River Recovery - Everybody Can Help

One fine morning, the old wooden dam went up in clouds of smoke and broken timber. It was a huge thing—ancient and strong, built to tame the Rappahannock River. Once the power of the water pushing against it had provided electricity for the town. But that was years ago. The dam was falling apart, but so slowly that it was becoming dangerous. So the Army Corps of Engineers blew it up one morning.

Suddenly the river was running freely again—just as it had in the time of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. By getting rid of the dam, the river had a chance to go back to what it once was. There would be more fish which would mean more birds, and, really more of everything.

When the water stopped flowing years ago, the many creatures that depended on it for a living were affected. Some fish couldn’t make a go of it and died.

The Rappahannock is coming back, but it isn’t completely safe from other problems. When people get rid of the trees that grow near the river, it may make their own view a little better, but by doing this they take away the important tree roots that keep the soil from washing away downstream.

When real estate developers create huge parking lots or roads near the river, oil leaking from cars and other pollution can become part of the storm water run off that flows into the rivers, messing up their ecosystems. Roads and parking lots are usually paved with asphalt. Asphalt is impermeable which means that rain water falling on asphalt can not sink into the ground. The water flows straight off of it and usually finds its way to the river.

Two things can help prevent this: retention basins and alternative paving. Both keep the water closer to the paved area and further away from the river. Retention basins gather the runoff in one spot so the oil and other pollutants can separate out and then be removed. Alternative paving lets the water seep into the ground because it’s made to be permeable (lets the water pass through it). Some kinds of alternative paving are made from recycled tire treads, bricks, stones (with gaps inbetween), and special paving blocks.

You may not be able to build better parking lots yourself, but there are a lot of things everyone can do to make the local river healthier:

  • Use water-based paints, biodegradable (phosphate-free) soaps, and other cleaning products that aren’t hazardous: orange cleaners, baking soda, vinegar, and elbow grease!
  • Use natural pest controls instead of insecticides in gardens (for instance, pick or wash off pests; plant lots of flowers and herbs to attract “beneficial” insects).
  • Use compost and other stable sources of organic matter in gardens rather than synthetic fertilizers.
  • Don’t dump motor oil; take it to be recycled.
  • Use a scooper to pick up pet waste.
  • Drive less. Walk, bicycle, take the bus, or share a ride.
  • Don’t waste water. Take shorter showers, grow native plants, stop leaks, use buckets rather than hoses at car washes.

 These tips came from the KidsRegen.org Web site.

Learn More About Rivers in the Library!
If you have a CRRL library card, you can request that these books be held for you. Just click on the title, and then click on Request to get started. Don't live in our area? Check with your home library for these and other books about rivers:

Pond & River by Steve Parker.
A photo essay about the types of plants and animals found in fresh water throughout the year. Learn how they live and survive at the edge of the water, on its surface, and under the mud.

Rivers by Norman and Madelyn Carlisle
Tells how a river begins and grows and how it influences the land that it flows through. Also discusses the many ways people use rivers and the importance of keeping them clean and unpolluted.

River Life by Barbara Taylor
Discover animals and plants that live along a river.

For Younger Students

A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison
Learn about a drop of water's journey through nature.

Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean by Arthur Dorros
Explains how water flows from brooks, to streams, to rivers, over waterfalls, through canyons and dams, to eventually reach the ocean.

Rivers and Lakes by Helena Ramsay
The nature and origin of water, how it can form rivers and lakes, and how people can use such bodies of water. Part of the Step by Step Geography series.

On the Web

Friends of the Rappahannock
The Friends offer an ecology program for students during the summer and also during the school year called At the River's Edge. They host river clean-ups and hikes as well as tubing and canoeing trips. Check out their Programs/Advocacy/Keep the River Healthy! section for lots of good ideas on water conservation.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: A Glossary of Water-Related Terms 
More advanced students may find this resource useful for planning projects and writing papers. Virginia Cooperative Extension also hosts local youth 4-H Clubs which often focus on environmentalism.

Virginia Naturally--Students
Virginia Naturally gives access to statewide environmental education resources including information about volunteer opportunities, educational classes, contests, places to visit, community events, watershed maps, lesson plans, and recreational activities.