Drought: A Photo Essay

From 2014 until the beginning of 2017  California suffered through a major drought. It was a hot topic in the news, and NWNL conducted five Spotlight Expeditions to document and bring attention to that drought and its significance.  But what exactly is a drought? What causes droughts?  What are the effects of droughts? What does a drought look like?

Boat launch, Kinbasket Lake Reservoir, BC, Canada. 2007

Kinbasket Lake Reservoir, BC, Canada. 2007

Basicplanet.com defines a drought as a “lengthy period of time, stretching months or even years in which time land has a decrease in water supply.” Droughts usually occur when rain doesn’t fall often enough during prolonged periods of warmer temperatures, causing high pressure winds and and reduced water content.

Aerial  of dry river bed, Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia. 2006

El Molo Swamp in Mau Forest during Kenya drought of 2009

Human activity can also be the cause of drought. Deforestation, farming, excess irrigation and erosion can lead to drought. Climate change also creates drought. Rises in average global temperatures greatly effect the possibility of drought, by reducing water content in the air.

Jones_150813_CA_4202Rio Hondo River, a tributary of Los Angeles River, California. 2015

Jones_140207_CA_9687Dried up succulent in the Santa Ynez Valley, California. 2014

There are many more affects of drought than most people realize. The most obvious affect is the shortage of water. Because of this, crops and animals will die. Droughts lead to malnutrition, dehydration and deadly famines. Wildfires and dust storms are much more probable and common effects. Industries that rely on water are forced to cutback, thus forcing people into unemployment. Wars have occurred due to droughts.



USA: California, Kettleman City, sign about effects of drought and no waterSigns posted during the California Drought,  2014 – 2016.


Posted by Sarah Kearns, NWNL Project Manager.

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

Let Salmon Migrate Up the Snake River Again


Fish ladder in a Columbia River Dam. Alison Jones/NWNL

By Alison Jones, NWNL Executive Director

Mitigation against impacts on salmon populations by the Columbia/Snake River dams has been deemed insufficient.  Thus, NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) has asked the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for breaching, bypassing, or removing 14 Federal dams – including the 4 Lower Snake River Dams.  These agencies are now accepting public comments.  Given drastic declines of salmon, NWNL and many others who agree that avian predation management and “safety-net” hatcheries don’t do enough are sending in comments.  (More background info at www.crso.info.)

TO COMMENT on the Snake River Dams (by Feb. 7): Email comment@crso.info. Call 800-290-5033. Or mail letters to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NW Div., Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, OR 97208-2870.

Our NWNL Comment on the 4 Lower Snake River Dams sent to the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and Bureau of Reclamation:

For 10 years No Water No Life® has studied freshwater issues in the Columbia River Basin. We’ve focused on the Lower 4 Snake River Dams since 2014. During our 4-week Snake River Expedition, NWNL interviewed 17 scientists, fishermen, commercial farmers, USF&W staff, hatchery and dam operators, power companies, historians, the Port of Lewiston Manager and the Nez Perce Dept. of Fisheries. (Our 2014 Snake River itinerary)

After 3 follow-up visits to the Snake River Basin and continued research, No Water No Life asks you to breach, bypass or remove the Lower 4 Snake River dams. Below are the Q & A’s that informed our conclusion:

 Who cares about the future of the Lower 4 Snake River dams?  Many people – in and beyond the Columbia River Basin – are concerned. So far, over 250,000 taxpayer advocates have delivered comments supporting wild salmon and healthy rivers, according to Save our Wild Salmon. That’s a ¼ million people who’ve spoken out on meaningful, cost-effective salmon restoration that could occur with the removal of the 4 costly dams on the lower Snake River.


Lower Granite Dam on Snake River’s Lake Bryan. Alison Jones/NWNL

Is there a real threat if nothing changes? Yes. The Endangered Species Coalition put Snake River Chinook on its top “Top Ten” list last month. In his examination of the Port of Lewiston’s diminishing role, Linwood Leahy notes we are pushing the salmon to extinction, even though they were here long before homo sapiens.

Is this plea just for salmon? No. Removing the Lower 4 Snake River dams will aid recovery of wild salmon, orca whales, freely-flowing rivers and forests enriched by remains of spawned salmon carrying ocean nutrients upstream. Nature built a fine web where species and ecosystems connect in ways we will probably never fully understand – but must respect. Loss of one species affects the entire trophic cascade of an ecosystem – be it the loss of predator species (e.g., lion or wolves) or the bottom of the food chain (e.g., herring or krill).


Salmon hatchery in Columbia/Snake River System. Alison Jones/NWNL

The unique and already-endangered orcas (aka Southern Resident killer whales) are highly susceptible to declines of Snake River salmon, per The Orca Network. The Center for Whale Research claims that salmon restoration must “include the Fraser, Skagit and Columbia/Snake Rivers, the key sources that provide the wild salmon that the whales need to survive.”

How do the dams impact the salmon? Fish biologists agree that dams have decreased wild fish populations by making it more difficult for juvenile and adults to migrate to and from the ocean. Dams become salmon-killers each summer as water temperatures become lethally hot in slow-moving, open reservoirs. Even a 4-degree increase can kill thousands of fish.  When the dams go, wild salmon can again access over 5,000 miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat which is much cooler for salmon in this warming world.  Dam removal is agreed to be the single most effective means to restore populations of wild salmon, steelhead and Pacific Lamprey. It will also restore U. S. fishing industry jobs.

Does the Pacific NW need these 4 Snake River Dams for hydro energy? No. These outdated dams produce only 3% of the region’s power – and only during spring run-off, when demand is low. The electricity the dams produce can be replaced by affordable, carbon-free energy alternatives. Local wind energy has exploded and easily exceeds the capacity of the dams — by 3.4 times as much in the Pacific Northwest.  On some days the dam authorities can’t give away the little power they generate.  In light of that, it is wrong that taxpayers support exorbitant costs of maintaining these days (estimated at $133.6 million for 2015).


Little Goose Lock and Dam on the Snake River. Alison Jones/NWNL

Do farmers or others need the Lower 4 Snake River Dams?  No. Distinct from the Columbia River system, the Snake River barge traffic, enabled by dams, has declined 70% in 20 years. Using the Corps of Engineers’ categorization, the Snake River has been a waterway of “negligible use” for years. There is no longer any containerized, barge shipping of lumber, wood chips, paper or pulse (peas, lentils, garbanzos) from the Snake River or anywhere to the Port of Portland. The only remaining shipping is for non-container commodities, such as wheat from the Palouse, which could be moved solely by truck-to-rail, instead of truck-to-barge. For further data, please feel free to email us (info@nowater-nolife.org) for a copy of “Lower Snake River Freight Transportation: Twenty Years of Continuous Decline” (October 25, 2016 by Linwood Laughy of Kooskia, Idaho).


Wheat fields and wind energy in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL

Much rail infrastructure is already in place and being expanded in realization that the dams are aging, performing as sediment traps (especially with climate change) and incurring heavy repair costs to prevent crumbling. The needed and smart investment would be a few more “loop rail” terminals with storage for grain. Long term, this will provide very cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly transport. There is a growing movement supporting more rail infrastructure, and even electric rail, in the US to create an interconnected and cleaner energy future.


Ritzville WA Train Depot and grain silos in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL

We ask you to avoid outdated date, miscalculations and past errors.  We ask you to hire independent, informed experts for their input on the dams’ actual costs and relevance.  We ask you to make the wise environmental and economical choice. Thank you.

Alison M. Jones, Executive Director of No Water No Life®, LLC


“Living Shorelines” Can Fortify Our Coastlines … A Solution at Work in New Jersey’s Raritan Bay


A “living wall” of oysters in the South Atlantic. Photo: Alison M. Jones for No Water No Life

By Meredith Comi, Restoration Program Director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper 

After Hurricane Sandy, it was clear that coastal resiliency had become an immediate priority. Thus, Baykeeper began an innovative project to determine if a “Living Shoreline” of oysters could stabilize eroding shorelines of the urban New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary. Perhaps they would simultaneously protect the surrounding environment, improve water quality, and create healthy aquatic habitats.

Oysters are powerful. They can filter and clean water, a much-needed service today. They can provide reef habitat for other sea creatures and improve resiliency to storm surge and erosion. Oysters once thrived in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary — so much so that Ellis Island was previously called Little Oyster Island.  However, over-harvesting, pollution and the sedimentation of reefs resulted in a sharp population decline. Today there is no longer a sustainable oyster population in the NY-NJ Harbor area; but NY/NJ Baykeeper is working to restore them. As a bi-state restoration leader, NY/NJ Baykeeper has had restoration projects in both NJ and NY waters.


“Oyster-keepers” in the Raritan Bay. Photo: NJ/NY Baykeeper

In mid-August, 2016, NY/NJ Baykeeper and its partners installed a first-of-its-kind urban “Living Shoreline” in northern New Jersey waters.  Located in the Raritan Bay at the Naval Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County, a new 0.91 acre Living Shoreline consists of an artificial reef, using live oysters. Known as “oyster castles,” these new concrete structures are meant to provide the needed hard surface on which oysters can attach and grow. These 137 castles with about 10,000 oyster larvae can thus begin to fortify and protect the Raritan Bayshore.


Oyster stabilization in the Mississippi River Delta.  Photo: Alison M. Jones for No Water No Life 

In 2010 the NJ Department of Environmental Protection banned all shellfish research, restoration and education activities in waters (1) deemed too contaminated or (2) “Restricted” or “Prohibited” for shellfish harvest.  Thus earlier oyster reef projects in nearby Navesink River and Keyport Harbor had to be moved. At that point, the U.S. Navy and NY/NJ Baykeeper became “Living Shoreline” partners. The U.S. Navy at Naval Weapons Station Earle, with its non-accessible stretch of shoreline, provides protected property, guidance and valuable support for Baykeeper’s oyster restoration activities.

Additional restoration activities at Naval Weapons Station Earle include setting oysters at NY/NJ Baykeeper’s aquaculture facility near the mouth of Ware Creek, and monitoring the oysters and structures in the ¼-acre experimental restoration plot to assess survival and growth.


Deposition of “oyster castles” into the Raritan Bay at NWS Earle.

NY/NJ Baykeeper has monitored this Living Shoreline twice since its August installation, finding that the oysters grew 22mm in just 2 months!  Other organisms like sponges and algae are attached to the castles as well, further contributing to the Living Shoreline habitat.  All the castles have stayed in place, even during the rough seas when Hurricane Hermine was off shore. This is a good sign of how the castles will hold up in the dynamic Raritan Bay.

This winter, oyster growth will become slower as the water becomes cooler. Since all the oysters are far enough under the water’s surface, they will be protected should the Bay freeze over. Come spring, this Living Shoreline will be expanded, adding more castles and oysters to the system.  Meanwhile, NY/NJ Baykeeper continues its study of biodiversity  and its collection of water quality data.

For further information, please contact Meredith Comi at meredith@nynjbaykeeper.org

Global Drought Threats – New Jersey Up Next?

jones_160925_ca_5749Stanislaus National Forest at the Yosemite N.P. entryway. Trees are dying by the thousands here due to the nexus of drought, high temperatures, fires, and pine bark beetle infestation. 

By Christina Belasco, NWNL Project Manager

When Americans hear the word “drought” these days, they may instantly envision a scene of a heat-scorched, fire-ridden California. Of course this is for good reason – the California drought is entering its sixth year, and shows no sign of stopping in the southern part of the state.

NWNL has just completed its 5th CA Drought Spotlight expedition, covering 1,300 miles from the headwaters within Yosemite and Kings Canyon N.P to the Central Valley to coastal estuaries. It is clear that water consumption patterns and habits must change. NWNL witnessed the devastation of the Rey Fire, Loma Fire, Rim Fire and others that have heavily impacted California’s forests.

NWNL also witnessed homes in East Porterville that still do not have access to running water for the 3rd year straight due to groundwater depletion and lack of piping.


USA California, No Water No Life CA Drought Expedition # 5,Here is a “bathtub ring” typically found in California reservoirs, showing significant drops in water levels due to drought and overuse. 

Another stark example of a region filled with drought woes is Northeastern China, where climate change is causing extreme desertification, despite some governmental efforts to reduce the trend. Villages are being pushed out, and have been for decades now, as the desert continues to creep eastward at a rate of 1,300 square miles per year.

Such examples of extreme drought worsened by climate change seem like an unbelievable scenario, things that happen in far off places, other worlds. Many Americans on the East Coast could never imagine this happening in their own backyard.



Usually a healthy, flowing river, the Kaweah River in Tulare County, CA is now a dried-up riverbed. 

However, green trees and rain aren’t sure signs that water supply is plentiful. In fact most people don’t treat their water as if it is a finite resource, which it is. The truth is that the effects of climate change are everywhere. They are happening here right now.

Fourteen New Jersey counties are now in a drought warning. Reservoir levels, stream flows and groundwater levels are showing signs of depletion across the state.

What can we do about this?

Besides just reducing personal water usage, NJ citizens are pressuring Governor Christie to act and pass legislation for the Water Supply Master Plan. This master plan includes recommendations for balancing the amount of used water with the amount of replenished water. This would ensure that there will be enough water for the private sector, agriculture, residents and the environment.

Websites like njwatersavers.rutgers.edu are advocating for water awareness and sustainability across the state, and have information on how to directly help.

NWNL urges East Coast citizens to think of the impacts of drought before it comes barreling towards them at full speed. Acting preventatively, and taking a can-do approach to climate change, are some of the best ways we can work together to change our unsustainable habits and save the planet for future generations.



10 Facts on Wetlands Values!


A wetland is a habitat where land is covered by water – salt, fresh, or a mixture of both. A wetland is a distinct ecosystem. Marshes, bogs, ponds and deltas are all examples of wetlands. No Water No Life is focusing our social media this week on the importance of wetlands, threats they face, and possible solutions to conserving our wetlands for generations to come. Here are 10 facts about wetlands you may not know!

  1. Wetlands provide habitat to in numerous species of mammals, insects, and aquatic life.
  2. Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems on earth! The amount of living matter in a wetland can be 10 to 100 times that of dry land nearby. TZ-B-W-208.jpg
  3. More than 1/3 of threatened and endangered species in the U.S live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives.
  4. Wetlands provide the perfect habitat for growing rice – a staple food for more than half the world. 
  5. When thousands of species of birds set off to migrate varied distances across the globe every year, wetlands serve as the perfect “pit stop” for them providing crucial food and protection before they reach their final stop.
  6. Wetlands purify water in our streams, rivers, and oceans. Scientists have estimated wetlands can remove 70 to 90% of entering nitrogen! Jones_080815_BC_8213.jpg
  7. The Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana is the largest wetland area in the U.S, and serves as a storm barrier for much of southern Louisiana.
  8. Wetlands help mitigate flooding because their soil acts like a sponge. It soaks up and holds water, thus slowing its velocity. It is estimated that wetlands provide $23.2 billion worth of flood protection per year!
  9. Wetlands protect shorelines and stream banks from erosion and absorb wave energy. Water plants hold soil in its place with their roots.
  10. Wetlands hold a special cultural and historic role for humans! We can use them for sustainable recreation, artwork, and even spiritual relief. Wetlands contribute greatly to our quality of life and health of our planet! Jones_080204_ET_8165.jpg

Dakota Pipeline – A Cautionary Tale

Native American tribes and others from all over the country have joined the Standing Rock Sioux to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline [DAPL]. The proposed pipeline would cross 4 states carrying natural gas extracted via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing [aka fracking] from North Dakota Bakken Oil Fields to Illinois. The complaints focus on the traditional values of our rivers, which we shouldn’t belittle. Our rivers provide sustenance (fish and medicinal plants), clean water to drink, and a spiritual and cultural refuge.

The specific concerns about this 1,172-mile pipeline begin with DAPL’s construction methods that would violate Sioux treaty agreements and desecrate their sacred areas. Once constructed, any leakage from the 30”diameter pipe (just under 3 feet of soil mostly) would threaten contamination within a large 4-state swath of the Missouri River Basin. Ruptures or spills could contaminate agricultural areas, roads, rivers, lakes and streams.  In arid areas damage to groundwater resources would be devastating.

The Native Tribes protesting at Standing Rock are getting the most media attention on this issue – especially those on horseback. Yet they certainly aren’t the only ones who would be affected by a DALP environmental catastrophe. The global issue is that there will eventually be greenhouse gas emissions from this oil, increasing everyone’s vulnerability to global impacts of climate change – floods, droughts, increased severe weather events, and sea level rise.

The local issue is that the Dakota Access pipeline will would carry 570,000 barrels of oil per day across 50 counties of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.  It will cross under two tributaries to the Mississippi River: The Des Moines River and the Missouri River.


Too frequently there are pipeline spills. The Riverkeepers website addresses the risks of transporting crude oil with an annotated list of recent crude oil pipeline ruptures and spills.


April 2016 Freeman SD 
A spill of 16,800 gallons of tar sand oil

May 2015  –   Santa Barbara CA
143,000 galloons of crude oil released, and 21,000 spilled into Pacific Ocean

Jan 2015  – Yellowstone River MT
Drinking water contaminated by 31,000 gals of oil spilled into frozen river

Dec 2014  Belton SC
Over 300,000 gallons of gasoline spilled

Oct. 2014 – Caddo Parisih LA
Pipeline killed wildlife as it spilled over 4,000 barrels of crude

Oct. 2013 – Smithville T
Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of crude oil

Sept. 2013  –   Tioga, ND
Over 20,000 barrels crude oil leaked into a wheat field

Mar. 2013 – Mayflower ARK
Rupture of 100’s of 1000’s of gallons of heavy crude into neighborhoods

Jul. 2010  – Kalamazoo River MI
Rupture oiled 40 miles of river with heavy crude bitumin

If an accident like any of the above were to occur along the DAPL, it could affect the Missouri River or any of its tributaries along the route. These streams provide a resource upon which 18 million people depend upon for clean drinking water.  A spill could also impact crops, prairie habitat and residential communities.

The fracking that produces the crude oil to be carried by DAPL releases less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than burning coal – however, the use of natural gas puts much more CO2 into our atmosphere than other new sustainable energy sources. NWNL urges the implementation of renewable, sustainable green energy like solar panels, wind powered turbines, and wave energy.

Solving the negative impacts of this oil pipeline at this late date is problematic.  It is unfortunate that in this century business and governmental decisions are too often made without enough honest and transparent risk analysis.  We should listen more to the Native Americans protesting this pipeline who come from a heritage of analyzing impacts seven generations in the future before committing to risky ventures.

A ruling on the Sioux’s lawsuit with the Army Core of Engineers is expected to come out today. NWNL hopes it will be one small step in resolving the ongoing controversy over big oil and environmental conservation.


A Blind Eye to Flooding – No More Excuses

By Alison Jones, No Water No Life Director

NWNL sends our sympathies to those suffering from Hermine’s winds and rains. As this hurricane slashes its way north, we hope for the least amount of flood damage possible.

As 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and August’s Louisiana Floods showed, we have created a bad scenario along our waterways. Our approach to coastal development is probably as much to blame for flooding devastation as is the severe weather due to the warming of our atmosphere by climate change.

Ten days ago NWNL wrote a blog on the Louisiana flooding noting the critical need for green infrastructure in order to mitigate storm impacts. We also urged the adaptation of alternative energies to fossil fuels.

Andrew Revkin, renowned science and environmental journalist, retweeted our blog, saying:   “Super No Water No Life post on hazards with growth in a soggy state.”  Today Revkin’s  New York Times Dot Earth blog details how we’ve lost awareness of the reality and the raison d’etre of floodplains and wetlands.

Our coastlands and riverine corridors are meant to filter and absorb both floodwaters and their nutrients.  They are meant to be nutrient-rich ecosystems for flora and fauna, that in turn support human needs.   The water’s edge was never meant to be a platform for tipi’s, trailers, cottages or mansions.

Indigenous builders respected Nature’s rhythms and whims. Their homes were simply-built and often mobile. If destroyed, their ruin did not pollute land or water with masses of chemical or plastic debris. The French, who settled in Creole communities up and down the Lower Mississippi River 200 years ago, also paid attention to the realities of flooding rivers and deltas. They knew better than to rebuild time and time again in flood paths.

Missouri: St Genevieve, the Creole Green Tree Tavern, surviving Mississippi River Flood of 1993.

This summer NWNL cruised New Jersey’s Sandy Hook inland waterway – the lovely Shrewsbury and Navasink Rivers. It was shocking to see that this spit of land, like so many, has been completely re-built since Sandy’s whiplash destruction.

Those of us on this NY/NJ Baykeeper cruise cringed to think what would happen when the lapping waters of August next jumped over relatively minimal breakwaters and seawalls. We are cringing again this weekend. If not this weekend, when?