Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rivers in the news, in need of protection, and linking rural with urban

Rivers are not quintessentially rural "things," but a number of recent prominent stories about rivers and their well-being (or lack thereof) have prompted this post.  After all, rivers are one ways in which rural and urban places are connected, and that seems especially important right now, as rural advocates increasingly seek to convince the world--well, especially urbanites--that rural and urban are indelibly linked and reliant on each other.  (See this 2008 piece from The Daily Yonder, which seems startlingly more relevant now than it did then, if only because of the surprising outcome of Election 2016).

The first story that caught my eye was this one out of New Zealand last month, about the parliamentary vote there to designate two guardians of the Whanganui River.  The two will represent the 90-mile river in all legal matters concerning it.  Colin Dwyer for NPR reports that the legislation is a "monumental victory for the local Māori people,  who view the river as 'an indivisible and living whole,' according to Gerrard Albert, lead negotiator for the Whanganui tribe. " The act of parliament also includes $80 million in financial redress and $30 million toward improving the river's health.  Adrian Rurawhe, a Māori member of Parliament, told the New Zealand Herald regarding this culmination of 140 years of legal wrangling:
It's not that we've changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them.
Dwyer quotes Clay Finlayson, New Zealand's Minister for Treaty of Whanganui Negotiations:   
I know the initial inclination of some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality.  But it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies.
Other recent river stories in the United States have been about Tennessee rivers threatened by coal ash and the Colorado River in Arizona.

The latter story, dateline Yuma, Arizona, includes this lede:
The Rev. Victor Venalonzo opened his New Testament to the Book of Revelation on a recent Sunday and offered the men and women assembled at Iglesia Betania for a weekly Bible study a fresh look at its apocalyptic message.
Journalist Fernanda Santos quotes Venalonzo regarding that message as it relates to the Colorado River:
We’re failing as stewards of God’s creation, but these changes we’re seeing, that’s not God punishing us — we’re destroying ourselves.  
The shift in Venalonzo's focus--from topics more directly affecting his congregants such as poverty  and employer exploitation--has come in part because "development, drought, overuse and a drier, warming climate threaten the Colorado River, the source of the water they drink and use to irrigate the fields where they work."  The Colorado, of course, famously flows through--indeed, formed--the Grand Canyon, but it loses steam before flowing into Los Angeles.

And here's an excerpt about the Tennessee story, which is about coal ash pollution and which implicates rivers throughout the Southeast:
Coal ash gets far less attention than toxic and greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but it has created environmental and health problems — every major river in the Southeast has at least one coal ash pond — and continuing legal troubles and large cleanup costs for the authority and other utilities.
A caption for a photo featured with that story says:
The Gallatin Fossil Plant, a coal-burning power plant run by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Gallatin, Tenn. Coal ash from the plant has been seeping into groundwater and the river, two recent lawsuits say, possibly threatening drinking water for a million people.
The rivers mentioned elsewhere in the story are the Cumberland, Emory and Tennessee.

In addition to these two stories, this blog and the daily news feature many others about rivers.  There are, of course, the years of publicity linking the Flint River to the Flint water and lead poisoning crisis, such as this one. And then there are my numerous posts about the well-being of the Buffalo National River, near my own hometown. Here is but one of those posts, and I published this op-ed on the matter--comparing it to the Flint crisis--about a year ago.

Plus, I have been reading the editorials that won Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, and you know what:  the hub of the dispute discussed in most of the editorials is BigAg's pollution of the Raccoon River in northwest Iowa--and who should pay for clean up and monitoring.

All of this has me thinking about the ways we might use shared concern about rivers and their well-being to achieve rural-urban coalitions.  I hope others will brainstorm with me, as finding such common ground--identifying the inter-reliance of rural and urban--seems especially important these days.   

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