Exactly one year ago today, NWNL documented the clean up of the Nation’s largest coal fly ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant, TN. In 2008, over 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry leaked into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, part of the Mississippi River basin. The recovery will continue into 2015.
NWNL focuses on solutions to watershed degradation as much as it does on watershed threats. This spring, NWNL guest writer Carly Shields is investigating an exciting innovative approach to reducing pollution and stabilizing shorelines in the New Jersey-New York Raritan and Hudson Bays. Her first report begins:
“Oysters are more than something you’re served at a restaurant with Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce and a glass of white wine. Oysters are actually a keystone species in North America – and especially in areas like the New York Harbor. In two watersheds that were once the main source for the oyster business, concerned scientists and stewards are now trying to re-seed, and eventually re-harvest, a billion oysters in the waters of New York City. New York Harbor School students are making it possible for these pollution-filtering mollusks to make a comeback.
The marine-science focus of the high school on Governors Island is teaching its own students and middle school students in all five boroughs about the importance of oysters in their local waters and how to be the caretakers for these shellfish. This public high school is spawning oyster larvae: something not done by any other school in the state of New York or anywhere – outside of California.
With the help of NYC students, the school has already grown seven million oysters, which are now back in the New York Harbor. Aquaculture teachers from the school are helping students take New York harbor water, and then spiking the water temperatures. This allows the larvae to think it’s time to spawn. The larvae then metamorphose into full-sized adult oysters.“
Further investigations and interviews by Carly Shields for NWNL will explain the ecological importance of re-establishing oyster beds to improve water quality and strengthen shorelines. The latter is increasingly necessary due to wave erosion and higher water levels from severe storms like Sandy and further climate disruption.
On the seventh day of exploring impacts of drought in California’s Central Valley, I slipped down some loose scree into a San Joaquin riverbed. Shadows of Mendota’s bridge on San Mateo Road were lengthening. That early-evening hush of the desert was overtaking the power of the sun’s heat. There was just enough light to photograph a snake-like bed of sand swallowing
the San Joaquin River.
Sierra Nevada Mountain glaciers no longer melt into the basin of California’s long-lost Corcoran Lake of 750,000 years ago. That vast inland sea spilled into the Pacific half a million years ago, but it left a rich legacy. Over the last 10,000 years glacial melt, winter rains, Sierra snow carved the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers and added further nutrients to one of the world’s most plentiful breadbaskets.
Those rivers flowed freely until 1919 when human engineers began redesigning California into a sprawling network of levees, aqueducts, canals, pumps, dams and reservoirs. Today, the Central Valley Project (1930) and State Water Project (1957) supplies water to 22 million Californians, irrigates 4 million acres, and provides hydro-electricity, flood control and recreation. Built in 1941, Fresno’s Friant Dam irrigates over a million acres of farmland, but it leaves 60 miles of the San Joaquin River dry.
“Picture a river running through a desert. Now picture a desert running through a river.” I read that concept two days earlier at the Delta Visitor Center. It was now in my camera’s viewfinder. Amidst a whine of mosquitos, I considered this crippled river, nature’s persistence versus man’s ingenuity, and how one balances nature’s productivity with human productivity.
Sudden splashes from behind were an alert that I’d hiked out alone from a dirt road. But then I saw telltale stripes flashing and fish thrashing, framed by willow roots in shallow water.
There were four or five – maybe even seven – each at least 18 inches long. Flipping over each other, they fled my shadow into the far end of their stagnant puddle, leaving me with only ripples to photograph. Striped bass, introduced to the California Delta in the 1800’s, are a saltwater species that seek freshwater for spawning.
Can they survive this three-year drought? It’s unlikely there’ll be further significant rain this year, so human intervention would be needed. That’s not likely, given today’s unprecedented clamoring for water by municipalities and farmers.
There are, however, signs of hope. In 2009, Friant Dam began “restoration flows,” released by water users’ negotiated agreements. In December 2013, National Marine Fisheries Service announced it might re-introduce spring Chinook salmon to the San Joaquin. Salmon thrive in big, broad rivers, but struggle in drought and heat. However, restored flows and recognition of common interests, suggest that Chinook salmon may again reach the Sierra Nevadas.
Did you know that more than 48 freshwater mussel species can be found in the Clinch Valley region?
The Clinch River flows through the southwestern tip of Virginia to join the Tennessee River which in turn joins the Ohio, a major tributary to the Mississippi. Mussels purify the water and a single mussel can filter up to 1.25 gallons per hour!
So healthy mussels = healthy rivers.
At least 15 mussel species inhabiting these waters are on the federal endangered species list. NWNL Director and Lead Photographer, Alison M. Jones, is on the river documenting restoration efforts and interviewing water stewards. More updates from the field will be posted in the following weeks.