We look out for our rivers, streams and lakes through laws. To a remarkable extent we also look out for our waters through organized citizen action.
By one estimate there are as many as 6,000 nonprofit lake associations, river councils and watershed coalitions in the United States that campaign to conserve watershed lands and lobby to take down dams that block the passage of fish; their volunteers also haul trash out of rivers and test the quality of local waters.
All this action, which also includes the advocacy and clean-water campaigns of national groups such as the Izaak Walton League and Trout Unlimited and American Rivers, comes at a time when Americans are said to be receding from public life – not joining the PTA or running for local office, for example.
Evidently, inland waters have a different pull.
In Central Maine members of the nonprofit Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed campaign to teach waterside property owners what they can do to prevent run-off into streams and ponds.
Since 2003 volunteers from the Shadow Lake Association in northern Vermont have been washing down trailered boats with 140-degree water to keep invasive weeds out of the lake.
In 2005, alarmed about polluting run-off, a group of residents in southern Connecticut formed a group they called Save the River Save the Hills to protect local waters from contamination. Among other things, the 400-member organization runs a boat pump-out station that annually keeps 6,000 gallons of sewage from getting into the water.
In 2014 the Ashuelot River Local Advisory Committee in southwestern New Hampshire organized more than 100 college students to pull 1,800 pounds of trash from local waters.
This inclination to citizen action is apparently in our DNA. Here’s how Alexis de Tocqueville saw it during his inspection tour of the American scene in 1835 when he came upon countless volunteers getting together in citizen associations for the common good:
“Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.
“In America I encountered sorts of associations of which, I confess, I had no idea, and I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely.”
No doubt there’s a river council or lake association near where you live. And no doubt there’s a place for you in their ranks.