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What it's all about:

There’s something magical about traveling a river from source to sea. Something that makes us want to do it again, and again. Perhaps it’s the combination of overcoming a difficult journey, of challenging our bodies, of problem-solving in new ways. Perhaps it’s because of the friendships we solidify and the amazing people we meet along the way: the helping hands, the supporters rallying and rooting for our cause, the rediscovery of the goodness of humanity, and the kindness of strangers. And perhaps it’s because our journey mirrors that of the rivers. Starting off small and a little unsure, but crystal clear and pure, gurgling and babbling along. Ourselves and the river both gaining momentum and strength as we travel downstream, overcoming obstacles, dams, pollutants, and toxic sludge. Nevertheless, we persevere, onward, downstream, drop by drop on our quest to reach the sea.

When we reach the sea in all its magnificence and enormity, we once again become just a little drop in a vast world. At least until the cycle repeats.

Source to Sea to Source to Sea to Source to Source to Sea to Source

The process of paddling a river from its headwaters to the ocean immerses us in our connection and interdependence to all things on this planet. When we are on a snow-capped mountain top, we are connected to the Ocean Whale. When we are sailing in the ocean, we are connected to the Bald Eagle in the Mountains. We are inseparable from water. In parallel meanders, the river carves canyons and people as one.

Source to Sea Literacy

At its core, Source to Sea Literacy is a practice of witnessing the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things. It is a holistic wisdom ingrained within culture, habits, and beliefs. Source to sea literacy is the appreciation for how a single drop of water connects us to our local community AND to our global community. It draws inspiration from existing movements in environmental education such as intersectional environmentalism, water literacy, eco-literacy, environmental literacy, carbon literacy, food literacy, the circular economy, cradle to cradle, systems thinking, and planetary and human health.

A Source to Sea literate person has the capacity to act individually and with others to support ecologically sound, economically prosperous, and equitable river communities for present and future generations. Through lived experiences and ongoing education, we become source to sea literate. We develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding of environmental principles to analyze environmental issues and make informed decisions concerning our rivers.

At Rivers for Change, we support peoples’ exploration of source to sea perspectives. We help people get outdoors and onto their local rivers and waters through our Source to Sea School, events, ambassadors program, and grants. We believe that becoming not only stewards of water but champions for it can bring us together.

What Source to Sea Means to our Board of Directors:

Water talks to us. The question is are we listening? When I paddle it talks to me through the paddle, the boat, through my feet on the board. I know where the river is headed and how it is getting there watching, listening and feeling. Only with that connection am I able to really appreciate the river to its more full extent, work with it, and understand it.

StS Literacy is that concept above applied to the overall river. What is the natural river, the whole watershed, who and what lives there, who does the river benefit, what are the fauna and flora, how is it changing, what does that mean now, what does it mean in 20 years, 200 years, what are the threats to the river, to humans, plants, animals.


To me, source to sea means the ever-moving flow of water, how each drop moves from mountains to the sea, then back again as the sea gives its water to the clouds, which in turn rain and snow on the mountains and the hills, starting the cycle all over again. Along its course, water gives life to its watershed, in myriad ways. You drink it. You play in it. You cook your dinner, power your lights, and wash your clothes with it. You admire the views it creates and the way it cuts its path, forming canyons and floodplains as readily as creeks and lakes. Everything you eat, drink and breathe owes itself to the movement of water from source to sea. Whether you’re a bug or a blade of grass, a fish or a human, this remains true.

More simply, source to sea is the course people follow along a river as a way to touch a tiny part of this water cycle. You can travel in your mind or on a boat or walk along shore, taking a few days or a lifetime.


To me, Source to Sea is literal and conceptual. Literally, I think about STS as the idea that a river is a system and all parts of the system are connected from beginning to end. When I make an action that affects a river, a possible reaction can occur up and down river, because it’s all interconnected Because many rivers eventually flow into the sea, the name works well, although it may be more appropriate if it were named source to sea to source.

If I think about STS as a concept, I think of other systems like transportation or manufacturing and how other systems flow like rivers. Disturb the flow in some manner and things happen before and after that part of the process.


Source to Sea literacy means understanding the connections of ecosystems from the source of a river, along its path and ultimately where the river ends at the sea. It means becoming acquainted with the ecology, the geography, the geology, the hydrology, the politics and the policy of rivers as you become intimately acquainted with the river itself. On river trips, we used to talk about river time. River time is a pace of life that is slower than our usual pace but allows us to spend deeper time with each other, to observe our surroundings and to appreciate both the beauty and power of the river. Rivers, in some way, have personalities so source to sea literacy is both understanding the science of riparian systems but also learning the personality of a specific river.


Source to Sea Literacy means understanding how everything is interconnected. It means having a holistic understanding of the interdependence of all things. It includes both an academic understanding of things like the water cycle and how water drops are connected in an upstream and downstream way, to a visceral understanding of how communities along a river connect to one another, to an almost spiritual understanding of the power and beauty and importance of water within our lives. To be source to sea literate includes being water literate, carbon literate, food literate, socially literate, it involves striving to understand how choices that we make in how we live and what we buy have impacts that trickle around the world. It includes understanding a circular economy and systems thinking. It is about understanding that we are tied and dependent on each other and that our actions have great power. In an ideal world everyone would be source to sea literate, living with knowledge of their impact, taking action to mitigate that, and being a positive force within their communities by spreading this knowledge.


When I think source-to-sea literacy, I think education, knowledge, and proficiency in a comprehensive understanding of the interconnectedness of lakes, rivers, and the ocean. This includes multiple layers of interconnectedness from an environmental advocacy to a purely scientific perspective — all with the core values of education and outreach supporting the importance of source-to-sea to the health of our ecosystem.