“The cycle of life is intricately linked with the cycle of water. The water system has to remain alive if we
are to remain alive on earth.” Jacques Cousteau
The Ohio River Watershed Ecosystem comprises all the landscapes, forests, prairies and meadows,
tributaries and streams that drain rainwater toward the Ohio River. The benefits of a healthy ecosystem,
often undervalued, are essential to and interconnected with humanity’s cultural, environmental, and
economic well-being. And yet it has endured a long history of ecological degradation, habitat
destruction, agricultural and industrial pollution, and raw sewage discharge.It faces new and emerging
threats from climate change, combined sewer stormwater overflows, and from leaching of hazardous
chemicals not covered by the Clean Water Act. Consequently, the communities along the river have
witnessed their source of drinking water turn into the most dangerously polluted river in the country.
Growing industrial pressure has weakened regulatory protections as evidenced by ORSANCO’s 2019
shift in policy. Indeed, over the last five years, evidence indicates that government pollution protection
and enforcement are not working. Violations of the Clean Water Act are going unprosecuted, and the
number of permit violations only appears to be growing. Government permits for the Appalachian
Petrochemical Hub along the river put the health, biodiversity, and safety of our river ecosystem in
critical danger. This, as well as state preemption of local protective laws, deprives local communities of
democratic decision-making about their own health and safety and from advocating for the inherent
rights of the Ohio River Watershed Ecosystem to thrive. Government policies are clearly more
responsive to the voices of corporations than to the voices of communities.
This must change!
We, concerned residents of the Ohio River Watershed Ecosystem, have a compelling obligation to
protect each other and the living ecosystem of which we are a part. Clean, safe water is imperative for
all life and for our collective security. To protect the Ohio River Watershed Ecosystem and to empower
its communities, we must rethink our environmental laws and policies. Our legal system traditionally
views nature as property, a resource from which wealth is extracted, and allows environmental costs to
be externalized. To ensure a more resilient future, we must change assumptions about our place in the
natural world as well as the presumed “right” of property holders to inflict irreversible harm upon it. We
therefore affirm the rights and the responsibilities of the human community to protect its own health and
safety and to advocate for the inherent rights of the Ohio River Watershed Ecosystem to thrive,
regenerate, and flourish. It is urgent that this Bill of Rights be adopted as law.
We are proposing to codify into law our rights to restore and protect our watershed from the systemic
threats and irreparable harm to its ecological integrity. This “new” approach is in fact rooted in the
ancient world view of the Indigenous people of this land who regard streams, lands and forests as a
sacred heritage and a living legacy. It is also rooted in ecology and the living Earth story coming from
cutting edge science. As of 2019, Rights of Nature laws exist at local or national levels in 12 countries,
including dozens of cities and counties across the United States in the form of provisions, treaties,
statutes, local ordinances and court decisions. The Rights of Nature movement is proposing a paradigm
shift that would align contemporary environmental law with the nature-centered principles of
Indigenous law, as well as with cutting edge scientific knowledge.