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Q & A with a Leading River Expert

In The Ancient Realm the rivers are under attack by Guardians led by King Ector. In writing this fictional story, I became motivated to discover the real threats that are facing rivers today and I knew exactly who to ask. Gardner Johnston is a leading hydrologist, which means he's an expert on rivers. Below you will find some information Gardner gave me in answer to my questions:

Sarah: In The Ancient Realm, King Ector and King Torin attempted to destroy the rivers by poisoning them with mercury. Are mercury and other toxic chemicals a real threat to the rivers?

Gardner: Although we've made great progress in reducing toxic pollution, the threat is not over. Toxic pollutants continue to enter our rivers through three main sources: industrial facilities, our homes and streets, and farms.

Many industries use chemicals as part of their manufacturing processes and this contributes to toxic pollution. Some factories, such as chemical plants, may directly dump toxic substances into rivers. Other factories, such as coal-fired power plants, may release poisonous gases into the air. This creates acid rain, which eventually contributes to river pollution (a very similar method to how King Ector and King Torin planned to poison the rivers).

Pollutants used in our homes may also make their way into rivers. Toxic pollutants in our homes include things like cleaning supplies, paint, and garbage. A common way for household pollutants to enter rivers is when they are dumped into storm drains located on the street. These storm drains flow into pipes and ditches that eventually flow into rivers. Pollutants that are dumped down toilets or sink drains will also eventually find their way into rivers.

Farms may also be a source of toxic pollutants. Animal waste, such as cow manure, may have harmful bacteria that can enter into rivers. In order to increase the growth of crops, farms often use pesticides and fertilizers that contain toxic chemicals. Although these chemicals are applied to the land, they can enter rivers through the soil or by rainfall that carries them into rivers. Pesticides and fertilizers applied to the lawns in our front yards can enter rivers in the same way.

Sarah: What can we do to help?

Gardner: First, we can stop using toxic chemicals. For example, when we clean our houses we can use nontoxic and biodegradable cleaning supplies made up of natural substances that are great at cleaning and will not poison the rivers. Another way to reduce the use of toxic chemicals is to buy organic food. Organic farms don't use harmful pesticides and fertilizers that can enter our rivers.

Second, we can avoid dumping hazardous materials—such as batteries, toxic cleaning supplies, fluorescent light bulbs, oil from our cars, aerosols, and paint—into trash cans, storm drains on the street, or down toilet, bath, or sink drains. Instead, we should take toxic substances to our local household hazardous waste center. They know exactly how to handle these toxic substances so they don't enter our rivers.

Third, we can help the rivers by never littering or disposing of any garbage directly into our rivers. And we could go a step further by picking up trash and participating in community efforts to clean up our local rivers.

Sarah: In The Ancient Realm, King Ector makes it very clear that he would like to see the rivers drained dry. Is this really possible?

Gardner: Yes, rivers can become dry for many reasons, especially during a hot summer, when there is a lot of demand for the water in our rivers. So it's very important to understand how river water is used. The main ways that people use water from our rivers has to do with three things: water use in our homes, food, and electricity.

Water from the rivers is used to supply water in our homes, every time we drink water (which is VERY important for our health), bathe, wash our clothes, or water our lawns.

We also rely on water from the rivers for the food we eat. We use water from the rivers to grow vegetables and to grow hay for the cattle that provide us with meat.

And then there is electrical power, which also relies on the water in our rivers. In the Pacific River Basin, most of our electricity comes from dams that harness the energy of flowing rivers to generate electricity. These dams stop the flow of rivers and create large reservoirs so that water can be released as needed to generate electricity. This electricity is what powers our lights, our heaters, our TVs, and our computers.

Sarah: Are some rivers already dry?

Gardner: One of our largest and mightiest rivers, the Colorado River, which flows through the Grand Canyon, now runs totally dry before it even reaches the Pacific Ocean. There are other rivers that are also dry, and many more that are nearly dry or at risk of becoming dry.

Sarah: What can we do to help prevent this?

Gardner: We need to make daily choices that are good for our rivers and keep them running freely with water. And we need to only use what we really need, leaving the rest for the fish and wildlife that use the rivers. Conservation of our water is especially important during the warm summer months. We can help by reducing our direct use of water for things like watering our lawns or taking too long of a shower. We can also help by reducing our use of things that use electricity created by the rivers, including lights, heaters, and air conditioning.

Sarah: The Empress of Nature claims the rivers are the easiest part of Nature for King Ector to destroy because the health of rivers is already so bad. Are the rivers really unhealthy?

Gardner: Some of our rivers are unhealthy and some are doing fine. There are some rivers located in wild, remote, and pristine regions that remain very healthy because they have not been affected by human activities. But many other rivers are less fortunate. Some of them have been so impacted that they no longer exist or contain only trace remnants of their former selves. The vast majority of rivers, however, are simply sick and can be healed by our protection and restoration.

Helping rivers can be a fun and exciting endeavor! First, go out and enjoy your local rivers. Paddle boats in them, swim in them, wade in them, and fish in them. Learn how they work and what makes them healthy or unhealthy. And encourage others to protect, respect, and restore our rivers.

Links for Great Websites on the Environment

I wish I could tell you that we don't have to worry about water. I wish I could tell you that everyone has clean water to drink. I wish I could tell you that our grandchildren, or even our children, will always have clean water to drink. But I can't. We are currently in a battle to save our fresh water sources. But I believe it's a battle we can win. Please click through the following links to educate yourself about fresh water, and find out ways you can help preserve our planet.

New! Going Green on Black Friday (Thanks to Karlie at the West Wood Youth Group for finding this great site!)

National Geographic's video, Why Care About Water?

National Geographic's Freshwater website

Take a National Geographic Water Wiz Quiz

There are other fun videos on National Geographic Kids. A great one to search for is the one of the Thames River in the United Kingdom

PBS's kid site on the environment

EPA's kid site on global warming

A great kid site developed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

US Department of Energy site for kids

Stay tuned—I'll change and add links over time!