The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus argued that you can never step into the same river twice. Every second, new water moves through a river and if you wait long enough you’ll see that even the banks and the plant life along the river change. We still call rivers by the same name even when everything about them changes. Rivers change, but healthy rivers are still essential to the physical and spiritual wellbeing of nearby communities.
With pollution, dams and climate change altering the face of our watersheds, our rivers are starting to look less and less familiar. On River Day, May 3, our New Voices youth interns went to lobby at the California State Assembly for bills AB 1667, 1668 and 1669 to protect water in California. These three bills together increase agricultural water efficiency, help communities prepare for drought years, and set standards for urban water conservation. “Water is important to me because water is a channel of life. Without rivers we wouldn’t have water to drink” say Javier Mejia-Cuenca, a student from Metwest High School. When water comes on command from a tap, we forget how our very existence depends on the natural systems that bring us water.
Rivers also provide more than bare necessities. Our interns also lobbied for AB 975, which protects California’s wild rivers and also recognizes historical sites associated with rivers, including sacred Tribal sites. “There’s just something special about swimming in a river that makes you feel at peace with nature” says Marlen Escobedo, a Coliseum College Preparatory Academy student. Since time immemorial, rivers have drawn borders for nations, while defining the land both spiritually and physically.
It’s not everyday that high school students lobby their representatives. Marlen and Javier both remarked at how overfilling the room and having to meet out in the hallway felt empowering. In a democracy constituents young or old should be able to speak to government officials on equal footing on issues that affect everyone across the political spectrum. We believe that by including youth voices we can bring important messages to the ears of politicians in a unique way, but also teach youth the importance of citizenship.
The bills our students lobbied for will go to protect California’s precious water resources, but climate change will continue to challenge river health and policymakers. “Will future generations be able to see what the environment used to look like without the screen of a phone or a page of a book?” asks Marlen. At the Rose Foundation we support bills like AB 975 because we hope our New Voices interns and the growing generation of young Californians will still have healthy and beautiful rivers to depend on no matter what they look like.