I am writing to readers of the Chieftain to give voice to those who have none: our nonhuman relatives and many other members of our community who support the protections that would be provided by Sen. Ron Wyden’s River Democracy Act. As a resident of Halfway — Nimiipuu Lands — I am happy to be joined by many friends, neighbors, and importantly, the Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes.
Clean, cold waters sustain rich aquatic habitats that produce fish and wildlife in diversity and abundance. That so many rural voices have nominated not just big, iconic rivers, but also smaller tributaries for protection, bespeaks a collective wisdom in seeing our water cycle in a holistic manner.
Opposition to including these is not unlike treating a cardiovascular problem by solely focusing on the arteries — a questionable practice with a likely sorry outcome.
I invite readers to consider a case study I observed in the mid-2000s, working on salmon recovery with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) in Pendleton.
Studies of the Umatilla River by their natural resources staff demonstrated how railroads and highways blocked the flow of surface and ground water into the main channel. This disconnect prevented the mixing of cooler waters with the warming main stream and degraded the aquatic habitat for cold water fish species.
The tribe’s salmon-restoration strategy aimed to reconnect these hyporheic flows by protecting their headwaters and breaching barriers across the flood plain.
Thermal pollution is a leading factor impairing the quality of our surface waters. This is a problem for humans and nonhumans alike. If we genuinely care about protecting the values of our waterways, it would be irresponsible of us to exclude tributaries, intermittent streams and wetlands from the protections of the River Democracy Act. I applaud Sen. Wyden and his river nominations for their vision.