Posts Tagged ‘dams’

Future of the Mekong River is at risk

July 14, 2015
Dam construction along Mekong River, Laos

Dam construction along Mekong River, Laos

The Mekong River in Southesast Asia is one of the world’s longest waterways, and flows through 6 countries: China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In November of 2014, NWNL followed the Mekong River from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos. This is part of the main stem of the river.

Development along the Mekong, Chiang Khong, Thailand, 2014

Development along the Mekong, Chiang Khong, Thailand, 2014

Mekong water used for crop irrigation, Chiang Khong, Thailand

Mekong water used for crop irrigation, Chiang Khong, Thailand

Fishery, Chiang Khong, Thailand

Fishery, Chiang Khong, Thailand

Fish make up 80% of the Southeast Asian diet.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for the environmental group International Rivers, says the dam-building rush and climate change have brought the Mekong River Basin close to a “catastrophic tipping point”.

Dam construction in Laos

Dam construction in Laos

The proposal of several hydrodams would be devastating to millions of people who depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods, food security, crop irrigation and let’s not forget wildlife!

Stay informed! Read more about this in “Cry Me a River.”

Check for updates on International Rivers and Save the Mekong.

Dam construction in Laos

Dam construction in Laos

NWNL Photo Exhibit, ‘Following Rivers’ opens @ BIRE March 14th

February 25, 2015
The Hudson River rises in pristine forests and enters tidal waters under heavily-trafficked urban bridges.  

The Hudson River rises in pristine forests and enters tidal waters under heavily-trafficked urban bridges.

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?

Downstream impacts of new dams worry elders in Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley.

Downstream impacts of new dams worry elders in Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley.

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

Learn More about No Water No Life.

This event is part of a global campaign, celebrating International Day of Actions for Rivers.

Rivers in Africa and N America support migrations, but are also clogged by invasive species.

Rivers in Africa and N America support migrations, but are also clogged by invasive species.

Will the movie “DamNation” lead to the removal of the lower four Snake River Dams?

February 24, 2015
USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam

USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam

Since the release of the movie “DamNation” over a year ago, over 72 dams have been removed and over 730 miles of rivers were restored across the United States according to the non-profit conservation organization American Rivers. In January of this year, the producers of the movie met with members of Congress and White House officials regarding the removal of the lower four Snake River dams. Lower Granite is one.

NWNL documented the Snake River on an expedition last May interviewing stakeholders of the river including local farmers, an irrigation association, members of the Nez Perce Tribe, the manager of the Port of Lewiston, Idaho Power spokespersons and conservation organizations. Each group presented what the importance of the Snake River is to them. The only stakeholders we could not interview are the 13 species of salmon, the lamprey, the whales and other ocean-going creatures as well as the riparian vegetation that depend on an abundance of salmon to thrive. They are also voices of the river. Will some or all of the lower four dams be removed?  Check out the facts and myths page on the website of Save Our Wild Salmon. Further information about DamNation and its influence on dam removal is also available.

Blog post and photo by Barbara Briggs Folger.

Our Great Migrators

May 21, 2014

*NWNL thoughts prior to World Fish Migration Day-5/24.*

Many are unaware of the exquisite sarabande of life personified by our migratory species: anadromous fish, birds, monarch butterflies, dragonflies and others.

Most migratory species are threatened in one form or another during their annual passages by manmade impediments. Today, on expedition along the Snake River, NWNL is following the struggle of the Columbia River migratory salmon, steelhead and lamprey to overcome dams, pollution, warmer streams and other challenges as they seek their traditional spawning grounds. Fish passages at dams and fish hatcheries have helped them avoid extinction, but more help is needed to bring back healthy numbers of salmon.

US: Washington, Columbia River Basin, Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River, bypass for juvenile salmon migrating downstream.

A Desert Runs Through It – A Photographer’s View

April 10, 2014

By Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life ® and Photographer
As published by American Rivers in “The River Blog” – April 9, 2014

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.

Jones_140317_CA_0946Sierra 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.

California, San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge

California, San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge

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.

San Joaquin River Valley, ripples from striped bass in this remnant of San Joaquin River

San Joaquin River Valley, ripples from striped bass in this remnant of San Joaquin River

“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.

USA: San Mateo Road crossing of San Joaquin River

USA: San Mateo Road crossing of San Joaquin River

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.

CA, Central Valley, Delta Mendota Canal, part of State Water Project

CA, Central Valley, Delta Mendota Canal, part of State Water Project

American Rivers’ 2014 focus is on the San Joaquin River.  With their efforts, coordinated with other stakeholders, the San Joaquin River between Mendota and Fresno will hopefully become more than a fish trap in desert sand.

>>> TAKE ACTION! Tell Congress to protect water flows
in the San Joaquin.

A New 65′ Crack Found in Wanapum Dam: NWNL Reflects on “Saving the Past for the Future”

March 3, 2014
US:  Washington, Columbia River Basin, Wanapum Dam

Cover of a book on the Wanapum Indians.

Drummers and Dreamers:

Wanapum Indians and the Wanapum Dam

On the Columbia River.

By Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life.
Image

Downstream side of the Wanapum Dam.

On March 1, a 65-foot-long crack was found in the hydroelectric #Wanapum Dam in Grant County WA.  This dam generates over 4 million megawatt hours annually, providing power to over 45,000 local customers and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Bonneville Power Administration, now investigating the “risk of failure” presented by this crack, has notified residents downstream of possible evacuation and has closed all nearby boat ramps.  (For updates: http://www.grantpud.org/your-pud/media-room/news)  The dam’s initial 50-year operating license was granted in 1955 and extended by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2008.  However, that approval came with conditions, including modernization of the facility’s power generation capability.

Image

Columbia River near Vantage WA, upstream of Wanapum Dam.

In 2007 a No Water No Life expedition, following the Columbia River from source to sea, visited Wanapum Dam to add to its documentation of the values and the impacts of hydropower.  The dam is named for the Wanapum Indians whose tule houses along the Columbia River were flooded by the building of the dam.  Respecting the longtime Wanapum residents, the dam also houses the Heritage Center Museum displaying their cultural artifacts and documenting the upstream relocation of the town of Vantage.

The juxtaposition of this large, now-cracked hydrodam and displays of the heritage of Wanapum weavings, moccasins and prayers is a bit ironic.  Perhaps lessons can be gained from the traditional values of these “River People” as we consider the risks presented today by infrastructure, industry, machines and our efforts to control nature.  The words of Rex Buck, today’s Wanapum leader, are shown at the Heritage Center Museum:

Before the arrival of white man, Native Americans believed that all living things were endowed with spirit.  They believed that nature was alive and responsive to their needs for physical and spiritual nourishment.  Wisdom was passed from generation to generation in stories that embraced the spiritual characteristics of coyote, bear and all the animals.  Native Americans were the sensitive guardians of earth and all living things.  The arrival of the fur traders brought a slow and disastrous end to this symbiotic relationship.

Image

Wanapum Moccasins and weaving at the Heritage Center Museum.

In the early 1800’s the Wanapum numbered 2500 to 3000, according to the journals of Lewis and Clark.  Historically, the Wanapum have gathered roots from fields above Ephrata (near Soap Lake) down to the Snake River.  Until 1956 they had permanent winter villages of A-frames made with mats of tule gathered by the riverbanks, that were stowed during summer months.

Image

Sculpture of salmon at the Wanapum Dam.

In the spring the Wanapum went to Soap Lake to gather fruit.  In the summer they fished salmon with 14’ poles, submerged basket traps and torches at night.  While drying and storing their salmon, they ate eel and fresh-water mussels.  In the fall the women dug for roots which they ate raw, cooked or dried.  Into the winter hunted deer, big horn sheep, elk, rabbit and waterfowl.

According to Lenora Seelatsee, their mother was “Earth Woman,” who provided spiritual and physical sustenance and encouraged them to respect nature, peace and cooperation with others. Around 1700 the horse was introduced to this community; and the first impact of Europeans was the introduction of metal and glass beads.  Because the Wanapum never went to war with the U. S., there was never a treaty. Thus, they’ve received no recognition, land titles or money from the US government.

Editor and author of Drummers and Dreamers, Click Relander is the only white man buried in the Wanapum cemetery – an expression of their appreciation for his letters during the dam-building agreement requesting that the Wanapum got housing, electricity and jobs.  The Public Utility Department (PUD) rebuilt their 10 homes and long house.  The US Military still protects the Wanapum cemetery and their root-digging fields per an agreement with the Depart of Energy, downstream at Hanford Nuclear Site.  Seven years ago there were only 65 Wanapum left, according to Susan Parker, a Heritage Center docent.  That community represented 3 or 4 families on the west side of the Columbia River adjacent to military lands across from Priest Rapids.

Image

Transmission lines at the Wanapum Dam.

In 2007 NWNL spoke with Rex Buck, today’s Wanapum “prophet and spiritual guide.” (The Wanapum had no need for a “chief” because the tribe never fought.)  NWNL unfortunately didn’t meet Rex in person because his sister Lenora had died just “three sunrises earlier.”  But in a short phone conversation with NWNL, Rex talked of ongoing Wanapum culture and customs, as he explained that the Wanapum honor their deceased by not using their proper name for one year after their death.  At the end of that year observance, there is a “Give Away” memorial service that bequeaths the belongings of the deceased.

Today Rex continues to disseminate the spirit of #Smowhalla, the first Wanapum prophet and shaman who is remembered for interpreting his dreams and stressing the importance of sharing with others. The museum displays Smowhalla’s words to his people:  “Each one must learn for himself the highest wisdom.  It cannot be taught in words.”

Image

Archival photograph of the Wanapum and their long house, covered with tule mats.

As Smowhalla’s current successor, Rex Buck shared ongoing Wanapum wisdom with NWNL, saying, “We have feeling for all this land and to our past.”  When asked about the cultural resources of his tribe, Rex answered, “They are further and beyond dictionary definition.”  It seems that the Wanapum intertwine cultural resources with natural resources and together both are valued as the Creator’s promise for the future.

Puck Hyah Toot (Johnny Buck) spoke about the Creator’s gifts at the naming of the Wanapum Dam at Public Utilities Department office at Ephrata in May 1955.

Image

Electric transmission towers at Wanapum Dam

The part of the District where we lived the Creator made.  He made Earth.  He spread upon the Earth things for the Indian people so they could live.  He gave them roots and berries, salmon he put in their streams, and caused wild fowl and wild animals to come upon the land.  These were the foods the Indian has enjoyed, good food the Creator had given.  When I think of losing these things, I think I am losing my life!  I do not feel I should get angry or say anything that a dam is being built.  I feel that somehow I and my people will get by as long as we have friends like are here.  The Creator predicted and directed that the light shall fall upon the earth and give warming light to everything upon it.  The sun will brighten and warm the body of the Indian and will preserve that body.  You and I get this living under that light.  If any person does wrong to another race, the Creator will punish that person.  That we believe.

The Wanapum are disappearing. When the dam was built (1959-1963), there were only 5 full-blooded Wanapum.  Now there are about 60 Wanapum enrolled and assimilated into the Yakima Nation.  But even the family of Rex Buck, today’s Wanapum’s prophet, is not full-blooded. Rex’s mother is from Warm Springs, Oregon, and his wife is a Yakima Indian.

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“Saving the Past for the Future” – Philosophy of the Wanapum Indian Trust Collection.

Despite this assimilation, diabetes, alcoholism and epidemics, the messages of these “River People” will survive.  But will the natural resources given by their Creator survive?  What risks are engendered when dams crack?  The Grant County PUD’s policy is to “care for the preservation and conservation of the Collection” of Wanapum cultural resources in its Heritage Museum.  Are they also caring for “the preservation and conservation” of our natural resources?

Frank Buck, Rex’s uncle, asked us to share and respect our differing approaches to stewarding water, power, and food needed for all living on shared riverbanks.  On June 2, 1962, at the dedication of Priest Dam downstream of Wanapum Dam, Frank Buck shared this perspective:

I have a few words to express about white people.  You are glad that this Priest Rapids Dam is finished.  You are dedicating it today.  We are very glad to be with you here today.  This power is very important to you.  This power is like food to you.  The water that is making this power provides you all the food you need.  Your power and my power are two different things.  The things that I am showing outside of the teepees (in the village built for the dedication of the dam site), that is the food that we Indians was provided with.  That food will take care of us.  That food makes me strong and healthy.  It is our medicine.  Even what law comes against us, we don’t hold it against you.  We Indians are still friends with you.  You White People, We Indians.  It is our thoughts to go together as one on this Earth.  We will be taken care of.

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Maintenance construction at the Wanapum Dam in 2007

WANTED: More Potamologists*

February 25, 2014

*Potamologists – Those who study the science of our river channels and impacts of river infrastructure (dams, levees, bridges, etc.)

(civil engineering) The systematic study of the factors affecting river channels to provide the basis for predictions of the effects of proposed engineering works on channel characteristics.

USA: Washington, Columbia River Basin, aerial view of Grand Coulee Dam

USA: Washington, Columbia River Basin, Grand Coulee Dam

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Ethiopia: Dams threaten Indigenous communities, Omo Valley, Lake Turkana

February 21, 2014

A Cascade of Development on the Omo River by International Rivers, with photos by Alison M. Jones, 2014 (11:19).

This film outlines how Ethiopia’s new Gibe Dams will cause a 70% water-level reduction over the next 3 years – and thus drastically impact Ethiopia’s Omo River, its Lake Turkana terminus in Kenya, and ½ million residents in this Rift Valley’s Cradle of Humankind. These hydro-dams – and the new commercial agricultural plantations they will irrigate – threaten the livelihoods of local indigenous tribes and their ecosystems. The Gibe Dams will also imperil the Omo-Turkana Basin’s migrating birds, fish and crocodile populations, and the scant amount of wildlife left.

The film pleads that water flows be managed so as to maintain the sustainability of the Omo River, Lake Turkana, and today’s indigenous communities who represent 6000 years of self-sustaining flood-recession farmers and fishermen. For more information on the Omo River :
 Download the factsheet on Gibe III Dam by International Rivers.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM NWNL:  For many millennia, the Omo’s annual 60 foot floods from the highlands’ monsoonal rains have supplied nutrient-rich silt and irrigation for the crops of the Mursi, Suri, Karo, Hamar, Nyangatom, Dassanech and other
unique indigenous cultures. In a 2008 NWNL interview…. Read the full story here.

Columbia River is one of the most hydro-dammed rivers in the world

December 3, 2013

The Columbia is one of the most hydro-dammed river basins in the world with some dams now over 70 years old. These dams change downstream water flows, and stop fish migrations. They are also buckling under decades of accumulated polluted sediment. The pressure is on for decommissioning many of these older dams, and 2 large ones on the Columbia have been removed recently – keeping the decades of that polluted sediment behind them from rushing downstream.

The Columbia is typical of many rivers that are heavily polluted by agriculture, industry, nuclear plants, livestock farms, and human waste. And now many of those pollutants are too deeply embedded for us to remove.

Nature could have done that clean-up job, but we’ve destroyed too many of the natural filters that would freely purify our dirty water: forest, wetlands, oysters…

Can this baby hold onto its culture?

February 20, 2013
Ethiopia: Omo River Basin, Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother

Ethiopia: Omo River Basin, Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother.
© Alison M. Jones for NWNL.

Southwest Ethiopia is arid; but monsoon rains in Omo River highlands have sustained generations of indigenous people downstream. Over many millennia, stable cultural systems have emerged from patterns of interaction with the perennial Omo River. Here, Nyangatom men are fiercely proud; Karo children are playful and creative; Hamar women are strong; swaddled Mursi babies are loved; and Dassanech elders are wise.

Survival in the Omo Valley requires heavy workloads for men and women; but this is counter-balanced by plentiful water, fish and flood nutrients. Using the Omo as a case-study watershed, No Water No Life has documented environmental and cultural impacts of freshwater availability and usage. Men and boys herd livestock down dusty riverbanks for water. Maize, sorghum and beans are planted on inundated riverbanks and plains as annual floods recede. Women and children carry water to nearby villages. Riverside vegetation is collected as fodder for cattle and goats. Grains are winnowed and ground. To escape floods, homes are moved off the river – and returned when it’s time to plant a year’s worth of food on moist banks and floodplains.

These timeworn routines leave little need for the ubiquitous AK-47s handed down from the Derg Regime, other than to recapture stolen cattle or protect crops from marauding monkeys. Reliable resources have fostered creativity and festivity. Villagers paint elaborate patterns of river clay on their bodies. They celebrate successful harvests with dances and rites of passage such as bull jumping.

Annual floods and riverine forests sustain these communities. Omo Valley pastoralists and farmers have never stood in food-aid lines. Even though global climate disruptions threaten cultures elsewhere, the Omo practices of flood-recession agriculture and moving to higher ground during flooding mitigate effects of extreme water-level fluctuations.

It is other pressures that threaten the Omo cultures, cause anxiety and incite anger. Two of five proposed mega-hydro dams have been built upstream on the Gibe River tributary. If the third dam goes online, waters will be held back for two years to fill its reservoir; and thereafter, annual flooding will be ended. The environment and people around Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which is 90% filled by the Omo River, will also be devastated.

A highway to transport Sudanese oil to Kenyan ports will soon cross the Omo River. This will bring truckers’ needs and transient lifestyles into Omo communities, affecting their health and values. Additionally, as global food and cotton prices rise, Ethiopia is giving Omo lands to foreign investors and farmers. This takeover, like the dams, will destroy riverine forests and displace villages.

These irreparable changes are spawning local tensions and resentment over being ignored as development plans progress. Violence is increasing. If the upstream Gibe dams are built, 1-1/2 million people will lose their livelihoods. Guns will soon determine water access rights as river flows are reduced.

Omo cultures could probably survive the incursions of a highway and foreign farming; but hydro-dam reductions of Omo River and Lake Turkana water levels will be too great to overcome. Ethiopia’s government says it will move these people elsewhere. But history suggests people will be resettled in arid lands with few or no wells. No Water No Life interviews with “dam victims” in Canada’s Columbia River and Uganda’s Nile River tell of broken promises and resettlement to barren lands.

No Water No Life is collaborating with groups working to halt the Gibe Dams. American, European and African banks have withdrawn their funding; however China has stepped in. If the dams are built, then the world must hold Ethiopia accountable for guaranteeing these cultures access to clean fresh water and a means of sustaining themselves.

Check out NWNL’s Photo Set “Life in the Omo Valley” on Flickr.

The photograph above was nominated in the ‘People’ category of the Sixth Annual Photography Masters Cup, selected from 8,521 international entries.

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