Last week I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attending a conference on rivers, River Rally. This is the second conference on rivers that I have been to in less than 10 months. I feel exceedingly lucky, not only because I was able attend the conferences, but also I was a guest at both conferences, all expenses paid.

The first, was the EPA Urban Waters conference last July, in Washington D.C. As the executive director of a watershed organization (Blue River Watershed Association) I was asked to give a presentation about the Urban Waters project that we completed the previous month. The River Network and GroundworkUSA hosted the second conference, River Rally. Blue River Watershed Association won the Environmental Education Expert award by the Urban Waters Learning Network for the Urban Waters project we conducted.

One thing that I am always struck with is the notion of the number of people working (both as a job, and as a volunteer) to improve the rivers throughout the country.

When you drive by a river on your commute, in your travels, or in your community do you ever look at the river? Or, is the river invisible to you? Do you think about the condition of the water – its water quality? Do you even realize where the nearest river is to you? Did you know that many factories and businesses are still allowed to pour waste directly into rivers? Did you know that in some locations of the Metro Area during heavy rainstorms raw sewage goes into the river? Did you know that here in the Kansas City area we get all of our drinking water from the rivers? Yes, that’s right. Raw sewage is going into the very rivers where we pull our drinking water. Sure, it goes through a drinking water treatment plant first, but still.

Does that make you want to drink only bottled water. Unless the bottled water states it is “Spring Water,” or “Mineral Water,” it came out of a tap and put into the bottle. Chances are that the drinking water is cleaner than bottled water because there are more regulations on drinking water, than bottled. Did you know that, “What’s on the Ground – Is in our Water?” True! Stormwater runoff carries litter, chemical, and nonchemical pollutants to the nearest body of water.

There are literally thousands of people in every state working to keep our rivers clean. They are designing educational programs, projects to get people involved, teaching people how to care for rivers, offering recreational opportunities, building “Green Infrastructure” to keep stormwater runoff from going into rivers, and creating funding sources for all of this work to get done.

If you’d like to know more about rivers, volunteer to help local rivers, or teach others about the rivers, let me know. I can hook you up with some people and projects. You’ll have a broader understanding about how the rivers, the land, the wildlife, and people are all interconnected. You’ll love every minute of it and your life will never be the same.


-- Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at