand up and advocate for rivers when they come under attack from new developments. Steward and recreate on your rivers, as use is a great way to show local businesses and governments that waterways are assets to communities. Always keep learning about river health and conservation, and pass that knowledge onto your friends, family, and children. Really knowing the significance of rivers, the threats to them, and what you can do to take a stand is extremely important.
How can the community get involved with American Rivers?
Aside from cleanups and our River Cleanup Pledge, people can get involved with American Rivers in a few ways. We encourage everyone to signup for our e-newsletters to stay updated on our latest work. We send out emails to our supporters when we have an issue that needs attention from and action by the public. In order to mobilize individuals effectively and get their voices heard, we have an Action Center on our website where you can sign petitions, send letters to your local representatives, and learn more about the issues at hand. Finally, you can get involved and support our work as a nonprofit by donating. Through the generous support of our donors, we’re able to come to work every day and work to solve the issues facing rivers.
Anything else you’d like to share?
A lot of the work American Rivers does is successful due to partnerships with and support from other nonprofits, government agencies, corporations, and individuals. The best outcomes are those that involve many stakeholders and take into consideration diverse viewpoints. We appreciate all the groups we work with to further protect wild rivers, restore endangered rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature.
A special thank you to Lowell for her time and insightful interview.
I hope you’ll join me in American Rivers’ River Cleanup Pledge and pick up 25 pieces trash for our rivers. Stay tuned for more from American Rivers and a Spring 2017 contest.