Our rivers are among our greatest and most important natural resources.

Virtually anywhere we look, we see that America was first settled along its riverbanks, which provided a wealth of opportunities for development and transportation.

It’s also no secret that for much of the 20th century, as our nation became more industrialized and our population boomed, we were not good stewards of our rivers. We disregarded their importance by seriously polluting them and, in many cases, turning them into virtual sewers.

We hope that phase of our history is finally over, thanks to environmental regulations and cleanup efforts that have already gone a long way toward restoring life and health to our rivers and streams.

But these efforts are far from finished, and there is still much work to be done.

With this in mind, we commend such groups as the Abingdon-based Upper Tennessee River Roundtable and Clinch Valley Program of The Nature Conservancy in Virginia.

Both organizations are dedicated to restoring and revitalizing our important watershed, which includes not only the Clinch River but also the Powell and Holston rivers, which have their origins in Southwest Virginia.

They are part of the Upper Tennessee River Watershed, as all three rivers flow into East Tennessee to help form the mighty Tennessee River in the Knoxville area. From their beginnings in Southwest Virginia, they are all important components of our environment.

These two groups recently were awarded a $25,000 grant each from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation to help them continue their conservation efforts in our region.

The Nature Conservancy in Virginia’s Clinch River Program, whose efforts are helping organizations such as the Clinch River Valley Initiative (clinchriverva.com) to boost tourism and eco-friendly use of the Clinch River, also is involved in trying to restore the freshwater mussel population to the Clinch and Powell rivers. The Conservancy plans to use its Dominion Energy grant money in that effort.

“The Clinch, Powell and Holston rivers run nearly parallel courses through the remote mountains and valleys of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee,” the Conservancy says on its website. “These last free-flowing tributaries of the Tennessee River system harbor the nation’s highest concentrations of globally rare and imperiled fish and freshwater mussels.

“In the Clinch River alone, we have protected seven key shoal habitats that support some of the world’s most diverse assemblages of mussels,” the website says. “But boosting populations of these beneficial creatures remains [crucial] to their survival, so we work with numerous agency and university partners to increase mussel populations.”

Those partners include Virginia Tech’s Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center and the Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center in Marion, where they “raise the juvenile mussels we release into targeted sections of the Clinch and Powell rivers,” the website notes.

The Upper Tennessee River Roundtable notes on its website (uppertnriver.org) that it is “a nonprofit organization with an overall interest in improving water quality in the Upper Tennessee River Watershed.”

The website adds: “Don’t let the name confuse you: The Upper Tennessee River Roundtable is based in Southwest Virginia and covers from the very tip of Virginia, Lee County, toward Wythe County. The Roundtable represents a total of seven counties and two cities. Our major rivers include the Clinch, Holston and Powell.”

As for the Dominion Energy grant money the Roundtable received last week, it will be used to create “an outdoor classroom and rain garden at the Community Center of Abingdon,” according to the group’s executive director, Carol Doss, in a story in last week’s Washington County News..

Doss said the rain garden is “a stormwater management practice … designed to capture rain and hold it for no more than 72 hours before it is released into the ground.”

“We’re building the rain garden to capture the runoff from a new pickleball court that the Town of Abingdon is going to build,” she said, adding that the rain garden will serve as one of the learning stations for the outdoor classroom.

Both projects proposed by the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable and The Nature Conservancy in Virginia include a community education and engagement component, the newspaper story noted.

We commend Dominion Energy for making these donations to these local organizations.

And we also commend the work of these two organizations to help improve and protect our vital watershed and restore such resources as the freshwater mussel population.

Efforts such as these are vital to the future of Southwest Virginia, and they deserve our encouragement and support.

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