World Conservation Day 2017

December 5, 2017

In honor of World Conservation Day, NWNL wants to share some of it’s favorite photographs from over the years of each of our case-study watersheds.

Trout Lake in the Columbia River Basin
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Aerial view of the largest tributary of the Lower Omo River
Ethiopia: aerial of Mago River, largest tributary of Lower Omo River

 

Canoeing on the Mississippi River
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Fisherman with his canoe on the shore of Lake Tana, source of the Nile River
Ethiopia: Lake Tana, source of the blue Nile, fisherman and canoe on the shore.

 

Wildebeests migrating toward water in the Mara Conservancy
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Raritan River at sunset
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All photos © Alison M. Jones.


Just So We Can Survive, We Must Change….

November 28, 2017

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories charmed Victorian readers with tales such as how the leopard got his spots. In re-reading this childhood classic, I was struck with the idea of Kipling’s whimsy being a parable for climate change adaptation and coping techniques. So…

Adaptation in the Mara River Basin paired with Kipling’s Words

“There was sand and sandy-coloured rock and ‘sclusively tufts of sandy-yellowish grass. The Giraffe and the Zebra and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Hartebeest lived there; and they were ‘sclusively sand-yellow-brownish all over, but the Leopard, he was the ‘sclusivest sandiest-yellowest-brownest of them all.

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An Ethiopian with bows and arrows (a ‘sclusively greyish-brownish-yellowish man he was then), lived on the High Veldt with the Leopard, and the two used to hunt together – the Ethiopian with his bows and arrows, and the Leopard ‘sclusively with his teeth and claws.

East Africa, Kenya, Maasai (aka Masai) Mara NR, Rekero

… The Giraffe and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Quagga and all the rest of them… learned to avoid anything that looked like a Leopard or an Ethiopian and bit by bit… they went away…. They scuttled for days and days and days till they came to a great forest, ‘sclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy,speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows, and there they hid….

Then [the Ethiopian and the leopard] met Baviaan, — the dog-headed, barking Baboon, who is Quite the Wisest Animal in All South Africa. Said Leopard to Baviaan (and it was a very hot day), Where has all the game gone?”

And Baviaan winked. He knew….

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Then said Baviaan, “The aboriginal Fauna has joined the aboriginal Flora because it was high time for a change, and my advice to you Ethiopian, is to change as soon as you can.” ….

[The Ethiopian then said,] “The long and the little of it is that we don’t match our backgrounds. I’m going to take Baviaan’s advice He told me I ought to change, and as I’ve nothing to change except my skin. I’m going to change that … to a nice working blackish-brownish colour with a little purple in it, and touches of slaty-blue. It will be the very thing for hiding in hollows and behind trees….”

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“Umm…, I’ll take spots, then, said the Leopard…. The Ethiopian put his five fingers close together (there was plenty of black left on his new skin still) and pressed them all over the Leopard…   “Now you are a beauty! Said the Ethiopian. “You can lie out on the bare ground and look like a heap of pebbles. You can lie out on the naked rocks and look like a piece of pudding-stone. You can lie out on a leafy branch and look like sunshine sifting through the leaves, and you can lie aright across the centre of a path and look like nothing in particular. Think of that and purr!”

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So they went away and lived happily ever afterward, Best Beloved. That is all.”

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.


Seeking Nile River Origins via its Tributaries

November 21, 2017

By Joannah Otis for No Water No Life

This is the third blog on the Nile River in Egypt by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis, sophomore at Georgetown University. This essay addresses the sources of the Nile  – lakes, tributaries, and a great swamp. [NWNL has completed documentary expeditions to the White and Blue Nile Rivers, but due to current challenges for photojournalists in Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using literary and online resources to investigate the main stem of the Nile.]

For centuries, the debate over the source of the Nile River incited explorations and evoked endless questions. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile originated from an underground sea or spring, but never ventured upriver to confirm their theory.  Instead they put their faith in Hapi, god of the Nile River.1 [See NWNL Blog “Finding Hapi-ness on the Nile,” .]

1000px-River_Nile_map.svgMap of the Nile River and its sources. (Attribution: Hel-Hama)

Interest in the elusive source arose again c. 440 BCE when Herodotus wrote in The Histories of the “fountains of the Nile.”  He asserted that melting snow from upstream mountains flooded the headwaters to create the seasonal inundation.2  It was not until 1768 when James Bruce began searching for and ultimately found the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands that some light was shed on the issue.  

In 1874, Henry Morton Stanley confirmed an earlier theory by John Hanning Speke that Lake Victoria was the source of the White Nile. These explorers and many others were often sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society in England and driven by their own hopes for fame.3 Today’s satellite technology and advanced resources have enabled us to positively identify Lake Tana as the source of the Blue Nile and Lake Victoria as the source of the White Nile. These two main rivers meet in Khartoum, Egypt to form the great Nile River.

ET Bar 0125D.JPGTissiat Falls, from L. Tana, source  of the Blue Nile.  (© Alison M. Jones)

The Blue Nile is the source of about 85% of the Nile’s water.4 Beginning in the Ethiopian Highlands where a plateau of basalt lava receives rain from seasonal monsoons from May to October, the Blue Nile stretches over 900 miles into Sudan. This origin point lies 2,500 meters above sea level.  Beginning its northbound route, this river flows through Lake Tana, as well as the Blue Nile Gorge.5 Lake Tana is a shallow body of water measuring 1,400 square miles, surrounded by the Amhara tribe’s ancestral lands.6 The Blue Nile Gorge, lying on the edge of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, guides the Blue Nile for 370 miles into the middle of the Ethiopian Highlands.7

While the White Nile contributes only 15% of the Nile River’s water, it is still an important ecological and hydrological presence.8 Originating in Lake Victoria and fed by the Ruvubu, Nyabarongo, Mara and other rivers, the White Nile flows through Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert, and the Sudd.9 The White Nile flows through much of the Albertine Rift Region.  It spans from the northernmost point of Uganda’s Lake Albert to the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika.10  This rift is home to a plethora of diverse wildlife, including 5,793 plant species, which brings profitable tourism to Uganda. Between Juba, Ethiopia and Khartoum, the river in Sudan drops just 75 meters. To the east and west of the river, the floodplains become savannah and then desert as lush growth that adorns the Nile’s banks disappears.11

White_Nile_Bridge,_Omdurman_to_Khartoum,_SudanThe White Nile Bridge in Sudan. (Attribution: David Stanley)

Just south of Khartoum, lies the vast Sudd, covering most of  South Sudan. Meaning ‘obstacle’ in Arabic. the Sudd is one of the world’s largest wetlands and the Nile Basin’s largest freshwater wetland.  The Sudd is a 12,355 square-mile practically impenetrable swamp of complex channels and lagoons –  an explorer’s challenge.  Fed by heavy rainfall from April to October,12 it provides floodwater storage and water habitat for 350 plant species, 470 migratory bird species, and 100 fish species.  Antelope migrations from the surrounding arid Sahel retreat annually to the Sudd in astonishing numbers.  Around 1.2 million white-eared kob, Nile Lechwe, and tiang, as well as wild dogs, crocodiles and hippos in the Sudd are best viewed by air.   The Sudd is also the home to pastoralist Nuer, Dinka and Shilluk tribes, Nilotic peoples who practice subsistence semi-nomadic cattle breeding and some grain farming.

Jones_040826_ET_0160Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s source of the Blue Nile. (© Alison M. Jones)

Ecosystems within the swamp include open waters with submerged vegetation, floodplain shrubland, surface-floating fringe vegetation, seasonally flooded grassland and woodland.13 Since most of the water that enters the Sudd evaporates due to high temperatures in Sudan, the White Nile leaves this swamp with half the power with which it enters.14  Since the 1930’s, there’ve been proposals to build a canal, today referred to as the Jonglei Canal Project, east out of the Sudd directly to the main stem of the Nile River.  It is said such a canal could increase Egypt’s water supply by five to seven percent. While Sudan and Egypt would benefit, South Sudan would see its fisheries die, grazing lands dry out and groundwater lowered.

Uganda:Lake Victoria, Uganda’s source of the White Nile. (© Alison M. Jones)

After years of searching, the sources of the Blue and White Nile River are no longer mysteries. The number of plant and animal species who depend on them are staggering, but they also serve as important lifelines for the humans living on their banks. From water for irrigation to water for domestic use, the Nile River tributaries are vital to North African survival of all species, including humans. It would be a human and environmental tragedy if these Nile tributaries or the great Sudd were drained and disappeared, as has Africa’s Lake Chad. Thus, these waterways deserve the respect and care owed to such treasured and vital resources.

Sources

1 Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
2Bangs, Richard; Scaturro, Pasquale. Mystery of the Nile. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, New York. 2005.
3 Turnbull, March. “The Great Race for the Rivers of Africa.” Africa Geographic. May 2004.
4 “Nile River Facts.” Africa Facts. Web.
5“History of the Nile.” Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Web.
6Bangs, Richard; Scaturro, Pasquale. Mystery of the Nile. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, New York. 2005.
7Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
8“Nile River Facts.” Africa Facts. Web. September 27, 2017.
9Caputo, Robert. “Journey up the Nile.” National Geographic. May 1985.
10“The Environmental Resources of the Nile Basin.” p 57-98. Web.
11Pavan, Aldo. The Nile From the Mountains to the Mediterranean. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 2006.
12 Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
13“The Environmental Resources of the Nile Basin.” p 57-98. Web.
14Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.

Dr. Alan Rice Reviews “The Waste Water Gardener”, by Dr. Mark Nelson

November 14, 2017

 

Reviewer’s Bio: Dr Alan Rice, (Doctor of Engineering Science) has conducted research in a number of fields, directing attention to environmental issues. He draws on experience from extensive global travel, having spent significant time in many countries.  

Information about Dr. Mark Nelson’s “The Waste Water Gardener”

NWNL Director’s Note: As one of 8 pioneers with Biosphere 2, Nelson saw that proper re-use of human waste could meet many goals needed for the survival of humans and watershed ecosystems. Having tasted “black water,” recycled from raw sewage, I can say it is great! So let’s get over the Yuck Factor.  

 

I pray this book is followed up with a text for civil/environmental engineering courses offered globally, and also made available on the web. Two decades ago, drought-besieged Texas towns had to resort to raw sewage to reclaim drinking water. From ancient times, so-called “more primitive” cultures recognized the importance of returning to the earth (in the form of fertilizer) that which we take from it. This is the theme embedded in Nelson’s book. And, incidentally money may be made with it!

 

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Most modern practices deplete the soils of their nutrients, leaving them barren. However, with 10% of its land arable, China has supported great populations by recycling “night soil,” a euphemism for human feces. Nelson also espouses recycling human feces. Which brings us to one of the charms of Dr. Nelson’s book. He doesn’t call it ‘feces’. He drops us into the ‘shit’ immediately. He calls a shit a shit and doesn’t try to hide the stuff under sobriquets as “B.M.” or “number two.”

The fastidious pretenses of many North Americans who’ve turned up their noses to recycling shit, squelched Chicago’s early hopes of providing clean, usable fertilizer from their own sewage treatment plants. Perhaps that “noses-up” is a holdover from the 1894 horse manure crisis in New York City. The city was “saved” with the advent of the horseless carriage, which brought with it more deadly pollutants. In any event, in a scholarly flair for his subject, Nelson employs the Anglo-Saxon descriptor deeply embedded in the English language since 500 BCE – and very likely long before: shit. This usage gives a playful and amusing lilt to the book, lightening the somber nature of the material it addresses.

US agriculture prefers guano instead to replace lost nutrients. Guano? Bird shit is held in higher esteem than people poop? But instead of either, the US replaces nutrients with manufactured phosphates, their excess being carried off to foul the seas and polluting every tributary along the way.

MA-MON-101Outhouse in Montague, Massachusettes (2000)

 

Nelson’s tome brings ashore the mission of the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, which set out to clear “The North River” of swarming populations of “Hudson River brown trout” (another euphemism) that spawned in the upper reaches of Manhattan’s sewers to debouch into the river – raw and untreated – at the 125th Street outfall. That mission was successful. We can now swim the lower Hudson.

Nelson’s manual guides the way to similar success on land. On the Clearwater I encountered my second “composting toilet.” Its odorless contents didn’t go into the Hudson, but to organic farming elsewhere. My first encounter with something similar was on a Wyoming ranch that ran buffalo. There, the urine, sterile when first leaving the body, goes into one container. The feces – oops, the shit – goes into the other, which provides even more beneficial results. No water is wasted either way, as these commodes are not flushed. That avoids the extremes forced upon Texas towns. In some places, water is now more expensive than whiskey.

Jones_130128_K_3688Outhouse in Kangatosa on Lake Turkana in Kenya (2013)

 

The innovative, pioneering spirit that typified the US in earlier years has moved offshore. Composting toilets are the new fashion in India where Indian Railways are retrofitting 43,000 coaches with them. The “proceeds” go to organic gardens. A number of so-called “Third World” countries are taking similar approaches: Burkina Faso, Georgia, The Philippines, Haiti, Cambodia, Rwanda…. It’s a long list.

Nelson offers engineering solutions for whole village programs, hotels, recreation areas – this list is long also. Their sewage – AKA, “effluent” – is released into an outside garden to be taken up by fruit trees, vegetables and flowers, which absorb that sewage. Giving back in return! What flows forth from the discharge end of the garden is clear, clean, safe water!

If sainthoods were given for saving the planet, Dr. Nelson’s canonization would be assured. I do hope one day to see luxuriant front lawns (waste water gardens need not be that big!), signaling the abandonment of sewer lines and transport of dangerous chlorine to expensive treatment centers. Interesting that the US never adopted the solution employed elsewhere: treat the water with ozone generated on site. Far cheaper, far safer.

Jones_110913_WA_2887-2At the WET Museum in Olympia, Washington (2011)

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.


Aswan High Dam Leaves an Environmental Legacy

November 7, 2017

by Joannah Otis for No Water No Life

This is the second our blog series on “The Nile River in Egypt” by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis, sophomore at Georgetown University. Following her blog “Finding Hapi-ness on the Nile,” this essay addresses perhaps the greatest elements of change created thus far by humans along the Nile. [NWNL has completed documentary expeditions to the White and Blue Nile Rivers, but due to current challenges for photojournalists visiting Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using literary and online resources to investigate the availability, quality and usage of the Nile in those regions.]

Aswan_DamAswan Dam on the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt

Background on Aswan High Dam

The Nile River snakes south to north for 4,160 miles through ten North African countries until it reaches the Mediterranean Ocean.1 Its path is interrupted only by the great Aswan High Dam, which has brought both good and bad to the Egyptian people. Towering 364 feet tall and stretching 12,565 feet along its crest, the Aswan High Dam is impressive.2 This dam was opened in 1971 after a decade of construction and seeking funds from the Soviet Union.3 Its transboundary reservoir, Lake Nasser, which backs up into Sudan for 300 miles, holds nearly two years’ worth of water from the Nile River.

Benefits of the Aswan High Dam & Lake Nasser

The High Dam, replacing a 1902 Low Dam, annually generates more than 10 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, facilitating Egypt’s path to industrialization. This new dam also marked a major shift in Egypt’s agricultural prospects. Previously, Nile River Basin farmers were forced to depend on fickle seasonal flooding, which could bring appropriate levels of water one year and often completely washed away soil the next. Such unpredictability made it hard to grow a reliable crop; and the Nile’s single flooding season precluded farmers from having more than one harvest per year.

Lake Nasser’s surplus of water has well served the irrigation needs of Egypt and Sudan, since water availability is especially critical, given Egypt’s growing population and increasing water needs. (NB:  NWNL is studying these trends that portend dire water scarcity in the near future.) The Aswan Dam now allows for two to three crop cycles annually.  Nearby aquifers are inundated by increased amounts of water due to year long, rather than seasonal irrigation.  Water levels are carefully monitored and extra water is saved for times of drought. There has been huge economic benefit to the fact that the dams has allowed Egypt to triple the output of its most important and profitable crops, wheat and cotton.5  

Lake-nasserLake Nasser in Egypt.

Thus, the Aswan High Dam created a new future of irrigation water, flood control and electricity – but came with disconcerting drawbacks. Its story and continued influence on the Nile River illustrate how human ingenuity can inadvertently take a toll on the environments and ecosystems we so rely on.  The degradation of Nile ecosystems and the influx of increasing chemical runoff are reminders of the negative impacts that infrastructure, intended to improve quality of life, can have on nearby environments and habitats for all species, including humans.

Consequences of the Aswan High Dam & Lake Nasser

While Lake Nasser reservoir has allowed for controlled downstream flows into northern Egypt, that backlog of Nile water forced the relocation about 100,000 people to other lands in Sudan and Egypt.6 Abu Simbel Temple and 22 historical structures fortunately were moved under UNESCO’s watchful eye, yet Buhen Fort, the Fadrus Cemetery and other archeological sites (whose relocation would have been too costly) were submerged.

Stagnant waters in Lake Nasser have threatened the health of people using or residing near the Nile River waters. Downstream, the dam promotes the presence of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease also known as bilharzia or “snail fever.” Schistosomiasis kills more than 200,000 Africans annually; and 20 million sufferers develop disfiguring disabilities from complications, kidney and liver diseases, and bladder cancer.

Egyptian_harvest.jpgTomb Painting of Peasants Harvesting Papyrus

Seasonal flooding once brought thick layers of dark silt to farms, which farmers used a natural fertilizer. Unfortunately, the Aswan High Dam almost completely blocks the movement of nutrient-rich sediment downstream. (NB:  NWNL has seen similar impacts of Ethiopia’s new Gibe Dams, ending 6,000 years of flood-recession agriculture practiced by pastoralists in the Lower Omo River Basin.) As rich Upper Nile sediments collected behind the dam, Egyptian farmers resorted to toxic chemical fertilizers that drain into the Nile. These pollutants can cause liver disease and renal failure in humans.7 

Farming phosphates running into the river increase algae growth. Algae blooms, elicited by excess nutrients (eutrophication), produce cyanotoxins, which affect the health of fish and may poison humans.At the same time, fish populations no longer benefit from nutrients that used to be in upstream Nile sediments. Aquatic species in the Mediterranean Sea near the Nile Delta have suffered similarly from decreased natural nutrients and increased chemicals.9

Riverbanks also suffer from a lack of replenishing sediments as their erosion continues unchecked.  Prior to the dam’s construction, the average suspended silt load was 3,000 parts per million (ppm). Post-construction silt levels have declined to 50 ppm.10 Further downstream, the Nile Delta suffers from a lack of silt replenishment. [NB:  NWNL has documented parallel deltaic losses and damage in the U. S., as  levees along the Mississippi River withhold sediment that used to rebuild storm erosion in the Mississippi Delta.]

Silt-free water along with a lower current velocity and steady water levels have enabled invasive aquatic weeds to infest the Nile River and its irrigation canals. Large volumes of aquatic weeds, water hyacinths in particular, create stagnant water conditions, impair water flow, provide breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes and prevent the passage of boats whose propellers become clogged with invasive weeds.  Prior to the dam’s construction, these weeds were unable to flourish due to the Nile’s varying water levels and the force of its flow.11

Eichhornia_crassipes_C.jpgWater Hyacinth  (Credit: Wouter Hagens)

Erosion in the Nile Delta is especially threatening because it has led to saltwater intrusion.   (NB: Again, this is another issue also occurring in the Mississippi River Delta.)  Increased groundwater salinity from the encroaching Mediterranean Sea is decreasing cotton and rice yields.12 Additionally, fertilizers have further heightened saline levels.13

Beyond Aswan:  Footnote by NWNL Director Alison Jones

In 2009, Egypt was the most populous, agricultural and industrial country in the Nile Basin.14 The Aswan Dam has been a major factor in this march by Egypt to progress and prosperity.  However, just as the Aswan Dam came with a price – so will the upstream Grand Renaissance Dam, now under construction in Ethiopia on the Blue Nile River.  It is likely the impacts of this new Ethiopian dam – the largest ever on the African continent – will be even more consequential to Egypt than those of the Aswan High Dam.  It seems a new chapter is about to be written regarding settlement of transboundary conflicts spawned from disputes over dam impacts and upstream-downstream water rights.

Sources

1“Nile River Facts.” Africa Facts. Web. 2017
2Caputo, Robert. “Journey up the Nile.” National Geographic. May 1985. p 602
3Caputo, Robert. “Journey up the Nile.” National Geographic. May 1985. p 602
4Caputo, Robert. “Journey up the Nile.” National Geographic. May 1985. p 600
5Biswas, Asit K.; Tortajada, Cecilia. “Impacts of the High Aswan Dam.” Third World Centre for Water Management. 2012. p 389
6Caputo, Robert. “Journey up the Nile.” National Geographic. May 1985. p 602
7Theroux, Peter. “The Imperiled.” National Geographic Magazine. January 1997.
8El-Sheekh M. “River Nile Pollutants and Their Effect on Life Forms and Water Quality,” in “The Nile.” (Dumont H.J, Monographiae Biologicae, Vol 89. Springer, Dordrecht)
9Biswas, Asit K.; Tortajada, Cecilia. “Impacts of the High Aswan Dam.” Third World Centre for Water Management. P 389. 2012.
10Biswas, Asit K.; Tortajada, Cecilia. “Impacts of the High Aswan Dam.” Third World Centre for Water Management. P 385. 2012.
11El-Shinnawy, Ibrahim A.; Abdel-Meguid, Mohamed; Nour Eldin, Mohamed M.; Bakry, Mohamed F. “Impact of Aswan High Dam on the Aquatic Weed Ecosystem.” Cairo University. September 2000. p 535-538.
12Theroux, Peter. “The Imperiled.” National Geographic Magazine. January 1997.
13World Wildlife Foundation. “Nile Delta flooded savanna.” Web. 2017.
14El-Sheekh M. “River Nile Pollutants and Their Effect on Life Forms and Water Quality,” in “The Nile.” (Dumont H.J, Monographiae Biologicae, Vol 89. Springer, Dordrecht)
All photos used based on fair use of Creative Commons and Public Domain.

Oh, dam!

November 1, 2017

What Is A Dam? A dam is a structure, often quite large, built across a river to retain its flow of water in a reservoir for various purposes, most commonly hydropower.  In the U.S. there are over 90,000 dams over 6 feet tall, according to American Rivers.  In 2015 half of Earth’s major rivers contained around 57,000 large dams, according to International Rivers.  Dams are complicated. This blog presents a look at some of the benefits, consequences and impacts of dams, along with NWNL photographs of  North American and African dams in our case-study  watersheds.

BC: Waneta, Columbia River Basin, Waneta Dam on Pend d'Oreille RiverDanger sign at the Waneta Dam in the Columbia River Basin (2007)
Jones_111022_LA_2865Atchafalaya Old River Low Sill Control Structure, Louisiana (2011)

The slowing or diversion of river flows caused by dams – and related “control structures” – can have severe environmental impacts. Many species that reside in rivers rely on a steady flow for migration, spawning and healthy habitats. Altered river flows can disorient migrating fish and disrupt reproduction cycles needing natural seasonal flows.

US: Washington, Columbia River Basin, aerial views of Chief Joseph Dam
Jones_070622_WA_4119Aerial views of Chief Joseph Dam in the Columbia River Basin (2007)

The introduction of a dam into a river creates a reservoir by halting a river’s flow. This can severely impact the quality of water. Still water can cause water temperatures to increase. Resulting abnormal temperatures can negatively affect species; cause algae blooms; and decrease oxygen levels.

Jones_070628_OR_5171_MJuvenile fish bypass at the McNary Dam in the Columbia River Basin (2007)
Ethiopia: aerial of Omo River, construction site of Gibe Dam IIIAerial view of the construction site of Gibe III Dam in the Omo River (2007)

Bryan Jones, featured in Patagonia’s documentary “Dam Nation,” discussed today’s situation with four aging dams on the Lower Snake River (authorized in 1945) in his 2014 NWNL Interview:  “We used science then available to conquer and divide our river systems with dams. But today we can look at them and say, ‘Well-intentioned, but it didn’t really work out the way we would’ve liked it to.'”  Dams that may have been beneficial at one point in history must be constantly reassessed and taken down when necessary to restore river and riparian ecosystems and species. Some compare dams to humans, since they too have a limited life span of about 70-100 years.

Jones_100413_UG_9603Small dam across the White Nile River in Uganda (2010)
East AFrica: Uganda, JingaConstruction of the Bujagali Dam on the White Nile River in Uganda (2010)

There are well-intended reasons to build dams.  In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has listed the values of dams on their website.  Those benefits  include recreation, flood control, water storage, electrical generation and debris control. These benefits are explained on the FEMA website.

USA: Alabama, Tennessee River Basin, Guntersville Dam (TVA)Danger sign at the Guntersville Dam, Tennessee River Basin (2013)
Jones_150817_CA_5888Parker Dam (a hydrodam) on the Colorado River, Southern California (2015)

Between 1998 and 2000, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) established the most comprehensive guidelines for dam building, reviewing 1,000 dams in 79 countries in two years. Their framework  for decision-making is based on recognizing rights of all interested parties and assessing risks.  Later, the European Union adopted this framework, stating that carbon credits from large dams can only be sold on the European market if the project complies with the WCD framework.

Many conflicts swirl around the impacts, longevity and usefulness of dams.  NWNL continues to study dam benefits versus their impacts, including removal of indigenous residents in order to establish reservoirs;  disruption of the downstream water rights and needs of people, species and ecosystems; and relative efficiencies of hydropower versus solar and wind.  Dam-building creates consequences.  Native Americans studied risks of their decisions for seven generations.  After the Fukushima tsunami caused the release of radioactive material, Japanese novelist Kazumi Saeki wrote:  “People have acquired a desire for technology that surpasses human comprehension.  Yet the bill that has come due for that desire is all too dear.”

Sources and resources for more information:

American Rivers, How Dams Damage Rivers

International Rivers, Environmental Impacts of Dams

International Rivers, Problems with Big Dams

International Rivers, The World Commission on Dams Framework – A Brief Introduction

FEMA, Benefits of Dams

National Hydropower Association, Why Hydro

NWNL, Interview with Bryan L. Jones

New York Times, Kazumi Saeki, In Japan, No Time Yet for Grief

All photos © Alison M. Jones.


Finding Hapi-ness on the Nile

October 24, 2017

By Joannah Otis for No Water No Life 

As the Nile River Basin is one of  6 NWNL case-study watersheds, NWNL has documented Ethiopia’s Blue Nile and Uganda’s White Nile.  Due however to current challenges faced by photojournalists visiting Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using other resources to analyze the availability, quality and usage of the Nile from Khartoum north through Egypt.

This is the first in a blog series by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis on the Nile River through Egypt, from 5000 BCE’s Ancient Egypt to today’s modern Egypt.  Joannah is a Georgetown University sophomore, focusing on Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology.  Her home is in N.J.’s Upper Raritan River Basin, another NWNL case study watershed.   

The Ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods existed to explain the inexplicable for a people with little knowledge of the earth’s natural processes. Such faith in otherworldly figures resulted in elaborate rituals, impressive temples dedicated to specific deities, and intricate family trees. Among the most important of these gods was Hapi, also spelled Hapy, the Nile River God. Hapi’s significance in Ancient Egyptian culture indicates the vitality of the Nile River and reveals the extent of Egypt’s dependence on it.1

800px-Funerary_figure_of_Hapy_MET_LC-26_7_1195_EGDP023652Funerary Figure of Hapi 

Since the early Nile River people never ventured far enough upstream to find the river’s true source, they turned towards their faith for an explanation of seasonal flooding and the natural flow of the nutrient-rich waters they depended upon for agriculture. It was believed that the Nile originated beneath the island Philae whose waters came from an underwater cave where Hapi resided.2  In the pyramid texts, he was said to have lived in caverns near the first cataract. As the god of fertility and fecundity, Hapi was responsible for the seasonal floods as well as the success of farms and the availability of water. As the flood waters came rushing down the Nile, Ancient Egyptians would begin presenting their offerings and sacrifices to Hapi in hopes that the flood would neither be too high nor too low. Although Hapi was worshipped throughout Egypt, he was especially revered at Aswan, today the site of a 364 foot hydro-dam, and Gebel el-Silisila, once an ancient quarry.3

NileThe Nile River (Attribution: Ian Sewell)

In Ancient Egyptian depictions of Hapi, the god appears as a well-fed, blue or green man sporting the pharaoh’s false beard and a pair of large breasts because the Nile’s whitish waters were often associated with milk. There are no remains of temples dedicated solely to Hapi, but remnants of statues and reliefs in his likeness have been uncovered. Hapi was considered the god of both Upper and Lower Egypt, which was demonstrated by the existence of twin Hapi deities. The Hapi of Upper Egypt was known as ‘Hap-Meht’ and wore a lotus headdress while the Lower Egyptian Hapi was called ‘Hap-Reset’ and wore a papyrus headdress.

Egypt.ColossiMemnon.02Detail of Hapi from the side panel of a throne at the Colossi of Memnon

Hapi was often referred to as the ‘Lord of the Fishes and Birds of the Marshes’ and was at times worshipped over the sun god Ra.4 The Nile River God was associated with Osiris who was also linked to the Nile through his role in introducing the cultivation of wheat to the Egyptian people.5 Hapi’s wives were believed to be the cobra goddess Wadjet of Lower Egypt and the vulture goddess Nekhbet of Upper Egypt, both of whom were considered forms of Osiris’s wife Isis.6 It was Isis’s tears that were thought to replenish the Nile waters.7 Hapi’s importance in Egyptian culture and his relation to the other gods make him one of the most significant, if least well-known, gods.

1Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
2Pavan, Aldo. The Nile From the Mountains to the Mediterranean. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 2006.
3Seawright, Caroline. “Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South.” 21 August 2001. Web.
4Seawright, Caroline. “Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South.” 21 August 2001. Web.
5Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
6Seawright, Caroline. “Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South.” 21 August 2001. Web.
7Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
All photos used based on fair use of Creative Commons.

Chasing Environmental Change

October 18, 2017

By Joannah Otis, for No Water No Life

Joannah is a Georgetown University sophomore studying Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology. A member of the university’s Environmental Club, she enjoys spending her free time in N.J.’s Raritan River Basin, a NWNL case study watershed.  Joannah is a NWNL Researcher for Fall 2017.  Below is Part II of her analysis of our 2016 NWNL Survey.  Part I can be found here: A Green Education for the Younger Generation.

 

From the mid-to-late 1900’s, climate change and water-use issues began to appear more and more consistently in the popular media.  Yet, based on results of a 2016 NWNL Survey, working-age adults between the ages of 31 and 50 are surprisingly unaware of environmental disruptions in their own communities, even though the concept of climate change gained traction during the formative years of their lives. In 1975, the term “global warming” was introduced by American scientist Wallace Broecker. By 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to assess the effects and dangers of emissions, water use, and pollution. Two years later, this panel released its initial Report detailing how greenhouse-gas emissions lead to increased average temperatures. Later IPCC Reports state that it is 95% likely that humans are causing global warming.

 

Jones_140316_CA_0484Refineries on the northern extension of the San Francisco Bay, California (2014)

 

Shortly thereafter, Al Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance further exposed the general public to the threats human behavior was placing on biodiversity, water, soil and climate. He proposed a “Global Marshall Plan,” intended to eradicate poverty, protect the environment, and promote sustainable development through an Eco-Social Market Economy.1 The “Climategate” affair of 2009 stirred further public debate concerning wasteful human practices when hackers released some e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.2  In spite of these decades of publicity on climate change and human effects on the planet, wasteful water use continues today.

Those between 31 to 50 however have been exposed to environmentally-friendly practices starting at a young age.  So perhaps that’s why they as a group are more likely to be frugal water users. The NWNL Survey revealed that nobody polled in this age group considered themselves wasteful with water. In fact, 30% claimed to be frugal water consumers vesus only 14% of the 18-30 year-old respondents. It is also notable that 28% of the youngest group in the survey, the under-18-year-olds, admitted to being wasteful. [See Part I of this Survey Analysis on the need for under-18-year-olds to become more aware of environmental issues, the need to reduce consumption, and their carbon footprints.]  Those in the over 50-year-old bracket were the least willing to alter their wasteful water practices. This information is reconcilable with the fact that the older generation did not grow up with encouragements to be environmentally friendly and thus are hesitant to alter their habits.

 

Jones_111026_LA_0547Clay water jug being filled from wall pipe, Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana (2011)

 

At the same time, about 79% of those in the 31-50 age range never or infrequently recycle water. This survey response is somewhat tilted, given that the majority of people surveyed did not come from drought-afflicted areas. In states like California where water shortages are a perpetual part of everyday life, water recycling has become much more popular. Starting in 2015, the California Water Environment Association and other municipal water groups produced recycled water from community waste treatment plants  for free. Although not all recycled water is suitable for drinking, all recycled water can be used for landscaping and agricultural purposes.3  Going further, some extremely arid California communities, including San Diego, began recycling “black water,” which is processed from sewage that includes human waste, into drinking water beginning in 2011.4  (Once overcoming “the mental yuck factor,” those that drink this recycled water, including NWNL Director Alison Jones, say it’s delicious).   Such government water-recycling projects make it much easier for people to be more responsible water users.

 

Jones_140322_CA_3870Sign for non-potable reclaimed water, San Joaquin River Valley, California (2014)

 

While it is concerning that more than half  (58%) of 31-50 year-olds are unsure of what water changes are being pursued in their community, it is encouraging that a large percentage of them are individually willing to make water use changes. Of those surveyed in this age group, 73% were open to buying fewer “high-water-content” items. These items include leather, paper, cotton clothing and merchandise from drought-ridden areas. For example, producing just one pair of jeans takes about 1,800 gallons of water,5 while one sheet of paper demands almost three gallons.6

NWNL hopes more will be done to encourage these working-age adults, who say they are willing to put water-saving techniques into practice, to learn more about climate-change impacts on their community. A renewed emphasis on presenting reliable, factual information in the news and in social media will be important in promoting effective approaches to responsible water consumption practices.   

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.


On “The Rim of Fire”

October 13, 2017

Essay and Photos by NWNL Director Alison M. Jones. 

FIVE NWNL EXPEDITIONS have focused on CA’s recent multi-year drought, ended by winter 2017’s heavy snows and rains.  I returned last week to report on any impacts from that drought – only to find drought is back already! Flying into Central California, I was stunned to see how arid this region is – again!   It doesn’t take California long to dry out, especially with Climate Change consequences!  This year, the state’s 2nd wettest winter was followed by its hottest summer. That combination on top of a 5-year accumulation of dead, droughty vegetation created this horrid tinderbox that is taking lives and destroying whole towns this week.

Jones_160929_CA_7297Sign warning of wildfire, in Kaweah River Valley, California, 2016

SINCE NWNL BEGAN IN 2007, our project has noted that wildfires degrade our rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs.  Losing forests means losing their storage and filtering of water in tree roots for later release.  Forests also shade streams, creating cool habitats for fish, especially needed for spawning salmon and trout.

BUT, WE MISSED A 2007 ARTICLE noting high CO2 emissions from wildfires.  Today, on a California hilltop above the Pacific Ocean, I’m monitoring the upcoming weekend’s Santa Ana winds and heat in the dry canyons behind me. Listening to local weather, I learned that 2 days of these CA fires emitted more CO2 than CA cars do in a year.  Sadly, this worsens the global warming that intensifies hurricanes, sea level rise, droughts, high temperatures, local storms and yes, wildfires. Global warming is a vicious cycle we’ve created.

Jones_080816_BC_4159Forest fire smoke in the Kootenay Rockies, British Columbia, 2008

CALIFORNIA’S FIRE TSUNAMI rages on as I write, destroying lives and livelihoods.  Its explosive blanket of kindling was created by 5 years of drought, as well as high temperatures and increased building on fire-prone hills. Now, the sweep of damaging urban wildfires has been lowered from treetops to rooftops.  A NOAA analysis has connected these Oct 2017 CA fires to climate change, predicting that the state’s fire risks could quadruple by mid-century if CO2 emissions stay at current levels.

SINCE ARRIVING LAST WEEK, I’ve read much here in CA on how climate change and water-related consequences relate to wildfires. This year’s Whittier Fire above Lake Cachuma left its drainage slopes bare and vulnerable to massive erosion by future rains.  Soil sliding into this reservoir will degrade water quality and decrease storage capacity for Santa Barbara’s main source of water. (Santa Barbara Independent, Sept 28-Oct 5, 2017, p 12). Also at peril from ravages of fire and landslides are municipal water infrastructure and distribution systems.

Jones_140207_CA_9966Lake Cachuma reservoir at 39% capacity from 3-year drought, 2014

A MORE GLOBAL FOCUS on this topic by Mongobay expands the impacts of wildfires beyond CA.  Its weekly newsletter states that “forest degradation has turned the Amazon from carbon sink to carbon source; while globally, humanity’s carbon emissions are worsening drought and fires. Brazil’s rapid Amazon development deepens the problem. Researchers warn of mega-fires that could be coming, unless trends are reversed.”

TODAY, INDIVIDUALLY WE CAN ONLY HOPE for the best for Californians and their dramatically beautiful state.  NWNL will keep raising awareness of the nexus of water-related issues, climate change and wildfires.  Meanwhile, it’s time to reduce our individual CO2 footprints. We can offset our role in CO2 emissions by supporting climate-change research groups like TerraPass. For the record, all NWNL expedition travel and in-office energy consumption have been offset since we began in 2007.

Jones_140207_CA_9707Dry stream bed of the Santa Ynez River, California, 2014

TOMORROW, IT’S TIME TO DEMAND a much deeper commitment from our government to use every effort possible to stop wildfires, sea level rise, deadly heat waves, Category 5 hurricanes….  It’s simple, if we’ll look ahead, rather than gaze at today’s profit margins.  Let’s not find ourselves mourning that we’ve stolen our youth’s future. Promoting ignorance with a myopic focus on today’s profits for a few will curse the future of all of us, even more than it has this month in Houston, Florida’’s Keys, The U. S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and now California.

Jones_150824_CA_6365Santa Ynez River, low stream bed due to 3-year drought, 2015

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.


Show Them the River

October 10, 2017

Essay and Photos by Josephine Purdy

NWNL Editor’s Note: Oh, to be a college student spending a summer in watershed conservation! We are publishing this commentary so this student’s clear-eyed vision and sense of purpose can inspire other students to leave IPhones behind in order to splash across streams and learn the joys of conservation from soggy elders.

Per John Ruskey, founder of The Mighty Quapaws youth program on the Mississippi River and NWNL Partner: The river is made happier with the undivided courage, curiosity, and playfulness of kids. 

 

Nearing the end of my bachelor degree, I was desperately searching for a summer job in my field. I first heard “Show them the river” during an internship interview with the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition.   Nervously answering and asking questions through my interview, I brushed past this simple phrase. It would take me an entire summer to truly appreciate the importance and simplicity of bringing people to the river.

During my interview with this Woodbury CT watershed coalition, I learned the tools I would use included scientific research, public outreach and coalition building. I eagerly accepted their Dr. Marc J. Taylor Summer Internship, created in honor of the co-founder of this small non-profit that protects and preserves the Pomperaug River Basin. “Show them the river,” was Dr. Taylor’s mantra.

PomperaugRiv_HollowPark_10506942_HOBOLocation4

On the first day, they almost literally threw me into the job. My supervisor taught me how to place thermal monitoring probes at various points in the river. I was to record water temperatures every hour from June until mid-October. I donned a pair of waders and slipped my way through various streams and rivers to properly place our probes. Being out on the river made me remember the childhood joys of jumping from rock to rock across a river; catching crayfish; and simply being in the water. I regained my appreciation of Connecticut rivers and couldn’t have hoped for a better ‘first day on a new job.’

EastSpringBrk_NonnewaugRd_10354194_DownstreamSite3

One of my favorite projects was helping organize and co-lead free hikes along the river and in the watershed. We led scenic walks, talking about the ecological and cultural history of the river, current issues of pollution and river use, and environmental lifestyle changes that anyone could make.

I found great purpose and joy in answering questions. I asked my own questions to those more knowledgeable and saw people leave with a new understanding and appreciation of their watershed. I began to realize that the core purpose of these hikes was to “show people the river.”

river 1

I’ve had a month to reflect on my internship with this small ‘grassroots’ non-profit. I realize I’ve learned a number of important lessons that I think will be useful in my career. I’ve been taught these lessons before; but they took on a new meaning and importance after seeing them in action.

  1. Money is important. Selling an organization to donors and sponsors is a huge and unavoidable part of the nonprofit world. While it can be discouraging when a majority of your time and energy has to go towards finding funds instead of accomplishing the goals of the nonprofit, it’s necessary and can be enjoyable, even if it’s not my strength.
  2. People can tell when you really believe in a cause. Passion and knowledge are infectious, and they are the driving force behind getting things done. Effectively communicating the importance of your work inspires others.
  3. Connecting with people makes a difference. I saw strong personal relationships and mutual respect get more things done this summer than anything else.
  4. Nothing compares to simply letting people experience the river, lake or forest if your goal is to foster appreciation.

Small nonprofits are born when communities care. They become successful when communities understand the importance and experience the joy of protecting and conserving their own natural resources.

IMG_6572

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josephine Purdy, now 20, grew up in Bridgewater CT, with a hiatus in Kodaikanal, India. She currently resides in Montreal, Canada. Her lifelong love for the outdoors came after the family TV met an untimely fate during her early, formative years. She will enter her final year at McGill University September, 2017, to study environmental biology with a major focus in wildlife biology and a minor in field studies. Her recent summers, before the one described above, have been spent working on an organic vegetable farm.

In January, 2018, Josephine will depart on a field semester to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Once she runs out of funds for her travels, she hopes to start a career that blends environmental sciences, sustainable development and conservation. Graduate studies are most certainly somewhere in her future. Her favorite activities include catching insects, exploring new places, making curries, and camping – especially with friends.

 

All photos © Josephine Purdy.


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