11 December 2020

Hi there! Nice to meet you. I am the river that flows right beside your home and gives you water!

Written by: Carla Ayala Crespo

I’ve noticed how the people of Puerto Rico, especially the young ones (myself included), have forgotten the names of the rivers of their island. Older people usually know the names and locations of the rivers of their municipality, the name of the stream right beside their homes, or the name of the creek that suddenly floods when it rains heavily.

That makes me reflect on the possible reasons behind that disconnection with our rivers. Certainly, Puerto Rico no longer has an agrarian economy, which heavily depend on water. That may have contributed to us forgetting the names and locations of our rivers. We also have received drinking water directly to our homes since long ago, essentially eliminating the trips we made to the river to fetch water. Another reason may be, perhaps, related to our education system.

Thanks to the opportunity given to me by the Hispanic Access Foundation and El Yunque National Forest, I’ve learned about the rivers that originate within El Yunque Mountains and the valuable services they provide, such as drinking water, recreation opportunities, habitat to interesting fish and other aquatic creatures, among others. The experience has impacted me in a tremendously, positive way. At the same time, I remember what I learned in my Environmental Science university courses: the predicted changes associated to climate change that we may see in the rivers of Puerto Rico and El Yunque. These changes include an increase in erosion of the river channels and margins due to an increase in hurricane intensity and its associated precipitation, extended drought periods in the dry season and, consequently, low flow in the streams. These changes will have devastating effects on the water supply, water quality, and aquatic ecology of our rivers. Considering the facts, it is critical that we act and start protecting these resources. El Yunque National Forest protects the headwaters of several major rivers, but the whole island needs to join the effort. Not only the water supply and water quality are in danger but also a part of our culture. Imagine not being able to visit the stream that was close to your grandmother’s home because it dried up.

Now, my mission as an HAF intern is to communicate all the information I’ve found in a format that is accessible and easy to understand for the public. I understand the benefits of knowing about your natural resources. From my experience and from people I know, knowing about your natural resources makes you appreciate them more. It can make you feel pride and, sometimes, it can even make you feel love for your land and resources. For this reason, I want to ignite that spark of curiosity for our rivers in Puerto Ricans. I hope that this action will increase the involvement of Puerto Ricans in the management of their resources. I want people to pay more attention and ask questions about how their rivers are managed and used. I want more people to attend public sessions for a new development project that is too close to a river. I want to contribute with my grain of sand to this cause and I know that with the knowledge and tools I acquire during this internship, I will be able to.

Agency: U.S Forest Service

Program: Resource Assistant Program (RAP)

Location: USFS Headquarters, Washington Office

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