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Compassion: A Surprising Ingredient in the Recipe for Cool, Clean Water

Our Oregon field rep hangs up her waders for a high-profile public-speaking opportunity in D.C., where she discovers a spirit of hope for water solutions

Last year, Oregon experienced the worst drought on record, with many adverse effects on our rivers and fish. I saw firsthand the results of drought and dam regulations in my own backyard on the Deschutes River, renowned for its native Redside trout. Water temperatures reached up to 74 degrees as salmon arrived, searching for a cooler refuge from the Columbia River—but the cooler water wasn’t there. The rising water temperatures caused an algae bloom that clung to the banks and rocks. Warm-water macroinvertabrates, such as water skippers, were abundant, but the expected cool-water mayflies and stoneflies were few and far between.

The river I knew was almost unrecognizable.

Mia Sheppard trout fishing in Oregon's Deschutes River. (Marty Sheppard)

Mia Sheppard trout fishing in Oregon’s Deschutes River. (Marty Sheppard)

I recently hung up my waders to walk the halls of the Eisenhower building, part of the White House complex, in a navy blue suit. And I felt the energy of change, as people hustled around me. Access to suitable water resources seems like a human right, but our fish and wildlife have rights to clean, cool water, too. As an angler, I know that salmon, steelhead, and trout need the right water conditions to thrive. While there are some policies in place that begin to help during a drought crisis, we need federal decision-makers to prioritize actions that invest long-term in better water quality for healthy, viable rivers and our outdoor recreation opportunities.

In celebration of World Water Day, the White House convened a water summit where innovators, policy-makers, advocates, and media were gathered to discuss our country’s water future. I was honored to attend and share my personal connection with water through fishing, especially as one of the only representatives of the sportsmen’s community. I had three minutes to reflect on the importance of considering fish, wildlife, and outdoor opportunities in concert with infrastructure challenges, human consumption, and water use for agriculture and forestry. I talked about the Deschutes and found myself getting choked up as I told the crowd, “When fish lose, we lose.” I guess that was the moment that I really felt the impact of what I’d seen during the drought and dam regulators were drawing  the warmer surface water of Lake Billy Chinook

I felt confident and composed, however, when I shared that the TRCP’s petition recognizing serious threats to rivers and streams and calling on federal decision-makers for action has been signed by more than 1,000 sportsmen and women. It was nice to know these kindred spirits were standing with me, in a sense, at the podium.

As the summit came to a close, Pueblo Tribal Councilman Nelson Cordova from Taos, New Mexico, recited a prayer in his native tongue asking for the wisdom, strength, and compassion to deal with our water issues. Compassion, which was the last thing I expected from a D.C. crowd in suits and heels, was certainly what I heard from longtime colleagues, strangers, and local anglers after my speech. I’d shown more emotion than I’d intended, but many people assured me they felt the same way.

If you want to learn more about the changing water conditions on the Deschutes River, click here.

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Compassion: A Surprising Ingredient in the Recipe for Cool, Clean Water

One Response

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