In my lifetime I have spent a lot of time on rivers. Living in Canada, I became acquainted with beautiful blue water with a clarity that allowed you to see the river’s bottom even at 20 feet. When my family moved to Bloomington, Indiana, I became involved with the White River, which was anything but white or blue. What color is your river?
In our 12 trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I saw changes in the water from time to time. The river was sometimes brown and other times crystal blue depending on how much upstream water was being released from the Glen Canyon Dam. I now live on the Saint Joseph River in southern Michigan. I have read the notes of the first explorers who came through this area in which they tell of being able to see the bottom of the river through 20 feet of water. Now you can only see about a foot down. There has been a massive change in Americas’ rivers through the years.
In 1984, Satellites started taking pictures of rivers in the United States. Over 230,000 images have been taken and analyzed by the University of Pittsburgh, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University. The data shows that only five percent of Americas’ rivers are still blue. Twenty-eight percent are green, which in most cases is caused by algae. The remainder are yellow, with 11,629 miles of rivers having become distinctly greener since 1984.
As rivers change from blue to yellow to green, what can live in the rivers also changes. In the Saint Joseph River, where we live in Michigan, the kind of fish that live in the river today are far different from the native trout seen by the early settlers of this area. Today the river has large numbers of suckers and carp. There are some bass and panfish, and we do have salmon from Lake Michigan migrating up the river to spawn. Transplanted fish like walleye are popular, but the whole ecological makeup has changed.
What color is your river? More important is the question of what is causing the rivers to change color? The causes, according to the studies, are farm fertilizer runoff, dams, sewage, and global warming, which has raised the temperature so that cold-water fish cannot live in the river. This is more than the loss of recreational use of waterways. Numerous diseases, including cancer, are related to what is in the water we drink, bathe in, and provide to our animals.
The question of what color is your river leads to asking what you can do about it. Christians need to be vocal in encouraging our culture to initiate significant efforts to turn our waterways blue again. It is interesting that in Revelation 22:1-2, when the inspired writer wanted to portray some of the properties of heaven to mortal humans, he describes “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.” In ancient times, when people wanted to worship and get away from the hassle of human activity, they went to a river. (See Acts 16:13.) Today most of our rivers are not that attractive.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
Data from Associated Press article by Seth Borenstein, January 9, 2021.