What makes river conservation succeed?

IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy, left, joins other River Hero Award recipients in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico, earlier this month.

On Monday evening, May 4, IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy was recognized with the River Network’s River Hero Award for his 16 years of leadership at Idaho Rivers United. Following is the speech he delivered to 400 other river advocates at the award dinner.

Good evening. It’s an honor to be here tonight and to have the good work of Idaho Rivers United recognized by my peers.

It’s also an honor to have been nominated for this award by Tim Palmer  — who, in his wonderful books and photos has articulated the importance of rivers, and has made the case for river conservation — better than anyone else I know. Tim, thank you for all of your great work over the years, and thank you for being an inspiration to others … and to me.

So, when I took the executive director’s job at Idaho Rivers United 16 years ago this month I had in my toolbox a real passion for protecting rivers, but there wasn’t much else. Really, I didn’t have a clue about what my job would entail, or where I needed to begin.

But happily, I learned quickly that the work of protecting rivers is more like guiding a paddle raft than it is like paddling a solo canoe. River conservation is a team sport.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to share space on the roster with many talented staff including folks like Scott Bosse, who’s now with American Rivers; and my current crew: Kevin Lewis, Liz Paul, Greg Stahl, Jenni Jordan and Jennifer Keck, who’s with us here tonight.

I’ve also teamed with many wonderful partner groups like River Network, American Whitewater, American Rivers, and my good friends from Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe. And, I’ve worked with committed business partners like Patagonia, AIRE Rafts, Northwest River Supply and ROW Adventures, to name a few.

With these people and partners, I’ve learned many things.

One, I’ve learned that river lovers can accomplish great things when they join forces to protect the places they love.

And two, I’ve learned that many of our most effective advocates have some sort of personal connection with rivers — beyond the fact that they all drink water.

The great advocates I know are kayakers, canoeists and fishermen. They are Native Americans with deep spiritual and cultural ties to our rivers and our fish. They are bird watchers, campers and hunters who prowl the river’s edge.

But all too often it seems, I meet boaters at the Payette River put-in or fishermen wading along the Henrys Fork who don’t know a thing about the incredible work of my river group — or any group. Nor are they aware of the threats facing their favorite streams.

That troubles me. As the work of protecting our rivers grows more challenging and more complex, we will need all the help we can get, and all the citizen activists we can muster, to keep our rivers healthy and clean.

Every whitewater kayaker and rafter, every gentle water paddler, every fly fisher and every other kind of outdoor enthusiast who hangs around rivers should be engaged in our righteous work. But they’re not.

While we ponder our TMDLs, or prepare to lobby Congress for our next Wild and Scenic River, I think it’s equally important for members of our community — and our funders — to set aside more time and a little more money to nurture and build our base of citizen support.

We can’t win for rivers without people on our side. And we won’t have the popular support we need unless we all become better and more aggressive disciples for our cause.

Toward that end, I think that everyone leaving this conference tomorrow could make an even bigger difference for rivers if they agree to commit to two simple tasks:

  1. Let’s take some time to sharpen our messages about why our streams are such valuable assets, why big dams definitely aren’t green, and why all citizens have a stake in keeping our rivers healthy and clean.
  2. Let’s devote a bit of focused time — every day — to reach out, grab hold and rally more people to our holy cause.

As my friend Tom O’Keefe says in the documentary film DamNation: River restoration and the work of protecting our rivers is not about policies and it’s not about processes — it’s about people.

Amen, Tom. Let’s all go out and fill the chapel. Our rivers are worth it. Our future is worth it.

With that said, I accept this award on behalf of my teammates past and present, all my partners and the 3,500 dedicated members of IRU.

And, I accept this award on behalf of all of you — the dedicated people who will build our movement in the years ahead, and will lead efforts to keep our rivers clean, free-flowing and filled with fish for generations to come.