From Montana to Bangladesh, #RiversUniteUs

Josh Schott
Belly River Valley of Glacier Park
Belly River Valley of Glacier Park
Photo Credit: Harry Lichtman

I grew up in one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in the United States – Montana – home to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, 16 wilderness designated areas, and 78 free-flowing rivers. I lived in a small ski resort town called Whitefish nestled in the mountains near Glacier Park, the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness, and the majestic Flathead River. Montana is one of the only places in the US where you’ll find – sadly – the last remaining wild grizzly bears, buffaloes, and gray wolves, a true indicator of untarnished natural wonder in the lower 48 states. The rivers, mountains, trees and other vegetation, lakes, wildlife, and meadows helped raise me. I spent my summers and school weekends backpacking, rafting, wildlife observing, mountain hiking, and cliff jumping.

All Montanans I know share the same love and appreciation of the natural beauty that surrounds them. Protecting and ensuring the health and vitality of Montana’s fragile ecosystems is incumbent upon all Montanans, corporations and government entities – although many Montanans do not take this responsibility as seriously as others.

The news of the tragic 2011 Exxon oil spill that dumped 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River – poisoning a stretch of 85 miles – appalled and saddened me. The Yellowstone River is “the last major wild river in the lower 48 states,” said Scott Bosse, the Northern Rockies director of American Rivers. I became enraged to learn that another oil spill spewed 50,000 gallons of crude oil last month into the same river, which was recovering from that previous oil spill not so long ago. The most recent oil spill contaminated 30 miles of the river. The corporate culprits this time were True Oil and Bridger Pipeline.

Yellowstone River Oil Spill
Yellowstone River Oil Spill
Photo Credit: Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette

Both the Exxon and True Oil/Bridger Pipeline spills contaminated thousands of people’s drinking water, killed innumerable wildlife and devastated this great ecosystem. Exxon, a corporation with revenues of US$408 billion in 2014, only had to pay $1 million to the government and $2 million to property owners for the damages. The operator of the Bridger Pipeline, True Oil, has an abysmal environmental record with 30 oil spills and an oil spill rate nearly double the industry rate. There have also been numerous reports that the pipeline company didn’t learn from past mistakes – there still hasn’t been a penalty or lawsuit against Bridger Pipeline or True Oil for this most recent spill.

Obviously, nothing has changed policy-wise on the part of the state and federal governments or corporations to prevent these spills from happening. This comes at a time when congress recently passed a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Shamefully, Montana Democrat, Senator Jon Tester, put corporate interests above the environmental wellbeing and magnificence of his state by voting for the bill.

To prevent such devastation of our rivers, we need local, national and international action. While we need a sustained global movement to protect our rivers, a day of unified global action where people from all over the world rise up with one voice demanding a change in the current destructive course can send a huge message to the powers that be. March 14 is that day. March 14, 2015 is the 18th annual International Day of Action for Rivers. Every year on and around March 14, thousands of people around the world find ways to celebrate the world's rivers and the people who struggle to protect them. International Rivers has coordinated this day of action since the first International Meeting of Dam-Affected People and their Allies in 1997 created the call to action. The Day of Action for Rivers proves the power of acting locally, while thinking globally.

In a report on the indigenous resistance movement against the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs writes, “The symbolic ritual of exchanging water between tribes for the indigenous people denotes a communal relationship and the interconnectedness of the earth, water, and [human]kind. In this culture, water therefore both represents and facilitates social unity.” Likewise, acting together globally to protect rivers also denotes a communal relationship and interconnectedness of humankind facilitating social unity.  I invite you to participate in this communion and take action on March 14.

So far, we know about 55 events planned in 20 countries to celebrate our rivers on or around March 14. Events range from a massive protest and march against a destructive dam along the Antigua River in Veracruz, Mexico, to a cycle rally and marathon in Tamil Nadu, India, to a photo exhibit highlighting the destructive effects of dams in Beacon, New York. Events are also scheduled around the world in Pakistan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Chile, Malawi, and Bangladesh.

Are you wondering how you could celebrate the International Day of Action for Rivers this year? Here are some suggestions:

  • Take a photo with a message written on your palm and the hashtag #RiversUniteUs, and then submit it to or share it on Facebook and Twitter
  • Write a blog post for the International Rivers website
  • Screen a film about rivers or dams
  • Organize an environmental justice-themed concert
  • Plan a river clean up
  • Host a spoken word event
  • Invite a speaker to discuss your local river issues
  • Protest and march against destructive development projects
  • Throw back a few drinks at a happy hour to discuss ways to protect your river
  • Relax and organize a community float down a river
  • Have a picnic or bbq by a river

However you decide to participate in this important day, please tell us about your plans and send us your photos, videos and stories. Please fill out our new online form or email us at If you have any questions or need support for your event, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Keep Rivers Free!
Keep Rivers Free!
Photo Credit: Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
Thursday, February 26, 2015