02/16/2011 05:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rivers: The Heart of America's Great Outdoors

Ask any family enjoying a streamside picnic in the city park. A Girl Scout troop on their first canoe trip. A little boy and his grandfather casting a line, hoping to catch the big one.

Ask any child wading barefoot in a stream.

Rivers are the heart of America's Great Outdoors.

Rivers and the vital clean water, recreation, and health benefits they provide are a primary focus in a report released Wednesday by the Obama administration detailing its America's Great Outdoors initiative. The report, which presents the administration's vision for conservation in the 21st century, stresses the importance of investing in additional river protection and restoration measures nationwide.

The report echoes American Rivers' recommendations and calls for the creation of blueways, also known as blue trails or water trails, to give portions of rivers special attention for restoration and access. The report also recommends managing federal lands and waters in a larger context to promote ecosystem health, while preparing for droughts and other impacts of climate change. And by establishing a Conservation Service Corps, the administration aims to engage youth in land and water restoration.

American Rivers applauds the administration for recognizing the many blessings of healthy rivers. Most Americans live within a mile of a river or stream, so rivers are essential to our health and quality of life. They provide Americans, especially people in cities, with a great opportunity to experience the outdoors and connect with nature.

Rivers also provide us with clean drinking water -- the number one environmental concern among Americans.

While we celebrate the momentum and focus around rivers, cuts to clean water safeguards proposed right now in Congress would mean more sewage and pollution in our waterways. This is a serious threat to public health, our natural heritage, and our ability to enjoy rivers with our children and families.

We can't have our children swimming in sewage. We don't want polluted water flowing out of our faucets. When we cast a line we want to catch a fish, not a piece of trash.

Congress must reject proposed cuts and newly-minted loopholes that would make our rivers unsafe for drinking water and recreation.

As Charles Kuralt, the beloved journalist and former board member of American Rivers, once wrote, "America is a great story and there is a river on every page of it."

We will continue to fight for our rivers that make America such a great story. Whether it is implementing the recommendations in the America's Great Outdoors report or defending critical clean water protections, American Rivers is dedicated to leaving a legacy of healthy rivers and clean water for the next generation.