Ríos to Rivers: training a new generation of river defenders

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By Cristóbal Pérez
Translation by William Mastick

The second version of the Chilean-U.S. environmental education program Ríos to Rivers, whose mission is to “inspire the protection and conservation of rivers through youth cultural exchange,” will culminate later this week by kayaking down the Klamath River which runs between Oregon and California.
The 3-week exchange program focuses on learning about the importance of free-flowing rivers and the environmental battles waged by citizen groups to protect them.  The aim is to prepare a new generation of environmental leaders equipped with the skills to protect their home rivers. This year the program includes 17 youth from the Klamath Basin including members of the Klamath, Karuk, Hoopa, and Yurok native tribes, and 8 youth from Aysen, Patagonia, Chile. 
The Klamath River was chosen as the site for this year’s exchange program because this river basin is undergoing sweeping, dramatic change: in 2020, four dams are to be dismantled on the river making it the largest dam removal project in history.


Photo: Ben LehmanPhoto: Ben Lehman


"One of our goals is to spark a conversation among youth around the world,” said Weston Boyles, founder and director of Ríos to Rivers, in a press release. “Why do we continue to build new dams on one side of the world while dams are being removed much sooner than expected on the other side of the world?"
Chilean actress and environmentalist, Juanita Ringeling, will join the close of the program on Saturday, which also commemorates the “Youth for Rivers Day of Celebration.” Ringeling is a supporter of several environmental campaigns in Chile and the U.S., where she currently lives.
Photo: Ben LehmanPhoto: Ben Lehman
The first Ríos to Rivers exchange program took place in 2013 when Chilean and U.S. students learned about river ecology with a trip through the Grand Canyon. Later that year, the American youth traveled to the Baker River in Chilean Patagonia to witness this pristine river that has been targeted in recent years by plans for large-scale hydroelectric dams.
This year, the youth visited different dams along the Klamath River and studied the upstream effects. For the final two weeks, they traveled more than 100 miles in kayaks and rafts from the Seiad Valley in California all the way to the mouth of the river at the Pacific Ocean. In February 2018, the participants of the program will journey to the Baker River in southern Chile where they will once again kayak and raft to the sea.
Photo: Ben LehmanPhoto: Ben Lehman
Ríos to Rivers participants from both countries are purposely drawn from low-income families whose lives are especially linked to these rivers flowing through their respective communities. Says Consuelo Andrade, a psychologist and adult leader of the Chilean delegation, the exchange program helps young people discover their abilities and see another way of living. “They can see other possibilities, other career options, and how people from different cultures live.”
“Before Ríos to Rivers, I had never seen the Klamath River basin upstream, or the dams, I had only felt their effects,” said Jon-Luke Gnesaw, a 19-year-old local youth from Klamath participating in the program. “The last few weeks have opened up my eyes to the problems that we share on a global scale.” 
For more information about Ríos to Rivers visit www.riostorivers.org

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