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Karnali Waterkeeper visits the Hudson, forges alliance over free-flowing rivers


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A visit last week from a Waterkeeper from Nepal gave us a chance to learn about the Karnali River – and to forge a new alliance based on a common goal.

Megh Bahadur Ale came to visit the first Riverkeeper organization – Hudson Riverkeeper – last Wednesday to propose that we become linked as sister rivers, and create an agreement between Karnali Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper in an effort to save the last free-flowing river in Nepal.

As a result of the meeting, Riverkeeper and Karnali River Waterkeeper are seeking to formally and spiritually unite the Hudson and the Karnali as sister rivers, through the promise to preserve and protect the integrity of free-flowing water and protect all the organisms that are sustained by those waters.

Megh Bahadur Ale is a river guide, explorer, conservationist, campaigner, Buddhist priest, founder of Karnali River Waterkeeper and is also the Founder of Nepal River Conservation Trust, a non-profit organization established in 1995 by a group of concerned river guides who recognized the ecological and cultural damage taking place on Nepal’s rivers. Megh has led the movement towards conserving Nepal’s Himalayan river systems, preserving Nepal’s cultural heritage, and developing an environmentally responsible river tourism industry.

The Ghanghara (another name for the Karnali) begins on the Tibetan Plateau and is the longest and last free-flowing river in Nepal. That designation may not remain for long: This magnificent river is under threat of hydropower dams and irrigation. This perennial free-flowing river is threatened because it flows through one of the economically impoverished regions of the planet and its steady flow of water could provide irrigation and electricity for a rapidly growing population.

As this tumultuous river falls and rages through a wildly diverse landscape, a variety of exotic fauna flourish along its banks.

From the headwaters to the floodplains, snow leopards and Himalayan black bears prowl the rugged mountains. Leopards, tigers, Asian elephants and a variety of deer species flourish in the densely vegetated floodplains and jungles. The Karnali itself is the last bastion for mugger crocodiles, and gharial (fish eating crocodiles) that lurk in murky reaches of the lower river and also where the last remaining Gangetic dolphins stave off extinction for now.

As for fish, this river is the ancestral home of the magnificent golden mahseer, a giant species that has suffered severe declines due to habitat loss, pollution and exploitation.

Nepal is called the “Roof of the World,” because it is home to eight of the ten highest mountains on Earth including Mount Everest. The rivers that drain these mountains are under threat as the source of fresh water for 4 billion people.

The Karnali is also profoundly important for cultural reasons, because its origin lies near the Holy Mountain Kailash – the spiritual center of four eastern religions, Hinduism, Bon, Jainism, and Buddhism, and where the Hindu Lord Shiva sits in a state of perpetual meditation. The Karnali flows unimpeded until it joins the Sharda River and then merges into the holy Ganges River.

On the day of his visit here, Megh traveled the Hudson River Valley with Riverkeeper staff to help support our efforts to rid Hudson River tributaries of a myriad of dams that impede the free flow of water and block that passage of fish.

Along the way, we walked across the Bear Mountain Bridge and took some photos. Our mission that day included directly engaging some dam owners, and with Megh’s participation as a Karnali River emissary, we initiated positive dialogue in removing an important barrier to migratory fish.

The Hudson River and Karnali River are both 315 miles long.

Hopefully they will soon be connected as sisters, and Riverkeeper and the Karnali Waterkeeper will become brother organizations united in partnership, in defense of free-flowing rivers and the rights of aquatic organisms that are sustained by those waters.