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Wild Side: River flowing through us

I've had a life-long fascination with water. My father took our family fishing on Lake Erie and canoeing in the Canadian wilderness when I was a boy.

That fascination led me to Wisconsin when I was 17 to study aquatic ecology. I have worked with rivers in this region since then. I sampled and studied freshwater fish, algae, plants, zooplankton and macroinvertebrates to the point that I can identify many of them like I can recognize old friends. Having recently completed 34 years of professional work with rivers, I conclude that I'm a lucky guy.

A fascination with moving water is a common human condition. Rivers are magnets for the imagination, places for contemplation, generating subconscious excitement and fear. We are inspired by the seeming effortlessness of rivers flowing, knowing where to go without question. We aspire to be like rivers: Relentless, persistent, and going with the flow, constantly being reborn.

Fluid turbulence has a large random component that captivates us when watching rivers, fire or clouds in the sky. We can readily see the turbulence of water in rivers as they balance their energy losses as they flow.

The current velocity distribution in rivers causes shear forces on the bed that persistently cause erosion or deposition. Luna Leopold, Aldo Leopold's son, was a professor of geomorphology at the University of California at Berkeley. He was a man of extraordinary creativity and originality whose passion about science and the natural world permeated all he did. Luna wrote a classic book, "Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology." In describing the processes that shape river channels, he concluded, "The river then, is the carpenter of its own edifice."

We are a nation rich in rivers. Rivers run through our history and legends. Rivers link our communities, nourish us and are home to an amazing variety of fish, wildlife, trees and plants. We use rivers for water supply, food, agricultural irrigation, waste assimilation, commercial transport, hydropower generation, recreation and inspiration.

Leopold said, "Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children's lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land."

Tim Palmer, author of "The Wild and Scenic Rivers of America" explained, "When we save a river, we save a major part of an ecosystem, and we save ourselves as well because of our dependence--physical, economic, spiritual,--on the water and its community of life."

The late Harvard astrophysicist Carl Sagan admonished, "Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet."

We should all do what we can to protect our land and water resources. Rivers do indeed flow through us.

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