As we close out our 25th year of defending rivers in Alabama, I find myself struggling for the perfect words to talk about the variety of challenges and opportunities we are facing all at once. My typical end of the year message of what a successful year we have had as an organization and how our partnerships and our movement are stronger than ever – while all true! – just seems to fall short of what I feel compelled to share in these tumultuous and divisive times. So, I’m going to pull back the curtain a little bit in this letter and I hope you’ll appreciate that.
The fact is: this work is really hard.
Our visionary goal of affordable, clean water for all and healthy free-flowing rivers is critically important, but it is such a long game. Working to protect the environment – or really any kind of change work in Alabama – is just like the twists and turns and high flows and low flows of the 132,000 miles of rivers and streams across Alabama.
There are beautiful times, like taking a trip with new friends on the river to discuss forming a new group to protect their creek; and there are scary times, like getting new data that indicates there are forever chemicals in so many of our waterways.
There are times of plenty, like when we are successful with a big grant we applied for; and times of scarcity, like when, in 2016 we found out one of our long-time foundation funders had changed their geographic focus and we could no longer rely on their support in Alabama.
There are cliffs we jump off with the faith that the waters below will be enough to keep us afloat, like when we invested in the Southern Exposure Film Series, a new program for us; and there are snags and rocks we run into which threaten to trap us under and sink our boat, like ADEM, Alabama Power, waste sludge companies, I could go on and on…
There are long stretches of flat water requiring patience and endurance to get us through, like as we advocate for an Alabama Water Plan; and there are quickly approaching rapids demanding strategic focus and keeping us moving forward, like our successful lawsuit challenging the relicensing of seven hydropower dams on the Coosa River to protect water quality and endangered species.
Giving up is not an option.
How do we keep our spirits up, our boats afloat, our strength and focus from waning over time? We remind ourselves that the stakes are HIGH and we are NOT in this alone! We have incredible members like you who always support us with your time, your expertise, and your money. We have inspirational partners to collaborate with on strategy and advocacy work. We have community members and local groups to keep us informed of what is happening in their waterways and their communities. We have the most freshwater biodiversity of any state in the nation! And, we know we also have a rapidly changing climate, pollution and waste, lack of water management, lax enforcement, lack of access to government information and injustice everywhere. This is why we can never stop.
Defining success is key.
We spend hours each year determining what success means for our work. When your BIG goal is a 30 or even 50-year goal (clean, free-flowing rivers for all Alabamians), you must find ways to see success in the short term. Sometimes we get to celebrate a big step forward like when we see our state legislature and our federal government prioritize billions of dollars toward improving drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in disadvantaged communities. Sometimes we celebrate just holding the line and not letting things get worse like protecting what waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. Since we are a football state, think of it as holding the polluters from gaining any yardage every drive. When we understand what our short-term success looks like, and put it into perspective, we can better keep our energy up for the long, challenging fight ahead to defend rivers, ensure clean water for all and address climate change before it is simply too late.
I’m sharing all of this with you – the good and the bad – because I have to tell it to myself and our staff everyday. It is sometimes hard to see the opportunities when there are so many challenges in all directions. We know it is hard for you, too, as someone who cares deeply and wants to help. That is why we want you to know we feel these things too and we are bolstered by your support every step of the way. Each time you send a donation, or comment on a social media post, or respond to an action alert or show up at an event, it helps strengthen us for that next big challenge. That is why we do our best to share the opportunities as well as the challenges. Together, we can float this stream with all its twists and turns and keep pushing for that greater goal!
You can help in multiple ways!
- Learn who your elected officials are and talk to them about the importance of clean water and healthy rivers. Take them to your favorite waterbody (we are happy to join if that helps!)
- Attend your local government meetings and Town Halls to speak up when they are doing something that impacts your waterways and environment
- Call the Alabama Department of Environmental Management when you see or smell a problem in your local river or stream. Call them at (334) 271-7700 or submit a complaint online at www.adem.alabama.gov
- Read our emails to keep up with great events all over the state that you can attend to learn more and support the movement. We mean it: really read them.
- Respond to action alerts from us and other environmental partners!
Please DONATE as much as you are able to support our work and ensure we have the capacity for the long, difficult paddling trip ahead toward clean water & healthy rivers for all!