A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


It’s the Water, Stupid

By Harvard Ayers

Harvard Ayers is a professor of Anthropology at Appalachian State University and a founding Board Member of Appalachian Voices.



Appalachia has long been the source of water for vast areas both east and west of our region. From points east to the Atlantic to points west to the Mississippi River, our once clear, pristine mountain streams have provided a critical resource for millions of

Easterners. For all downstream uses, as goes the water in Appalachia, so goes the water for everyone.


Recently, Appalachian Voices initiated our first ever mountain river protection program with the hiring of experienced river advocate, Donna Lisenby. Donna has launched our Watauga Riverkeeper program, a part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, which has riverkeepers, baykeepers, covekeepers and the like all across North America and many foreign countries.


This wonderful new program marks the first time Appalachian Voices has turned it focus squarely on our region’s waterways. In my mind, it’s about time. For all our concerns from sustainable forestry, to coal fired power plants, to mountaintop removal, water plays a critical role. For instance, with mountaintop removal, waterways are not just affected, but are, in some cases, completely destroyed. Water use by coal fired power plants is huge. In these two instances, water quality and quantity provide a legal handle in opposing these broadly impactful processes.


Thus, the Watauga Riverkeeper may be only the first. Imagine a riverkeeper for the rivers in the Appalachian coalfields, where over 1000 miles of small streams have been buried under hundreds of feet of MTR overburden, and water quality is heavily impacted by the effluent from coal processing plants. Any applicants for the Big Coal Riverkeeper?


Appalachian Voices has long thought of itself as a one-stop-shopping destination for environmental protection. Our riverkeeper program makes that claim all more the better.