On the banks of our rivers we raise families, grow food, do laundry, fish, swim, celebrate and relax. “Following Rivers,” a new exhibit by conservation photographer and No Water No Life Founding Director Alison M. Jones, tells a visual story of people and the critical water issues they face.
Combining the power of photography and science, NWNL, has spent 8 years documenting river basins in North America and Africa. The exhibit encourages viewers to translate images into questions. What are the impacts of our daily actions? How can we best protect our life-giving rivers and estuaries? Should we reduce resource consumption, require stronger pollution controls, minimize resource extraction, or forgo fossil fuels and material luxuries? How can we approach water as an opportunity for unity and cooperation, rather than a source of conflict?
NWNL believes the nexus of science and art, intellectual and physical resources, and local knowledge can effectively spread awareness of Nature’s unique interdependence and vulnerability of our watersheds’ glaciers, forests, wetlands, plains, estuaries, tributaries. Without raising that awareness, there will be no action.
The exhibit will be on view from March 14 through October 3, 2015. Join us for a free public reception on Saturday, March 14 from 5-7 pm with Artists talks on April 11 and July 11, 2015 at Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, Clarkson University, 199 Main Street, Beacon, NY 12508 – (845) 838-1600. Gallery Hours: Tu-Th 9-5, Fri 9-1 Sat 12-6 (second Sat until 8) Sun/Mon-Closed
*North American Nature Photography Association newsletter.
I’ve always enjoyed water. I grew up on a small rural stream with frogs, moss, trout, rocks and fog. Years later, copiloting over sub-Sahara Africa, I saw clearly that where there was no water, there was no life. Thus, No Water No Life ® (NWNL) became the title of my quest to combine the powers of photography, science and stakeholder information to raise awareness of the vulnerability of our fresh water resources.
The following are my daily mantras:
African proverb: “You think of water when the well is dry.”
Leonardo da Vinci: “Water is the driver of nature.”
The Dalai Lama: “The first medicine on this planet was water.”
Words are powerful.
But, if one photograph has the power of 1,000 words, then a photograph that is captioned must be worth 100,000 words.
NANPA award recipient James Balog said, “Science gave me a new lens through which to see the world… a more holistic view and appreciation of the natural environment.” I too relish having science and NWNL goals attached to my lenses, endowing my images with greater impact.
In eight years NWNL has completed 22 expeditions to six case-study watersheds in Africa (Nile, Omo and Mara river basins) and North America (Columbia, Mississippi and Raritan river basins). Resulting imagery, research and blogs are on our website (http://www.nowater-nolife.org) — and those of International Rivers, American Rivers and others. NWNL documentation is further shared via social media, lectures, exhibits, and in books and magazine articles.
We’ve focused on glaciers and tarns (in the Columbia, Mississippi and Nile basins), lakes (including Kenya’s Lake Turkana, now imperiled by Ethiopian hydro-dams on the Omo River), meadows and Texas playas, wetlands (half of these naturally-filtered nurseries are already gone), tributaries, forests (disappearing from Earth at a rate of 36 football fields per minute), riparian corridors, flyways, estuaries and delta lands (disappearing from the Mississippi Delta at the rate of one football field per hour).
NWNL has interviewed hundreds of scientists, stewards and stakeholders. These commentaries, which we call “Voices of the River,” discuss pollution, climate change, fracking, population growth in Africa, dams and levees, water usage by agriculture and industry, and tropic cascades of predators—anything impacting the health of watersheds. NWNL has recorded solutions from Canadian glaciologists, Maasai wilderness guides, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, historians, farmers and others on how to protect riverine corridors and ecosystems and ensure freshwater availability and quality.
The overall NWNL goal is to transcend boundaries, bridge divisions and differences, suggest the shape of the future, capture imagination, stir consciences and create change. At NANPA’s 2002 Jacksonville Summit, art critic Vicki Goldberg described the power of photography to meet these objectives: “A photograph is like a lobbyist who sways a legislator.” Apollo 17’s “Blue Marble,” probably the most widely distributed image in human history, is a great example of imagery awakening a global awareness of our unique watery bonds. The connection with Earth’s beauty, which that image evokes, mirrors a comment by Terry Tempest Williams at the October 2014 observance of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act: “We have no choice but to stand for what we love… We the people must walk with the river.”
NWNL will be collating and publishing many more images, videos and essays in online and print media. Upcoming NWNL photoessays will assess and compare water issues in developed and developing worlds, rural and urban regions, upstream and downstream. NWNL will also continue its newly initiated “Spotlights” on critical water issues such as the devastating drought in California.
NWNL appreciates the voluntary contributions of student interns’ research and guest photographers on our expeditions. We also thank photographers working in our case-study watersheds who share their images and findings with NWNL.
NWNL fiscal support comes from individuals, family foundations, grants and generous in-kind donations. To support NWNL in raising awareness of the vulnerability of our freshwater resources, checks to No Water No Life can be sent to Alison Jones, director of No Water No Life, 330 East 79th Street, NY, NY 10075 or via PayPal offered on the NWNL website http://nowater-nolife.org/supportUs/index.html).
Alison M. Jones is a conservation photographer who has documented ecosystems and resource management for more than 25 years in Africa and the Americas. She is the director and lead photographer at NWNL.
US: Washington, Columbia River Basin, fish ladder at Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River, wild salmon(note adipose fin has not been clipped)
US: Oregon, Columbia River Basin, Columbia Gorge, Bonneville Dam, Pacific lamprey (Lampetra tridentata) stuck to the viewing window for the fish ladder
Tomorrow is World Fish Migration Day (WFMD). The ancient migration story of fish ascending rivers from oceans to breed is miraculous. Such fish – called anadromous, from the Greek word “anadramein” meaning “running upward” – include salmon, steelhead, shad, sturgeon, lamprey in the Pacific Northwest; and shad, sturgeon, alewives and herring along the US East Coast.
Anadromous fish swim from the sea inland via open rivers to spawn in small headwater tributaries. In so doing, they bring with them marine nutrients that enrich riverine flora, fauna and forests. After their long journeys back to where they were born, the adult fish release their eggs in cool, forested waters and then die. Thus, some hail anadromous fish as the greatest parents of all, because the nutrients of their remains nourish the flies and insects that are eaten by newly-hatched smolt.
This month, our NWNL Snake River Expedition is documenting the dynamics of anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest and the studies of local fish biologists, fishermen, watershed managers and the Nez Perce tribal nation. Today, NWNL joins them and the world in honoring the ecosystem services and sustenance values provided by anadromous fish.
Engineers used to say, “The equation for inundation is elevation,” as they raised their levees. Now the USACE promotes “flood risk management” instead of “flood control” because every levee pushes the water onto someone else. The USACE also promotes healthy ecosystems at its National Great Rivers Museum in St Louis.
Even so, American Rivers lists the middle Mississippi as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers ® of 2014 because of a new old-school USACE “flood control” project.. As we all focus on upstream-downstream issues in the face of climate disruption, American Rivers is advocating for floodplain connection, not levees. Perhaps the question isn’t what will happen to young corn in a flood year, but what will happen if we keep building levees?
Why do I, as a New Yorker, care about Missouri’s habitats and communities? As I describe in the following story, my connection to the Mississippi began twenty years ago.
“The Flood of 1993: A Month in Missouri”
I didn’t care about the Midwest Flood of 1993. I knew all about floods. For three December days, my Connecticut home had been under five feet of icy water. Hollywood called it “The Perfect Storm.” I flew to Missouri that steamy July to photograph iconic Midwestern scenes.
I visited Daniel Boone’s homestead, pig farms and craftsmen. But after torrential thunderstorms at a dairy farm and seeing new-mown hay swept off low-lying fields, my adrenaline rose with the river. Singing “I drove my Chevy to the levee,” I arrived in the Creole river town of Ste. Genevieve. But the levee wasn’t dry. Brown water threatened this week’s sandbagged walls, inches from the top; and it seeped out underneath.
This flood was different. Many levees had been constructed since a 1973 flood, upsetting previous prediction models. These added restraints just intensified the Mississippi’s fury. Forecasts were for another week of rain. As herons flew into the storm clouds, my mood of creative elation disappeared.
I saw the grit of people resisting nature, the invincibility of humor,
and the camaraderie of strangers fighting together. Using sandbags and bulldozers, sweating residents and uniformed troops stayed ahead of the river: block by block, inch by inch. Putting my cameras down, I joined in.
“I can’t be here and not sandbag,“ I wrote.
Flying home weeks later, I stared at the “inland sea” below. While photographing levees and Levi’s, cheerleaders and retirees, and the grateful folks of Ste Genevieve, I’d become part of that community. Using Bryce Courtenay’s words, we worked with “one heart, one plan, one determination.” Whether it would happen again or not, that was the Spirit of 1993.
My thoughts, April 2014: The Mississippi rolls on, but we still need to better adapt to its swells and floods. History should have taught us that. American Rivers is trying to do that. As Mark Twain predicted, “The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.”
The phone rang. That snowy Saturday I was editing photos of Ethiopia’s Omo River. “Alison, you must cover California’s drought for No Water No Life®. It’s beyond regional. US and Asian markets depend on that produce.” I envisioned photographs of a three-year drought: monotones of white salt on sand.
Within 24 hours however, I connected California’s plight with our project’s case-study watersheds. Management solutions for California could help other watersheds. So, escaping an
unusually wet East Coast winter, I packed cameras and
sunglasses to document an arid valley 3,000 miles away. I didn’t expect to enjoy it.
On the plane, I read The Mountains of California written by John Muir 120 years ago. “Every glacier in the world is smaller than it once was. All the world is growing warmer….”1
What would he say today? Surface area of Sierra Nevada glaciers
is 55% less,2 and development still increases along rivers below. Rivers? Oh, actually, the Central Valley now has fewer rivers and more canals.
Cox Road Canal, Grayson CA
End of Delta-Mendota Canal
Goose Lake Canal, Angiola CA
California Aqueduct, Vernalis CA
Then unexpectedly, with expedition advice from American Rivers, my story grew beyond the desolation of drought to include hope. Droughts come and go in California. They may get worse.
But there are mitigating solutions. Restoration of streams,
riparian zones and wetlands matter as much as reduced
As American pelicans paddled through Mendota Pool, I read that wetlands hold 10 to 1,000 times the living matter in nearby dry land. At dusk, a great-horned owl hunted above as I framed reflections in San Luis NWR. What a relief from miles of empty concrete canals! I thanked the sedge grasses rubbing my ankles for absorbing pollutants from nearby crop fields, hog farms and dairy-cattle pens.
An insect hatch sounded like rain on my windshield. I wished for higher levees to better view Pacific Flyway waterfowl in the bottomlands. Someday I hope to see Aleutian crackling geese and the tule elk now protected in San Joaquin NWR.
In 2006 Jared Diamond, Paul Ehrlich, Sandra Postel, Peter Raven, Edward O. Wilson et al. told the Supreme Court: “More than a source of water and fish, the nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands store flood waters and reduce economic devastation due to flooding. They recharge groundwater, filter pollutants, and purify drinking water. And they provide the habitats that sustain a diversity of species, which themselves perform important ecological functions.”3
Despite such support, more than 90% of California’s historic riparian and wetlands habitats are gone (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). Today, the San Joaquin’s riparian habitat is scant. But these traces of willows, shrubs and grasses support the highest diversity of wildlife in the Central Valley. Wood ducks, river otters, warblers, eagles, spawning salmon and formerly California bear follow these wooded highways for safety, food and spawning.
The drought brought me here. I saw trickles lead to less water, not more. Nature seems turned inside out. Yet American Rivers, other stewards, scientists, stakeholders and policymakers are working together to address needs ofnatural and human communities. Just as John Muir wrote in 1885 about accumulating snowflakes in the Sierra, grassroots efforts can affect policy: “Come, we are feeble; let us help one another. We are many, and together we will be strong. Marching in close, deep ranks, let us … set the landscapes free.”4
1 Muir, John. The Mountains of California. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985, Page 15. (Originally published: New York: Century, 1894.)
On the seventh day of exploring impacts of drought in California’s Central Valley, I slipped down some loose scree into a San Joaquin riverbed. Shadows of Mendota’s bridge on San Mateo Road were lengthening. That early-evening hush of the desert was overtaking the power of the sun’s heat. There was just enough light to photograph a snake-like bed of sand swallowing
the San Joaquin River.
Sierra Nevada Mountain glaciers no longer melt into the basin of California’s long-lost Corcoran Lake of 750,000 years ago. That vast inland sea spilled into the Pacific half a million years ago, but it left a rich legacy. Over the last 10,000 years glacial melt, winter rains, Sierra snow carved the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers and added further nutrients to one of the world’s most plentiful breadbaskets.
Those rivers flowed freely until 1919 when human engineers began redesigning California into a sprawling network of levees, aqueducts, canals, pumps, dams and reservoirs. Today, the Central Valley Project (1930) and State Water Project (1957) supplies water to 22 million Californians, irrigates 4 million acres, and provides hydro-electricity, flood control and recreation. Built in 1941, Fresno’s Friant Dam irrigates over a million acres of farmland, but it leaves 60 miles of the San Joaquin River dry.
“Picture a river running through a desert. Now picture a desert running through a river.” I read that concept two days earlier at the Delta Visitor Center. It was now in my camera’s viewfinder. Amidst a whine of mosquitos, I considered this crippled river, nature’s persistence versus man’s ingenuity, and how one balances nature’s productivity with human productivity.
Sudden splashes from behind were an alert that I’d hiked out alone from a dirt road. But then I saw telltale stripes flashing and fish thrashing, framed by willow roots in shallow water.
There were four or five – maybe even seven – each at least 18 inches long. Flipping over each other, they fled my shadow into the far end of their stagnant puddle, leaving me with only ripples to photograph. Striped bass, introduced to the California Delta in the 1800’s, are a saltwater species that seek freshwater for spawning.
Can they survive this three-year drought? It’s unlikely there’ll be further significant rain this year, so human intervention would be needed. That’s not likely, given today’s unprecedented clamoring for water by municipalities and farmers.
There are, however, signs of hope. In 2009, Friant Dam began “restoration flows,” released by water users’ negotiated agreements. In December 2013, National Marine Fisheries Service announced it might re-introduce spring Chinook salmon to the San Joaquin. Salmon thrive in big, broad rivers, but struggle in drought and heat. However, restored flows and recognition of common interests, suggest that Chinook salmon may again reach the Sierra Nevadas.