What Is River Conservation?

B. Miller

River conservation refers to the protection and ecologically beneficial management of rivers and other waterways. This can involve practices such as laws that regulate the types and amounts of pollutants that can be discharged into the river, protection of land along the river to create a wetland buffer, or simple community river cleanup days. As with other aspects of land management and conservation, river conservation requires citizens concerned about the rivers in their area to step forward and take action, to ensure that they remain clean, safe places for wildlife to survive, and enjoyable places for scenic beauty and recreation.

People may choose to pick up trash to aid in river conservation.
People may choose to pick up trash to aid in river conservation.

One of the most important aspects of river conservation is laws and policies designed to prevent pollutant discharges into rivers. These laws often address point-source pollution, such as that which comes from a specific source, like a factory. Non-point source pollution, such as agricultural runoff, is more difficult to address with legislation. In this case, zoning or land-use regulations that require structures, homes, or farms to be set back a certain distance from a river to prevent pollution is one option. Keeping river edges buffered with vegetation and trees, rather than clear-cutting, can also help to prevent runoff as well as reduce erosion on the riverbank.

A wetland river.
A wetland river.

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Because rivers cannot be privately owned, they cannot be protected with other traditional land protection options like conservation easements. Easements can only protect the land along the river. For this reason, river conservation needs to be a community effort as well. Many communities organize river cleanup days, where teams of people will come armed with gloves and trash bags and pick up the trash along the edges of the river as well as what they can reach in the water. This is very important to protect wildlife as well, as birds, fish, or mammals could potentially ingest trash, which could be harmful or fatal.

Another example of river conservation is educational programs to inform local people about the river, the plants, and animals that call it home, and educate them on what they can do to protect it. Often, people are simply unaware of how they could help to preserve a river, but would be more than willing to volunteer to help out. These types of programs are often given at schools or for free to the public. Though they may not directly impact the river, indirectly they can make a big difference if people decide to share the information they have learned, or to take action.

River conservation may include educational programs centered on a river and its ecosystem.
River conservation may include educational programs centered on a river and its ecosystem.

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