WATER/WAYS in US Small Towns

All photos © Alison M. Jones

NWNL is proud to have its imagery included in the Smithsonian’s WATER/WAYS
Exhibit traveling across the US as part of their “Museum on Main Street” program. From now until Feb 2020, WATER/WAYS will be shown in small towns that face water availability, quality and usage challenges. Smithsonian believes photography can inspire community conversations about water and how it impacts our lives, as also expressed in the NWNL Mission. The exhibit’s extensive signage explores water issues in our cultures, economies and homes – and the bigger picture of how global environmental issues affect towns of all sizes.

Jones_080418_NJ_4322.jpgCanoeing out to the Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Co,

The WATER/WAYS exhibit in Clarksdale MS was hosted by NWNL’s partner John
Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company. Knowing the NWNL emphasis on the power of photography to encourage grassroots stewardship, John asked me to speak at the exhibit opening. This opportunity also allowed me to document the Yazoo-Mississippi’s endangered Sunflower River and the nearby small towns. (See our Purpose Page).

I titled my talk “The Water Story is a People Story.” In interviewing hundreds of water-users for our Voices of the River archive, I learned how easily accessible water stories are in smaller towns. Clarksdale is a quintessential “small town” — proud to have one of the 2,509 Carnegie Public Libraries and its own Delta Blues Museum honoring famous bluesmen in and around Clarksdale (e.g., Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, et al).

Jones_180901_MS_3485.jpgCanoeing on the Mississippi River with John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company

Across the US there are many small towns with their own unique personalities. Each is part of our national web of watersheds that share water with upstream and downstream neighbors and often across state and county boundaries. Therein lies the power of Smithsonian’s Main Street program, which since 1994 has sent exhibits to over 1,400 communities with populations under 10,000.

The WATER/WAYS exhibit schedule (search for “Water/Ways”) through Feb. 2020 includes towns in AZ, NY, MS, NE, MI and LA. (I hope to visit the show again at NY’s Hudson River Maritime Museum, Jan 7-Feb 18, 2020). To entice you into seeing this exhibit (or if you aren’t able to see it), below are bits of commentary interspersed amongst the show’s watershed images, as well as questions on our own personal roles in protecting our water supplies.

Water use has grown twice as fast as the world’s population over the last century. Even places with sufficient rainfall often find that freshwater resources are spread too thin. Water scarcity is more than just an issue of too little rain – sometimes it is a problem of politics, infrastructure and overuse.

Jones_110807_NY_0633.jpgOld sink and faucets in St. Regis Canoe Area, Adirondacks State Park NY

Water is a finite resource. Our environment does not create water – it recycles it. Think beyond your faucet – what is the source for your drinking water? Are there any issues that could impact your access to that water? What are some of the threats to water/ways in your area?

What we discard will eventually be in someone else’s water…. What we eat, what we drink, what we put on our hair and skin, what we wash out in the sink – if it’s on us or in us, it ends up back in the watershed.

Jones_090515_NJ_4550.jpgPollution spilling into the Raritan River, New Brunswick NJ

Agriculture and its heavy use of irrigation is one of the largest consumers of freshwater in the US…. About 50% of the water used for irrigation is reusable. Much water is lost to evaporation and water leaks.

Jones_140324_CA_4843.jpgOverhead pivot irrigation during drought in Cuyama CA

Everyone lives within a watershed – the surrounding area of land in which water collects and, ultimately, drains into a water source. 19th -century geologist John Wesley Powell … believed that watersheds were a shared interest and governments, residents and new settlers should work together to manage resources properly.

WHERE is Our Water?
Freshwater, the water we need to live, makes up only three percent of the world’s water, and much of it is inaccessible…. Where do you get your water?

Jones_170614_NE_4773-2.jpgWater in the Nebraska Sandhills from Ogallala Aquifer springs

Water … is at the source of the things we encounter every day…. Water holds a central place in the origin stories and rituals of many cultures and faiths. Water inspires our art, music, dance and literature.

What would you lose if you did not have water?

Without enough water, our health suffers and our economy and political structures would falter. It’s clear that water has a significant impact on our ways of life. What are your water/ways? #mywaterstory

jones_070620_wa_0761Grand Coulee Dam’s Lake Roosevelt on Columbia River WA

Up to 14% of the water used in an average home is actually lost in leaks. Check those faucets and pipes! Americans use about 80-100 gallons of water per day, mostly for health and hygiene.

NWNL asks: Can you use less? In my NWNL talk, “The Water Story is a People Story,” I urged all attending this exhibit to pay attention to the value of water; to turn to scientists and engineers for solutions; and to connect with neighbors to seek solutions to help ensure clean water for all.

Scientists are not panicking. They are busy at work, saying it’s too late to be a pessimist. Farmers and fisherfolk, nurses, government workers, incorrigible writers, teachers and shopkeepers I chat with in small towns know that we’re all impacted by water issues and that we all must reduce our water usage.

What changes in assessing the importance of water have you seen — where you work, in your neighborhood, or in your neighbors’ worldview? #mywaterstory

img_3146Signage for Water/Ways Exhibit in Clarksdale MS

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