Focusing On The Conservation of Ecosystems, Habitats & Wildlife

Streams and Rivers

8125086FYA – For your Awareness

Streams and rivers are considered the arteries of the planet, supplying fresh water needed to sustain life. Only 3% of the water on earth is fresh water yet it supports over 700 species of fish. Of the 3% about 2/3 is inaccessible in glaciers or polar ice caps, leaving only 1% of the earth’s supply. The average American uses 2,000 gallons of water daily, twice the global average. With so little water at our disposal it is important to conserve.

What are Streams & Rivers?

Streams and rivers are bodies of fresh water that move in one direction. Steams are smaller rivers. Both are characterized as lotic ecosystems because water is flowing. Rivers can be found everywhere and no two are alike. The source of rivers is at the headwater which can originate from a spring, snowmelt, or lake. At the headwaters the water is purer, has higher oxygen levels, and a cooler temperature. Rivers travel all the way to their mouth where they empty into another body of water, often the ocean or even a lake. They are dynamic and change over their course, and sometimes they join with other rivers, called tributaries. At the middle of the river, the width increases and there is a wider diversity of plants, algae, and birds. As the river continues its journey it picks up sediment and can become murky, which decreases the light that penetrates the water. With less light, comes less diversity of flora. Catfish and carp live in these murky areas of rivers.

Rivers provide habitats for plants, animals, and birds; they are impacted by flow, light, temperature and chemistry. The flow is the amount and strength of the water which can determine which plant and animal species are suitable. Light provides energy to plants through photosynthesis and controls which species of fish and animals can sustain life. The water’s temperature can determine which plant and animals survive. And the river’s chemistry consisting of the soil type, rocks, and nutrients will also shape the plant and animal species.

Just as each river is unique, so are the plants and animals that live there. Species that can be found in or around rivers include: mosquitoes and flies, snails, crab, crayfish, mussels, tiny fingernail clams, trout, salmon, sculpins, minnows, bass, catfish, frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes, eels, lamprey, crocodiles, alligators, badgers, minks, otters, beavers, ducks, geese, and swans. Plants can be very different depending on the location, geography and climate, and the location within the river. Plants often live at the edge of the river, where the current is slower. They can include: pond lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack and black spruce, cypress and gum, tapegrass, water stargrass, willow trees, and river birch.

Where are Streams and Rivers located?

Streams and rivers are located everywhere and they are one of the few biomes that are not restricted by geography. Rivers represent one of the largest freshwater ecosystems.

Why are Streams & Rivers important to protect?

For thousands of years streams and rivers have been home to numerous communities worldwide. Rivers are an important source of clean drinking water, irrigation of crops, and a source for fish and other food sources. They have been instrumental in providing water for manufacturing and in the transportation of products and people. Rivers are even a source of power, by generating electricity to power our cities. And rivers are beautiful places to recreate.

When are Steams & Rivers under threat?

There are many threats to streams and rivers. By far, humans pose the biggest threat. Pollution through littering, discharge of chemicals, storm water and effluent, all compromise the water supply and its’ ability to function as an ecosystem. Building dams and water-diversion systems interfere with migration routes for fish and disrupts their habitats. Land development and population growth causes an increased demand for water and strains the water supply. The use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture gets into the water supply through run-off.  An example of extreme river pollution is the Cuyahoga in Cleveland that was once so polluted by garbage and oil it would catch fire. Now it has been cleaned up and is once again becoming a healthy habitat for animals. Unfortunately there are still many rivers throughout the world that remain heavily polluted.

Who is protecting Steams & Rivers?

American Rivers has since 1973, protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Since The National River Cleanup Campaign began more than 1,241,610 volunteers have participated in thousands of cleanups across the country covering more than 252,694 miles of waterways. These cleanups have removed more than 20.7 million pounds of litter and debris from America’s rivers and streams

The Nature Conservancy has programs to support rivers in 30 countries and 50 states. Their Water Funds helps raise money to conserve water sources before they become polluted.

World Wildlife Federation has many programs to help conserve and protect fresh water habitats. Their aim is to work with local organizations to identify, protect, and educate about the critical nature of these natural habitats for current and future generations. 

How can we protect Streams & Rivers?

There are many ways to protect our streams and rivers. If we think of water as a precious resource it will change the way we use it. Energy and water are connected. It takes energy to pump, filter, and distribute water to our homes. And water is used in the generation of electricity. By replacing inefficient hot water heaters, toilets, and faucets, we will use less electricity and less water. Ultimately using less energy is the equivalent of removing cars from the road and it’s good for our planet.

There are some easy ways to conserve both water and electricity. Run washing machines and dishwashers only when they are full and if possible use energy saving features. Turn off the faucet when brushing teeth. Take shorter showers, have a timer to keep bathing shorter. Turn off lights and unplug chargers. Water is used in all forms of energy generation. It can take over 4 gallons of water to keep a 60-watt light bulb lit for 12 hours. Use biodegradable cleaning products, since they go down the drain and eventually enter our water supply. Eliminate meat from your diet once per week. It can take up to 600 gallons of water to produce one hamburger. Use drought tolerant plants in your yard and only water when absolutely necessary. Plant a tree in your yard which prevents soil erosion and top-soil washing into rivers. Sweep rather than rinsing off the driveway or patio.

Keep pharmaceuticals out of our water supply. Dispose of unused prescription drugs, hormones, vitamins, and other substances at drop-off locations not in the toilet. This also protects our water supplies.

Participate in a National River Cleanup Program to clean up a local river. By registering a cleanup with American Rivers, organizers receive free trash bags, assistance with online and print media coverage, volunteer promotion online and technical support.

Educate yourself on threats to local rivers in your community and/or where you go for recreation. Contact government officials when you learn of projects that might place our rivers in jeopardy, to voice support for protecting our rivers. Don’t assume other people will protect rivers, be a voice for saving rivers. Always conserve water and support initiatives that call for water conservation at the local, state, and national levels. Call for the elimination of harmful pesticides and fertilizers for agricultural and home garden use. Finally you can make a donation to organizations that protect rivers.