We went to the river today.
Not to fish.
To escape from the uncomfortable heat that has held the mid-Atlantic in its sweaty grip for the past few days.
Sure, we could have opted for the neighborhood pool.
But the pool doesn’t have riffles.
And it also seemed appropriate to go to the river on a day when some of us were celebrating a win, if only a temporary one, in the fight to ensure that rivers like this one have a decent chance of staying functionally clean and usable.
So the kids, their friends, our dog and I piled into the truck for the quick drive.
This spot at a public park is just a mile from our city neighborhood. One that, if you took away the modern cars, looks pretty much like it did in the 1920s.
The river, fortunately, doesn’t look like it did back then. Or smell like it did.
Back then, actually until just a few decades ago, we treated our rivers like dumps.
They got our trash. Our sewer. Our chemical waste.
Throw it in and let the water carry it away. Maybe.
Things still aren’t perfect.
Signs along the stream carry warnings that waders should be aware of glass, metal and other hazards on the river bottom.
Consumption advisories warn against eating too many meals of the river’s fish.
River users, whether due to ignorance or ambivalence, still leave trash behind.
But things are a lot better.
So much better that I happily watched as the kids eagerly waded in, their feet protected pretty well by their well-worn Keen sandals.
They turned over rocks, looking for crayfish and nymphs. They tried to catch minnows in their hands.
The dog jumped around in the shallows, then swam across the river when she spotted a groundhog on the far bank.
The girls and their friends laughed and splashed, while 50 yards downstream another group of kids played in the river.
Plenty of credit for the improvement in our nation’s waters goes to the Clean Water Act, which since 1972 has provided a sensible guide for how to treat our nation’s waters.
Like any such road map, tweaks are sometimes necessary.
The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are currently engaged in a formal rulemaking process to better define which waters are covered, and which are not, under the Act.
The proposal would afford protection to some intermittent streams, which may not run year-round but which are the literal building blocks of rivers.
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Much of the water the kids were splashing in gets its start in such ephemeral flows.
Yet, in recent days some Senators seemed intent on torpedoing the process for political purposes.
Quick, decisive, fact-based reaction from sportsmen’s groups, Trout Unlimited among them, and their constituents helped quell the threat, at least for the time being.
So for now I can watch the kids play with some optimism, wishing some of those politicians could be there with me, knee deep in the cool Roanoke River watching the kids play, which might help them better understand just what’s at stake.