Posts Tagged ‘dams’

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.

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.

Image

“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.

Image

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.

%d bloggers like this: