Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

“At some point, those of us in power have to listen to those who put us there.”
—Former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales upon withdrawing his support for the proposed Pembina fossil fuel export terminal in response to grassroots pressure. 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Columbia Riverkeeper believes that everyone— everyone—deserves life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness. The mythic American figure who brought forth these ideas proved deeply flawed. But the words themselves endure: transcendent, hopeful, and brave. Truly self-evident, they require no defense, only more defenders. As a Riverkeeper member, here’s where you come in.


At Riverkeeper, we wholeheartedly agree that “Water is life.” That’s why our mission is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia and all life connected to it. The Columbia River basin’s water, fish, plants, and wildlife nourish our bodies and our minds. The river’s beauty and power defy our meager descriptions. Its course and tributaries connect us across political divisions, great distances, and generations. This river, and its water, sustains life as we know it in the Northwest.

Making fish safe to eat.

Everyone deserves to eat fish from the Columbia without fearing toxic contamination. That’s why Riverkeeper is partnering with Yakama Nation to demand the cleanup of toxic pollution at Bradford Island, near Bonneville dam. Years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers dumped toxic waste, including cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), into the river at Bradford Island. We’ll keep pushing for cleanup until sturgeon and smallmouth caught near Bradford Island are safe to eat.

Saving orcas and salmon.

Human lives aren’t the only ones at stake. The Columbia once produced the world’s greatest runs of salmon and steelhead. Today, many of those runs are dwindling toward extinction. And the beloved Southern Resident killer whales that prey on those fish could soon fade into legend as well. Only bold action can restore life to our waterways; that’s why Riverkeeper advocates removing dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.


Safeguarding liberty means that we, the people, retain control over the government officials and institutions that serve us. This requires two things: public participation and government transparency. Time and again, Riverkeeper members show the strength, perseverance, and determination necessary to shape government policy. You speak truth to power. You demand to know what your government—from local ports to federal bureaucracies— is doing. You make your voice heard, even where your opinion isn’t popular. You hold your representatives accountable. Government officials respond to this kind of grassroots strength. That’s how we, the people, keep control of our democracy and our liberty.

Keeping government open to the public.

“The people do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.” So said the Washington Supreme Court in ruling for Riverkeeper over the Port of Vancouver. The Port violated the Open Public Meetings Act, by holding secret meetings about the nation’s largest oil-by-rail proposal. Riverkeeper fought back. Our precedent-setting legal victory helps prevent backroom deals between government officials and corporate interests.

Delivering knowledge and civic engagement to your doorstep.

Riverkeeper’s Grassroots Canvass Team goes door to door engaging new members and showing people how to protect their river. Our hardworking canvassers are the bone marrow of Riverkeeper’s grassroots strength. Rain or shine, they bring critical information about river protection to people and communities up and down the Columbia. Canvassing isn’t about changing someone’s mind in a three-minute conversation. It’s about connecting with people from all walks of life who already care about clean water and helping make their voices heard.


Perhaps we’re biased, but where better to pursue happiness than the Columbia River watershed? From the boardwalk of Astoria to the rugged walls of Hells Canyon and the waterfalls of the Gorge, a lifetime of amazing experiences awaits. Does your perfect day start with a midmorning kiteboarding session at Rufus, near the John Day Dam? Maybe you are already on the water at dawn’s early light, searching for an ocean-bright Chinook. Even high above the Columbia, hunting huckleberries, chanterelles, or blacktail on the slopes of Mt. Adams, you are connected to this mighty watershed. The chance to end the day with some of the world’s best beer and local seafood doesn’t hurt, either. So keep sending, sipping, casting, paddling, and questing. But don’t forget: Your dedication to this river, its landscape, and our climate makes these pursuits possible. Together, we’ll protect the waters, places, and people that bring us joy. 


We the People Issue: How your Columbia Riverkeeper membership is promoting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the 50th anniversary of the seminal case Sohappy v. Smith; and annual financial report.