A recent local newspaper article examined the impacts of development within river corridors through the lens of recent oil spills resulting from breaches of the oil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana.
Gushing oil in the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river remaining in America, unfortunately illustrates only one of many cumulative impacts to our cherished rivers. Toxic chemicals, nutrient pollution, dams, dredging, riparian development up to the edge of rivers, the loss of floodplains- all of these threats cumulatively impact the waters we love and that we love to fish. If you were to put your drift boat in at the mountain headwaters of your favorite river and float to its terminus at the ocean it spills to, you would encounter greater and greater damage as you moved downstream.
This is not to say that development, technology, or society are incompatible with health rivers and clean water. Instead, many of our cherished waters are approaching or have already reached a tipping point. In many cases the tipping point may be water that is undrinkable, may not be safely allow for swimming, or the fish successfully pulled from the waters eaten, in short falling far short of the goals of the Clean Water Act. We have reached a point in our societal path where we need to examine with open eyes and open minds the trade-offs that exist between continued development of our waters and conservation of such a limited resource, an examination that hopefully is informed by our love of the sport of fly fishing.