Everyone agrees that the Saco River is important. I’ll take it one step further. It’s the single most vital life-giving artery flowing through the body of this community. This is a golden opportunity to unite behind a common cause: preserving this natural treasure so that our children will be blessed to enjoy it as we have.

It is one of the great curiosities that well-intentioned individuals end up collectively shooting themselves and each other in the foot. There are no real villains in this story, only good people whose cumulative actions threaten the public good. No single person has set out to threaten our greatest treasure, but the aggregate effect of many small actions has brought us to this critical point.

We need a new paradigm — a set of goggles with which to see the world around us — and it begins with a simple acknowledgement that plentiful clean water is the greatest asset we have. Open your eyes: future wars will be fought over clean water and not dirty oil. What we decide today will have lasting consequences, effects felt for generations. If we choose to do nothing, a choice has still been made, a tacit admission that we’re willing to bequeath to our children a natural treasure that we have ruined.

People are the problem. The solution involves controlling their actions. The water belongs to us all, though much of the land along the river is owned privately, and some of it is controlled by organizations like the Saco Valley Land Trust. The river is threatened by human activity close to and along the banks of the river, and also by overuse on the water itself. If nothing is done, and if the past is any guide to the future, the principal threats to the river — development, overuse, and runoff — will multiply, and foreclose our chances of saving this resource for posterity.

Look around: The valley is blowing up, and everyone wants to be on the water. But if everyone has a house on the river, it will not only ruin the views but also the public resource. If all of the river frontage that could theoretically be developed was actually developed, the consequences would be devastating. Healthy waterways depend on natural buffer zones that filter and protect it from harmful pollutants that enter through runoff during major rain events. I spent years in Pennsylvania and Maryland. All of their rivers are totally nasty because of farm, residential and industrial runoff, and also insane amounts of trash.

Landowners have a special responsibility to protect the shores of the Saco, and I encourage them to consider conservation easement, a proud legacy. Town planners have a special responsibility to limit development close to the river — a building moratorium — protect vital flood plains, and build ecologically sound culverts. The public has a special responsibility to support conservation.

When plans are drafted and decisions made, the central question is this: because the Saco River watershed is our single most vital public resource, how will it be affected? It is very discouraging that a car wash is being built a stone’s throw away from the Saco in Conway. And how is it possible that an asinine “Jelly Stone” chlorine water park is being considered in Glen? 

Forget about Diana’s Bath, we need to talk about traffic on the Saco. Back in college, I used to sling boats for Saco Valley Canoe. The river was a zoo then. It’s far worse now. Today it’s not just canoes, but tubes — hundreds of them. It’s a festival of drunken idiocy. I’ve seen it, and watched the trash floating down the river as stumbling clowns capsize, or just leave the party’s remnants on the beach.

Commercial outfits are responsible for putting hundreds of yahoos on the river with cigarettes, alcohol, and zero concept of “carry in, carry out” principles. Businesses must be required to purchase an annual license that limits access, a common practice out west. Revenue from these licenses will be used to police, clean, and build infrastructure on the river, because right now people are just defecating on the sand.

The good news is that folks smarter than I have been working on solutions, and I will highlight these various initiatives, spearheaded by groups like the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust and the Saco Headwaters Alliance. This season, we need to implement a comprehensive river management program involving landowners, town governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, and the general public. The time for planning and talking is over. The moment for serious action is upon us. Our children deserve a clean river. Let us not callously betray them.

(1) comment


Proof these times are crazy, I agree with Q. There is a first time for everything.

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