Why do we protect rivers? There are many persuasive reasons why we should protect them, but why we do protect rivers can be more complicated, even mysterious. In the U.S., rivers feed us by irrigating millions of acres of farmland. They store our drinking water. Their dams provide much of our electric power. They carry boats that carry our freight. Yet we sometimes declare part or all of a river off-limits to alteration, obstruction, diversion, or motorized use. Why?
About rivers, Theodore Roosevelt was passionate. That passion changed the character of rivers, landscapes, and life in the Western U.S. More about that later, but first an illustrative and remarkable story. A hundred years ago, Roosevelt co-led a small group that explored Brazil’s intimidating Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt), a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the Amazon on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The expedition was historic, tumultuous, and, as it happened, murderous.