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Op-ed: A plea for our treasured waters

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By Michael Garcia

I’ve been on rivers since I was 12 years old. I’ve been in the river business since I was 24. I paddle, row and dream rivers. What could be better for us than clean flowing rivers? How could we help our rivers?

One way for sure would be for me to see our rivers treated better. I paddle a few rivers every season that I still drink untreated water from, but only a select few. We need to act to keep these special waters and we can take steps to make it happen, but we can’t wait much longer.

Long enough have our rivers been the rugs we sweep our dirt under. Clean, pure water is essential in everyday life; everyone and every living thing needs it. Where our rivers are concerned, we need to do better.

We use our water resources for endless reasons. Some are good, some are bad. We all should see how protecting the remaining pristine waters we have are essential and totally in reach. Is there any reasonable argument against this goal? This is not a sacrifice. It’s a gift to ourselves and future generations.

I think of how lucky we are in Montana to have these incredible waterways. When it comes to recreational opportunities, Montana’s rivers offer an unparalleled spectrum of possibilities. From fishing to hunting to floating, Montana has all the choices you could ask for. Our free-flowing Yellowstone and its incredible tributaries are true jewels. The forks of the Boulder, Stillwater and Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone are as clear and pristine waters as you can find in America. East Rosebud Creek, our latest entry into the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, also feeds our country’s greatest free flowing river, the Yellowstone.

Never should we put the Yellowstone at risk and yet we are at odds with groups willing to do so every year. Rather, we should recognize all our special waterways and help establish standards that protect the remaining pure gems we have and create new means to upgrade our waterways in need of repair.

I travel extensively and recreate on rivers in several countries each year. Everywhere I go I’m engaged in river communities. What we have here and what we have accomplished on our rivers is a shining example that encourages other countries to follow. Still, what we have completed can’t stop. Our work is not done. We must accomplish more protection where undamaged waters run and more repentance where rivers need help.

In order to maintain, years from now, what we see today, proper effort and special legislation is required. We need the right attitude and the right laws in place to help make that happen. It is my hope that Montana’s U.S. Congressional delegation, Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Representative Greg Gianforte , will introduce and pass the Montana Headwaters Security Act to accomplish this worthy goal.

This draft legislation would use the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect some of Montana’s most iconic, free-flowing streams on public land. This includes rivers such as the Gallatin, Yellowstone, Boulder and Smith.

In the last 50 years we have protected some rivers and made amends for past mistakes on others where riparian systems were literally destroyed. It is my hope and the job of many hard-working people to see our rivers remain as pristine as possible. We have this responsibility, as we say to “leave things better than we found them.” Please ask our congressional delegation to protect Montana’s iconic rivers with the Montana Headwaters Security Act.

Visit to learn more about the legislation.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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