“Water is a right, not a commodity.” What is the real price of ‘liquid gold?’ “There is enough water for human need but not for human greed,” Gandhi.
Powerful statements have inundated the popular perception of water-rights activism. In a time where water wars divide nations and the struggle to survive can be defined by a 5-gallon bucket, the political and social repercussions of water ownership can destroy or unify communities.
But in Boone, NC we aren’t faced with rapidly falling water tables or toxic sludge lurking within the sources of our drinking water. Paddle (or tube or wade) down the Watauga River and you can still witness nature’s pristine beauty. Worn rock faces testify to the ancient history of the Appalachian Mountains. Cows and horses munch on thriving grasses, a testament to the region’s agricultural reliance on the Watauga. The deceiving simplicity of the Watauga River rests in its murmuring rapids and meandering path. The complexity of maintaining this reliability rests in nature’s filters (plants), flood plains, and cyclical processes. Within a 2 hour kayak trip my eyes adjusted from the computer screen to lush trees and clear skies; my body relaxed from the stiff office chair to the smooth rock and toss of my boat. I am continually amazed at the rejuvenating power of enjoying nature. Playing in a river is like returning home—my fondest childhood memories were skipping rocks, splashing friends and scavenging for crawdads.
As we ‘grow up’ we are faced with the reality that water is not always clean nor always abundant. News headlines flash stories of water abuses and environmental injustices from Appalachia to the Amazon, Nile and Mekong. Cherishing and protecting our local watershed ensures that our community won’t be another catastrophic headline. Water rights activism is not restrained to smart slogans or dramatic campaigns. Teaching a child how to fish, reporting sediment erosion to local officials, or conserving water use at home are all ways to guard the community’s water security. To the Watauga River we are all advocates, protectors, messengers—in a sense, Waterkeepers.