The platform highlights and connects individuals who are enacting river-beneficial solutions in their own communities. These 'River Heroes' represent efforts that start on a local scale but create ripple effects that expand beyond.
Rivers are the arteries of the planet — delivering lifeblood to the land and the communities upon them through essential sediment, nutrients, food, water and other elements of our livelihood. As such, rivers around the world have long been celebrated for what they give.
Communities along the River Ethiope in Nigeria, for example, look to the river not only as a source of flood control, water supply, medicine, building material and food — but also as a sacred and spiritual site.
This year on World Rivers Day (September 25), people around the globe will reflect on the value of our rivers and admire them for their beauty and might. Along with celebrating these vital waterways, World Rivers Day also encourages the improved stewardship of rivers around the world; and many communities have responded with conservation efforts. For example, the River Ethiope Trust Foundation and its partners will focus this day on the rights of rivers in Nigeria with conservation and advocacy efforts — including the launch of a federal Adopt-a-River Program, testimonies from indigenous elders, a 2-day river symposium and more.
This World Rivers Day, individuals and organizations should consider how they can participate in similar initiatives to continue giving back to the rivers that provide for them.
‘Rivers Are Life’ inspires action
Rivers are biodiversity hotspots — providing habitat and breeding grounds for around 40 percent of the world’s species. However, waste and climate change are impacting these vital waterways as fisheries collapse, coastlines erode, and droughts and floods become more intense. Just as rivers have long contributed to communities, communities must now come together to help restore and protect our rivers.
Fortunately, as awareness initiatives gain steam, people are growing more conscious of environmental challenges and seeking ways to create and take part in solutions. Rivers are accessible to most everyone on the planet — so, many companies have direct ties to rivers through their own locations and operations — and through their own knowledge and support of local river heroes. Rivers Are Life offers a way for companies and organizations to lead and support activities to protect our rivers — and share this work with their consumer audiences.
Dow is a founding member of Rivers Are Life — a platform created in 2022 to inspire people to improve, protect and preserve rivers. It also aims to support organizations and individuals addressing climate protection and pollution reduction through the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water — which is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
While just getting started, the primary objective fueling Rivers Are Life is to support 1,000 projects — large and small — to contribute toward a global positive impact on river ecosystems.
Local efforts add up
As part of the effort to inspire change, Rivers Are Life highlights and connects individuals who are enacting solutions in their own communities. These “River Heroes” represent efforts that start on a local scale but create ripple effects that expand beyond.
Glass Half Full is one example. Co-founders Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz founded the organization in 2020 when they realized their home in New Orleans didn’t have a glass recycling program. Their research revealed that glass can be recycled into sand and glass gravel products, which can aid in coastal restoration.
The effort started small: In February 2022, they started manually crushing glass in a backyard. But by August, they had raised enough money to move into a 40,000-square-foot facility. Today, with the help of employees, volunteers and scientists, Glass Half Full recycles New Orleans’ glass waste into sand for coastal restoration, disaster relief, eco-construction and more.
“Growing up in Louisiana, I always heard about our dire coastal erosion crisis,” Trautmann said. “We lose 100 yards of land off our coast every 100 minutes. Many of the coastal projects in our state have to dredge sand from the Mississippi River to build back that lost land. Meanwhile, we dump thousands of tons of glass into our landfills every week. Diverting waste from our landfills and turning it into a resource for our coast can ultimately decrease our need to extract sediment from our river. We should celebrate the strength and resiliency of our rivers every day and give respect to our natural resources."
Connecting river conservationists for more impact
As a founding member of Rivers Are Life, Dow plays an important role as a resource convener. It envisions driving Rivers Are Life toward its goal of supporting 1,000 river-restoration projects through financial support, awareness, advising with subject matter expertise, and facilitating valuable partnerships with NGOs, academic institutions and businesses to combine local efforts for collective and widespread impact.
One example of such collaboration involves another River Hero, Clint Willson — director of the Louisiana State University Center for River Studies and a professor of civil and environmental engineering. A primary objective of the Center for River Studies is to help people understand the direct connection between rivers and land in Louisiana. As he explained to Rivers Are Life, in some settings rivers work as funnels to provide the sediment and nutrients that make up coastlines.
As communities along the Mississippi have long battled flooding, they have installed 1,000 miles of levees — which essentially cut off the funnel and disconnect southcentral and southeastern Louisiana coastlines. As a result, this land has only half the sediment it did 200 years ago. 2,000 square miles of land have been lost, and 2,000 more are projected to disappear in the next 50 years.
To counter this, Willson and his colleagues at the Center for River Studies are studying sediment-diversion initiatives meant to restore coastlines. The problem, however, is that sediment isn’t in high supply. In fact, we’re in the midst of a global sand shortage; and sand-extraction techniques such as dredging and mining can potentially damage nearby environments, further contributing to coastal erosion.
Enter Glass Half Full, which has produced 25,000 lbs of sand for coastal restoration projects to date through glass recycling. Rivers Are Life connected Glass Half Full with Willson and the Center for River Studies — and the groups are now collaborating on solutions.
“In addition to the work we are doing at the Center to study how sand moves down the Mississippi River and its long-term availability for coastal restoration projects, we are excited to be working with Glass Half Full and Tulane University on better understanding the properties of the glass sand,” Willson said. “Before the glass sand can be used in coastal restoration projects, the geotechnical and transport properties need to be better understood and quantified. Thanks to the Rivers Are Life project, we met up with Fran and her colleagues at Tulane to discuss ways that the Center can contribute.”
Next, Willson and his team invited a Baton Rouge Magnet High School student, Louisa, to perform preliminary tests on the glass sand and river sand samples. This is one example of how LSU and the Center for River Studies share their research activities and hands-on experience with students at LSU and beyond.
“Louisa presented her results at the LSU College of Engineering High School Summer Research program, and we are excited to continue the work this fall,” Willson added.
Glass Half Full, the Center for Rivers Studies and other River Heroes are featured in this Rivers Are Life film:
Visit the Rivers Are Life: River Heroes digital platform to hear more awe-inspiring stories of the individuals shaping a more sustainable future for our rivers and our planet.
In growing a network of River Heroes, Rivers Are Life displays the power of connecting environmental stewards to create a collaborative impact. These connections enable even the smallest steps, like collecting your friends’ glass to recycle in your backyard, to add up to larger strides toward healthier waterways — and healthier communities and marine ecosystems that rely on them. Dow and Rivers Are Life are here to expand that impact as far as it will go.
To learn more about how you can contribute to and connect around protecting our rivers, join the Rivers Are Life movement today.