February 2020 CSRN Workshop Summary and Inspirations: The River Ethic

Apr 17, 2020

Contributed by Ethan Ader, Geomorphologist, Otak, Inc.

Hi, Colorado Riparian Association members! My name is Ethan Ader and I am a fluvial geomorphologist at Otak. While the topic of Covid-19 is dominating both our daily lives and our newsfeeds, I wanted to provide a bit of a distraction and think back to this past February. Though it might feel like quite some time ago, in February the CRA hosted their first Colorado Stream Restoration Network workshop of 2020. Titled “The River Ethic,” the workshop featured a panel consisting of Dr. Ellen Wohl, Matt Kondratieff, Julie Ash, Dr. David Merritt, and Dr. LeRoy Poff. In fact, the event got so much attention that they had to move it into a larger ballroom! Coming from backgrounds of academia, consulting, and government agencies, the panelists each gave brief, yet informative insights into what makes healthy rivers healthy, what we value about rivers, and how we can better relay this information to the general public. In short, we should strive to protect heterogeneity and provide enough room for the river to function. Additionally, we must understand that river restoration is diagnostic, and successful projects don’t simply identify and treat symptoms, but strive to understand the underlying drivers of change. Also, like doctors, we must strive to always integrate the principle of “do no harm” into our science.

While many of us already feel passionate about keeping rivers healthy, how can we convince others to do the same? The event opened with a Baba Dioum quote “in the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” This quote stuck with me throughout the event; in a world where scientific literacy is not where it needs to be, how can we teach and inspire others to care about rivers the way that we do? As scientists and enthusiasts alike, we must identify common values, avoid jargon, and convey beauty.

After their presentations, the floor was opened up to the audience to ask questions. Questions ranged from theoretical to practical, from what common values do we place upon rivers to how can we implement any of these actions while meeting floodplain permitting requirements. While gaining the answers to many of these questions may be difficult, simply asking the question is the first step. The goal of the workshop was to work towards creating a River Ethic: a document that ties together how we value rivers and identifies our responsibilities towards protecting them. (I know that after this event I dusted off my copy of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, specifically to focus upon the Land Ethic for further inspiration!) Many other great ideas were floated around as well. Dr. Dave Merritt suggested setting up a “sentinel river network” to protect the limited, but remaining undisturbed, rivers around the world. Additionally, it was suggested that a list of some of the most magnificent reaches within Colorado be compiled for people to visit, a la peak bagging.

It is events like these that motivate me to be the best river scientist that I can be. Sitting in a room full of over 100 people who wish to protect and advocate for rivers informs us that we are never alone in this fight, and that with the right mindset, willingness to work collaboratively, and the ability to be innovative, we can inspire others to better coexist with rivers and enjoy them for generations to come. 


Colorado Riparian Association