Mar 20, 2021 3 min read

Wild and free-flowing rivers

Women are working on dry soils in Dodoma, Tanzania. Photo: Ngoteya Wild

Hello all,

Thanks for joining me this week. I’m very glad to bring you the first editor's highlight. This is a new format of our newsletter, in which we’ll hear from our editors — and have them share their perspectives on water and climate challenges and solutions.

This week we have a story from Rex Steward on how his life has been intertwined with his experience of water bodies. Find him online: LinkedIn. Let's dive in.

When I recall the scenes of my childhood there is a river or stream cascading through so many that I almost feel as if I’ve floated into the present, carried through my young life as if by a single current. Growing up in the American Pacific Northwest, a child of naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts, fresh water felt like a constant presence in my life.

I recently returned from months of field research in Madagascar, where I spent every day wading into sediment-rich rivers, collecting samples and measuring streamflow. It seems that my adult self is still grasped by the same flow: drawn to rivers and wild water.

I know I will never outgrow the urge to wander up a mountain stream for a day or more, hopping from rock to rock, crossing fallen logs, eager to discover what hides behind every bend, over the next falls, like pages of a captivating book.

Water feels big, ungraspable

Wild and free-flowing rivers - those which have not been dammed or hemmed in by dikes or levees, have played a major role in my sense of connection to our living planet and shared humanity.

To me, water feels big, ungraspable: a humbling force beyond our full control that imposes its will upon us -though not for a lack of trying.

Most of the world's rivers are developed, driven by our need for water supplies, electricity, and flood control - dammed too often without consideration of the values and services that are lost.

Beyond the vast ecological, economic, and cultural value attributed to free-flowing rivers, I believe they are an opportunity for us to see and appreciate water outside of the utile shape we so often try to assign it - that an unrestrained flow is one of the few instances where we can feel water’s intrinsic value.


I recognize that my experience is one of considerable privilege, to have had access to resources and wild spaces, as well as the time to wonder and wander with water. My connection is also deeply individual - there exists a great diversity of ways of knowing, relating to, and utilizing rivers.

Still, I know I am far from alone in my connection to rivers, inextricably linked as they are to human well‐being, spiritual needs, cultural identity, and sense of place.

As I grow older I hope to do so with rivers nearby so I might continue to learn from them. I wish to know myself as a river does, to flow as surely, through flood and drought, over cold stones and across vast plains of experience, all the while nourishing those at my banks.

May I be dynamic, meandering, but always exactly where I’m meant to be; powered and nourished by the many tributaries that have built me.

Water story from the heart

Re-greening through the inclusion of farmers and communities in Tanzania

Re-greening through the inclusion of farmers and communities in Tanzania

An ancient, nature-based method of rainwater harvesting and Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is being used to re-green the semi-arid area in the Dodoma region of Tanzania. The heroes of this story are the local communities and farmers, who work alongside the LEAD foundation and Justdiggit to restore 9 million trees.

Quote of the Week

Water is the main hotspot when it comes to climate impacts.

Saleemul Huq at our project launch "Bangladesh and Climate Change".

Tweet of the Week

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I would like to hear from you if you have any questions or suggestions about this newsletter, Nextblue, or your own stories on water and climate change. Just send an email to

Joep Janssen
Joep Janssen
Founder and editor-in-chief Nextblue
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