7 Benefits of Rivers to Explore

They're more than just water under the bridge.

Kayaking on a river.

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Have you ever spent a day kayaking downstream, fishing serenely on a river, skipping stones at the inlet’s edge, or picnicking on a quaint little island sandwiched between riverbanks? 

That river that is so relaxing and enjoyable to spend time at, could have acted as an ancient artery connecting cities and villages. Or, it could be quenching the thirst of the people living near its banks.

With a number of rivers globally in crisis due to pollution, damming, and reduced rainfall, there’s never been a better opportunity to appreciate everything that rivers give to the world.

Provides drinking water
If you have access to plentiful water, chances are there’s a river to thank for that. According to the NewScientist, two thirds of the UK’s tap water is either from a river or from a river-fed body of water. 

The organization American Rivers. gives a similar figure for the US’s tap water. For example, the Colorado River alone sustains nearly 40 million Americans. That’s why it is vital to keep rivers clean and free of pollutants. 

Important for agriculture
It's no accident that the Fertile Crescent, which oversaw the development of significant ancient civilizations, was located at the nexus of several plentiful rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates, according to Rivers Are Life. Ancient agriculture depended on these life-giving waters, modern farming still does..

During the rainy season, many rivers overflow their banks, watering the land and nourishing the soil with minerals and nutrients. In addition to producing fertile soil for planting, rivers also act as water sources for irrigation. 

In an ironic twist, in modern times, agriculture often ends up damaging the very rivers that help the crops grow. Runoff from farms, including fertilizers and pesticides, upsets the animals and organisms that live in rivers’ waters and can potentially contaminate drinking water sourced from the river. In order to safeguard these important water sources, farmers and researchers are looking for lower-impact farming solutions.

Helps Prevent floods
The same rivers that overspill their banks and flood the nearby plains to feed the soil, can actually prevent catastrophic flooding, reports NewScientist. Natural floodplains hold river runoff as it slowly seeps back into the river. Natural pools and beaver dams can also trap water, preventing it from overrunning a city. Although human engineering of and building on natural floodplains have brought flooding risks to the forefront, restoring rivers’ natural features can mitigate the impact of destructive floods.

Biodiversity hotspots
A single river can encompass nearly a dozen habitats, including pools, aquatic vegetation beds, floodplains, submerged roots, slow-flowing  waters, shallow rapids, and waterfalls.. Consequently, rivers have the capacity to provide homes for a diverse array of plants and animals. 

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In fact, the United Kingdom’s rivers and wetlands host one out of ten of the UK’s native species. The organization International Rivers stresses that rivers are what feeds the Earth’s wetlands, and these wetlands are vital for 40 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. By keeping  rivers natural and pristine, people can make a huge dent on protecting endangered plants and animals.

Good source of food
Of course, a huge part of the river's biodiversity is its fish population. According to the World Wildlife Fund, a fifth of the fish that are fished globally come from rivers and other freshwater sources. Another two thirds of fish that people eat rely on rivers for breeding, nutrients, or other reasons. Protecting rivers and their biodiversity is a good way to protect this valuable source of food.

Human culture is tied to rivers
Rivers are also tied to ancient culture. The names of the rivers in England including Thames, Leith, and Taff, disclose the island's history, according to NewScientist. 

In Laos, the culture of Luang Prabang developed as a thriving city that was tied to a living river, according to Mongabay, so much so that UNESCO has taken special steps to preserve the culture and history of the Mekong and Khan rivers. Other examples are the religious connections to the Ganges in India or the Jordan River in israel. 

Globally, rivers nourished communities, and consequently communities developed deep cultural and historical bonds with their waterways. 

Leisure activities
A large part of modern life revolves around rivers. Riversports, boating, fishing, swimming, braving rapids, and visiting waterfalls, are all ways that rivers add value and entertainment. 

Spending time near rivers also offers a serene retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and reminds people to go with the flow. It’s essential to work to conserve rivers for generations to come.

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