Wild and Scenic River: Merced River

Sections of California’s Merced River were added to the Wild and Scenic River System at two separate times, November 2, 1987 and October 23, 1992. The designated sections include  the Red Peak Fork, Merced Peak Fork, Triple Peak Fork, and Lyle Fork, from their sources in Yosemite National Park to Lake McClure; and the South Fork from its source in Yosemite National Park to the confluence with the main stem. A total of 122.5 miles of the Merced River are designated under the Wild and Scenic River System. 71 miles are designated as Wild, 16 miles are Scenic, and 35.5 miles are Recreational. No Water No Life visited the Merced River in Yosemite National Park during the fifth California Drought Spotlight Expedition in 2016. For more information about NWNL’s California Drought Spotlight please visit our Spotlights page.  For more information about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act read the first part of this blog series. Here are a few pictures of the Merced River from the 2016 expedition taken by NWNL Director Alison Jones.

Jones_160927_CA_5991Sign marking the Jan 2, 1997 flood level of Merced River in Yosemite National Park
Jones_160927_CA_5996View of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley from Sentinel Bridge
Jones_160927_CA_6088Sign explaining Merced River’s early name “River of Mercy” in Yosemite Valley
Jones_160927_CA_6002View of Merced River in Yosemite National Park with Half-Dome in the background

 

Source:

https://www.rivers.gov/rivers/merced.php

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

Lake Erie: A Solution to Vulnerability

By Judy Shaw, with Wil Hemker and John Blakeman for NWNL
(Edited by NWNL Director, Alison Jones)

Judy Shaw, professional planner and NWNL Advisor, and Wil Hemker, entrepreneurial chemist, are partnering with John Blakeman to promote prairie nutrient-retention strips as a proven way to protect Lake Erie’s water. They are encouraging schools and farmers in northwest Ohio to install demonstration strips and teach this effective means to stop harmful runoff from damaging our waterways. NWNL has documented this runoff problem in all its case-study watersheds and applauds this natural solution to chemical pollution of our waterways.

Untitled.jpgUpland prairie nutrient-retention strip. Photo by John Blakeman.

Imagine a very large body of fresh water supplying residents along 799 miles of shoreline with the very essence of their natural health. Lake Erie is such a vessel; carrying over 126 trillion gallons of precious water and serving millions of people in cities both in the USA and Canada. One such city is Toledo, Ohio. There, water from the Maumee River, which flows directly into the Western Basin of Lake Erie, provides fresh water to many in the region. Up to 80 million gallons of water is drawn from Lake Erie every day to supply Toledo and other municipalities with treated drinking water. 2

However, runoff from agricultural lands taints the water with phosphorous. In 2014 runoff caused extensive blooms of green algae, creating toxic microcystins – toxins produced by freshwater cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae.3 This rendered the water on which the city relied as undrinkable. Today, four years later, continued flows of phosphorus-laden water still make this treasured natural resource vulnerable.

So what can be done? 

Many scientists have studied the problem. They’ve universally agreed that rainfall runoff from row-crop fields, suburban and urban land, and roadways is the root of the problem. As the City of Toledo rushes into a $500 million upgrade to its water treatment plant, the source remains completely uncontrolled.4

Jones_130520_IL_8783.jpgRunoff from row-crop fields after rain, Illinois.

Fortunately, solutions to manage rainfall runoff pollution are at hand. 

Through the work of many dedicated Midwest scientists, it has been determined that the presence of tallgrass prairies and seasonal, agricultural “cover crops”5 can arrest the phosphorous and nitrogen that historically has streamed directly into feeder streams and large watersheds like the Maumee River Basin.

On the matter of cover crops, it is important to note that wheat is planted in closely-spaced rows. Non-row crops include hay and alfalfa, planted en masse, not in rows. Alfalfa, because it is grown as a crop and is harvested, is not generally regarded as a cover crop. Cover crops are seldom, if ever, “cropped,” or harvested. Instead they are killed, or die, and left on the soil surface. Generally, cover crops are not true cash crops in the sense of harvesting and marketing.

Ohio prairie researcher John Blakeman found that edge-of-field strips of perennial tallgrass prairies can absorb algal nutrients in storm-water runoff, thus protecting the waterway while also enriching the prairie plants, or forbs. The tallgrasses and forbs (“wildflowers”) of native tallgrass prairies include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and a dozen or more species. All of these once grew naturally in northwest Ohio and exist today in a few “remnant prairie” ecosystems. Thus tallgrass prairies can be commercially planted with success in Ohio.

From John’s research with colleagues and published supportive findings from Iowa State University, he developed methods of planting a robust mix of native Ohio prairie species. He has planted them in several sites, including the NASA Glenn Research Center’s large Plum Brook Station near Sandusky, Ohio. Iowa State University has proved the ability of the prairie plants to absorb the renegade nutrients. The critical step is to persuade those engaged in Ohio agriculture to plant 30–60’ strips of tallgrass prairie species along the downslope edges of row-crop fields, where runoff water percolates before draining downstream to Lake Erie.

Jones_130520_IA_8937.jpgTallgrass Prairie, University of Southern Iowa.

Criticality? High. 

With these strips, Iowa research shows that up to 84% of the nitrogen runoff and 90% of the phosphorous can be captured by the plants, and the water running into the river is virtually clean. The levels of nitrogen and phosphorus exiting the field can no longer foster blooms of toxic green algae, such as those that crippled Toledo’s water supply in 2014.

Vulnerability beyond Lake Erie?

Non-point source pollution (i.e. sediment and nutrient runoff from ever-more-intense rainfall events onto rural row-crop fields, suburban fertilized lawns, and massive expanses of roadway and urban pavement) lies at the root of Lake Erie’s problem. This problem however extends beyond harmful algal blooms in streams, lakes, and Toledo’s drinking water source. It is the cause of huge hypoxic zones in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico (from the Mississippi River drainage), and North American eastern coastal waters.

Some good news?

Several Ohio farmland stakeholders are listening and learning about prairie grass strips at field edges. They are considering how to research and demonstrate upland prairie nutrient-retention strips so more farmers, in time, might use this algal nutrient-suppression practice. Expansive adoption of these strips will reduce phosphorous and nitrogen runoff from agricultural lands, helping obviate harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

Jones_130520_IA_8938.jpgTallgrass Prairie, University of Southern Iowa.

All communities need to reduce non-point source pollution. There are many ecological practices communities can practice, including:

  • decreasing suburban and urban pavement
  • increasing tallgrass and forb plantings
  • designing prairie and wetland drainage swales
  • conserving water use

If we all understand the sources of pollution and commit to take action, it will only be a matter of time before other watersheds in Ohio and across the country increase their water quality by using upland prairie nutrient-retention strips and thus also expand green spaces.

How can you be part of the solution?

First, become informed. Many US federal, state and community governments are measuring and attempting to act on non-point source pollution. Learn more about your state and community programs.

Second, take action by changing your and your family’s personal water use. Change your home and neighborhood water and rainwater practices. Here are some suggestions from The Nature Conservancy.

Jones_130520_IA_8935.jpgTallgrass Prairie, University of Southern Iowa.

Lastly, connect back with No Water No Life. Let us know how you and your neighbors outreach to community, state, and federal government leaders is changing infrastructure and community water resource practices.

The strongest governments on earth cannot clean up pollution by themselves. They must rely on each ordinary person, like you and me, on our choices, and on our will.  –2015 Chai Jing, Chinese investigative reporter, and documentary film maker.

 

Footnotes:

1The capacity, over 127 trillion gallons, is extrapolated from USEPA Lake Erie Water Quality report, which notes the water volume as 484 cm3.
2 Toledo Division of Water Treatment.
3 The Florida DEP states, “Microcystins are nerve toxins that may lead to nausea, vomiting, headaches, seizures and long-term liver disease if ingested in drinking water.”
4 US News.
5 Cover crops are quick-growing, short-lived, low-height plants planted to give full coverage of bare soil, in the dormant seasons, (fall, winter, early spring). They are short-lived; serve only to cover the soil to reduce erosion; and retard growth of weeds before row-crops are planted.

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones unless otherwise stated.

World Conservation Day 2017

In honor of World Conservation Day, NWNL wants to share some of it’s favorite photographs from over the years of each of our case-study watersheds.

Trout Lake in the Columbia River Basin
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Aerial view of the largest tributary of the Lower Omo River
Ethiopia: aerial of Mago River, largest tributary of Lower Omo River

 

Canoeing on the Mississippi River
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Fisherman with his canoe on the shore of Lake Tana, source of the Nile River
Ethiopia: Lake Tana, source of the blue Nile, fisherman and canoe on the shore.

 

Wildebeests migrating toward water in the Mara Conservancy
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Raritan River at sunset
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All photos © Alison M. Jones.

Let Salmon Migrate Up the Snake River Again

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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

 

10 Facts on Wetlands Values!

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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

Moving Towards Sanitary Water Solutions in Ethiopia

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“Sanitation is more important than political independence.” – Mahatma Gandhi, 1925

More and more people around the world are paying attention to the acronym WASH, which stands for water and sanitation health. WASH is an important part of international aid efforts to raise awareness and focus on the need for clean water in developing countries.

In Ethiopia the need for clean water is great, but communities are struggling to find access to clean water for drinking and sanitation all around the country from the Omo River Basin in the south to the Nile River Basin in the north.

Ethiopia has a population of nearly 99 million, and just under half of this population lacks access to safe water. Even more shockingly, two thirds of Ethiopians lack access to clean water and facilities for sanitation.

Water supplies are often contaminated as they come from shallow, unprotected ponds that are at times shared with animals. Rainwater also washes waste from surrounding areas to the source. This has a plethora of negative impacts on communities’ health and safety.

In rural parts of the country, women and children have to walk up to six hours to collect water. The jugs women and children carry back to their village filled with water weigh up to 40 pounds.

Addressing the severity of these major issues, there are a few groups working to provide Ethiopia with clean water solutions that NWNL supports.

Soapply is a company based in the United States that sells organic and non-toxic soap. With each purchase of their soap, Soapply funds up to $10 worth of water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives in the Blue Nile region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia.

In other parts of Africa, the Hippo Roller has become a popular way to transport large amounts of water easily. Their large cylinders roll on the ground and are pushed with a metal handle bar. This takes much of the load off villagers transporting water and allows them to carry up to 5 times as much water as a bucket.

No Water No Life encourages you to save water at home and spread awareness of solutions to water availability and sanitation issues elsewhere!

The Raritan River We Know and Love

By Judy Shaw, Ph.D., Urban Environmental Planner,
Watershed Policy Coordinator, Author

The Raritan River, a long unsung treasure of New Jersey, was high on the list of special places for No Water No Life Founder and Director, Alison Jones. She lived in this NWNL case-study watershed all through her childhood and much of her adulthood. Thanks to documentary efforts by Alison and other Raritan stewards, the Raritan has risen in the esteem of many.

I had the pleasure of working with her and the many organizations that dedicate themselves to restoring and protecting this river. My recently-published book, The Raritan River: Our Landscape, Our Legacy, contains her images and those of many others who clearly love this river and this region.

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The book presents the story of key organizations and their leaders by region, so everyone can appreciate their hard work and dedication to the protection of the watershed. The beautiful banks of over 2000 miles of tributaries moved many area photographers and artists to capture its magical nature.

The book offers New Jersey people across the country to say, “Hey. This is the New Jersey we know and love. It’s more than a turnpike and heavy industry. It’s beautiful and it’s really special.”

USA: New Jersey, Mountainville, Upper Raritan River Basin, Tewksbury Township, spring blooms on hard wood tree, Saw Mill Rd.

Since I retired from Rutgers University in December as the Founding Director of the Edward J. Bloustein School’s Sustainable Raritan Initiative, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the stewardship torch pass brightly on to the many who care as much as I did. So, get out and enjoy your natural treasures and capture the wonder in photos or paintings. You’ll be glad you did!

–Blog Post Written By Judy Shaw, NWNL Advisor

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