Posts Tagged ‘water’

Dr. Alan Rice Reviews “The Waste Water Gardener”, by Dr. Mark Nelson

November 14, 2017

 

Reviewer’s Bio: Dr Alan Rice, (Doctor of Engineering Science) has conducted research in a number of fields, directing attention to environmental issues. He draws on experience from extensive global travel, having spent significant time in many countries.  

Information about Dr. Mark Nelson’s “The Waste Water Gardener”

NWNL Director’s Note: As one of 8 pioneers with Biosphere 2, Nelson saw that proper re-use of human waste could meet many goals needed for the survival of humans and watershed ecosystems. Having tasted “black water,” recycled from raw sewage, I can say it is great! So let’s get over the Yuck Factor.  

 

I pray this book is followed up with a text for civil/environmental engineering courses offered globally, and also made available on the web. Two decades ago, drought-besieged Texas towns had to resort to raw sewage to reclaim drinking water. From ancient times, so-called “more primitive” cultures recognized the importance of returning to the earth (in the form of fertilizer) that which we take from it. This is the theme embedded in Nelson’s book. And, incidentally money may be made with it!

 

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Most modern practices deplete the soils of their nutrients, leaving them barren. However, with 10% of its land arable, China has supported great populations by recycling “night soil,” a euphemism for human feces. Nelson also espouses recycling human feces. Which brings us to one of the charms of Dr. Nelson’s book. He doesn’t call it ‘feces’. He drops us into the ‘shit’ immediately. He calls a shit a shit and doesn’t try to hide the stuff under sobriquets as “B.M.” or “number two.”

The fastidious pretenses of many North Americans who’ve turned up their noses to recycling shit, squelched Chicago’s early hopes of providing clean, usable fertilizer from their own sewage treatment plants. Perhaps that “noses-up” is a holdover from the 1894 horse manure crisis in New York City. The city was “saved” with the advent of the horseless carriage, which brought with it more deadly pollutants. In any event, in a scholarly flair for his subject, Nelson employs the Anglo-Saxon descriptor deeply embedded in the English language since 500 BCE – and very likely long before: shit. This usage gives a playful and amusing lilt to the book, lightening the somber nature of the material it addresses.

US agriculture prefers guano instead to replace lost nutrients. Guano? Bird shit is held in higher esteem than people poop? But instead of either, the US replaces nutrients with manufactured phosphates, their excess being carried off to foul the seas and polluting every tributary along the way.

MA-MON-101Outhouse in Montague, Massachusettes (2000)

 

Nelson’s tome brings ashore the mission of the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, which set out to clear “The North River” of swarming populations of “Hudson River brown trout” (another euphemism) that spawned in the upper reaches of Manhattan’s sewers to debouch into the river – raw and untreated – at the 125th Street outfall. That mission was successful. We can now swim the lower Hudson.

Nelson’s manual guides the way to similar success on land. On the Clearwater I encountered my second “composting toilet.” Its odorless contents didn’t go into the Hudson, but to organic farming elsewhere. My first encounter with something similar was on a Wyoming ranch that ran buffalo. There, the urine, sterile when first leaving the body, goes into one container. The feces – oops, the shit – goes into the other, which provides even more beneficial results. No water is wasted either way, as these commodes are not flushed. That avoids the extremes forced upon Texas towns. In some places, water is now more expensive than whiskey.

Jones_130128_K_3688Outhouse in Kangatosa on Lake Turkana in Kenya (2013)

 

The innovative, pioneering spirit that typified the US in earlier years has moved offshore. Composting toilets are the new fashion in India where Indian Railways are retrofitting 43,000 coaches with them. The “proceeds” go to organic gardens. A number of so-called “Third World” countries are taking similar approaches: Burkina Faso, Georgia, The Philippines, Haiti, Cambodia, Rwanda…. It’s a long list.

Nelson offers engineering solutions for whole village programs, hotels, recreation areas – this list is long also. Their sewage – AKA, “effluent” – is released into an outside garden to be taken up by fruit trees, vegetables and flowers, which absorb that sewage. Giving back in return! What flows forth from the discharge end of the garden is clear, clean, safe water!

If sainthoods were given for saving the planet, Dr. Nelson’s canonization would be assured. I do hope one day to see luxuriant front lawns (waste water gardens need not be that big!), signaling the abandonment of sewer lines and transport of dangerous chlorine to expensive treatment centers. Interesting that the US never adopted the solution employed elsewhere: treat the water with ozone generated on site. Far cheaper, far safer.

Jones_110913_WA_2887-2At the WET Museum in Olympia, Washington (2011)

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

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.

Chasing Environmental Change

October 18, 2017

By Joannah Otis, for No Water No Life

Joannah is a Georgetown University sophomore studying Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology. A member of the university’s Environmental Club, she enjoys spending her free time in N.J.’s Raritan River Basin, a NWNL case study watershed.  Joannah is a NWNL Researcher for Fall 2017.  Below is Part II of her analysis of our 2016 NWNL Survey.  Part I can be found here: A Green Education for the Younger Generation.

 

From the mid-to-late 1900’s, climate change and water-use issues began to appear more and more consistently in the popular media.  Yet, based on results of a 2016 NWNL Survey, working-age adults between the ages of 31 and 50 are surprisingly unaware of environmental disruptions in their own communities, even though the concept of climate change gained traction during the formative years of their lives. In 1975, the term “global warming” was introduced by American scientist Wallace Broecker. By 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to assess the effects and dangers of emissions, water use, and pollution. Two years later, this panel released its initial Report detailing how greenhouse-gas emissions lead to increased average temperatures. Later IPCC Reports state that it is 95% likely that humans are causing global warming.

 

Jones_140316_CA_0484Refineries on the northern extension of the San Francisco Bay, California (2014)

 

Shortly thereafter, Al Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance further exposed the general public to the threats human behavior was placing on biodiversity, water, soil and climate. He proposed a “Global Marshall Plan,” intended to eradicate poverty, protect the environment, and promote sustainable development through an Eco-Social Market Economy.1 The “Climategate” affair of 2009 stirred further public debate concerning wasteful human practices when hackers released some e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.2  In spite of these decades of publicity on climate change and human effects on the planet, wasteful water use continues today.

Those between 31 to 50 however have been exposed to environmentally-friendly practices starting at a young age.  So perhaps that’s why they as a group are more likely to be frugal water users. The NWNL Survey revealed that nobody polled in this age group considered themselves wasteful with water. In fact, 30% claimed to be frugal water consumers vesus only 14% of the 18-30 year-old respondents. It is also notable that 28% of the youngest group in the survey, the under-18-year-olds, admitted to being wasteful. [See Part I of this Survey Analysis on the need for under-18-year-olds to become more aware of environmental issues, the need to reduce consumption, and their carbon footprints.]  Those in the over 50-year-old bracket were the least willing to alter their wasteful water practices. This information is reconcilable with the fact that the older generation did not grow up with encouragements to be environmentally friendly and thus are hesitant to alter their habits.

 

Jones_111026_LA_0547Clay water jug being filled from wall pipe, Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana (2011)

 

At the same time, about 79% of those in the 31-50 age range never or infrequently recycle water. This survey response is somewhat tilted, given that the majority of people surveyed did not come from drought-afflicted areas. In states like California where water shortages are a perpetual part of everyday life, water recycling has become much more popular. Starting in 2015, the California Water Environment Association and other municipal water groups produced recycled water from community waste treatment plants  for free. Although not all recycled water is suitable for drinking, all recycled water can be used for landscaping and agricultural purposes.3  Going further, some extremely arid California communities, including San Diego, began recycling “black water,” which is processed from sewage that includes human waste, into drinking water beginning in 2011.4  (Once overcoming “the mental yuck factor,” those that drink this recycled water, including NWNL Director Alison Jones, say it’s delicious).   Such government water-recycling projects make it much easier for people to be more responsible water users.

 

Jones_140322_CA_3870Sign for non-potable reclaimed water, San Joaquin River Valley, California (2014)

 

While it is concerning that more than half  (58%) of 31-50 year-olds are unsure of what water changes are being pursued in their community, it is encouraging that a large percentage of them are individually willing to make water use changes. Of those surveyed in this age group, 73% were open to buying fewer “high-water-content” items. These items include leather, paper, cotton clothing and merchandise from drought-ridden areas. For example, producing just one pair of jeans takes about 1,800 gallons of water,5 while one sheet of paper demands almost three gallons.6

NWNL hopes more will be done to encourage these working-age adults, who say they are willing to put water-saving techniques into practice, to learn more about climate-change impacts on their community. A renewed emphasis on presenting reliable, factual information in the news and in social media will be important in promoting effective approaches to responsible water consumption practices.   

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

A Green Education for the Younger Generation

October 3, 2017

By Joannah Otis, for No Water No Life

Joannah is a sophomore at Georgetown University studying Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology. She is a member of the University’s Environmental Club and enjoys spending her free time horseback riding through the Raritan River Basin in New Jersey.  Joannah is an NWNL intern for the fall semester of 2017.

As catastrophic weather events hit with increasing ferocity and drought expands its domain across the United States, it falls upon the shoulders of the younger generations just as much as the older ones to change their habits and stay abreast of environmental concerns for the safety of their future planet. A survey conducted by No Water No Life (NWNL) in early 2016 has revealed a startling unawareness amongst teenagers of environmental issues and of the steps being taken to address them. Although the data was largely collected from adults over 50 years of age, the responses of younger participants shed an interesting and somewhat concerning light on how the up-and-coming consumer thinks of the environment.

Jones_170616_NE_5079Severe storm at sunset, Missouri River Basin, Nebraska. (2017)

Compared to 4.7% of the overall survey takers, 28% of the under-18-year-olds admitted to wasteful water use. This was the highest percentage recorded amongst the four age groups surveyed for wasteful consumption. Among younger participants, 71% also believed that they would have enough water even in times of drought. This is compared to the overall 46% who answered they would have sufficient water supplies.

However, it is encouraging and significant that over 80% of the teenagers believed they would use less water if they were charged for it. In fact, an overwhelming number of survey participants from all age groups reported that taxing water use, or creating incentives for less water consumption, would be the ideal way to address current or imminent water shortages.

Jones_170209_INDIA_8478A public water source in the Ganges River Basin, India. (2017)

The trouble comes with how to enact such taxes. In late August 2017, California began consideration of a tax on tap water in light of its recent six year drought. The intent of this tax was to encourage moderation and to fund the cleanup of contaminated groundwater. Some countered that water is a human right and questioned whether the money would in fact be directed to improvements. Such diverse views complicate the enactment of solutions to issues agreed upon by majorities, like those in the survey.1

Jones_160930_CA_7924Sign at a peach orchard, California Drought Expedition. (2016)

In an age where social media and smartphones have replaced hard-copy newspapers, it is not a surprise that only 40% of under-18-year-olds have read about water issues, or even considered doing so. Compared to the 81% of over-50-year-olds who have stayed abreast of water concerns through reading, this is an unsettlingly small percentage of informed young people. Granted, some in this age group may be too young to have any interest in reading about current events. It is also possible that they do not have access to newspapers in light of the fact that the Pew Research Center has recorded a 9% decline in weekday newspaper circulation since just last year.2 These explanations in themselves are unsettling.

Jones_170615_NE_4867Art & Helen Tanderup, active protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline, Missouri River Basin, Nebraska. (2017)

One would hope that this younger generation, which could make or break the severity of global warming and other concerns, would have more awareness or interest in the environment. The survey revealed that almost 70% of the under-18-year-olds were unaware of changes in their communities concerning water use.

The data from the NWNL survey points to an undeniable need to educate our youth about water usage; environmental issues; and what they can do to help. Their lack of awareness about the impact of human consumption on the planet can be attributed to a simple ignorance of the facts, rather than an unwillingness to learn. Therefore, it is imperative that environmental education be more heavily emphasized in elementary and middle schools. Teaching the next generation of homeowners, voters, and lobbyists the importance of respecting our planet is of utmost importance if we expect positives changes to emerge from a world in flux.

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

Glaciers: A Photo Essay

September 19, 2017

Edit (9/27/17): Since publishing this blog, the Washington Post reported the calving (or splitting) of a key Antarctic glacier, the Pine Island Glacier.  The article states, “the single glacier alone contains 1.7 feet of potential global sea level rise and is thought to be in a process of unstable, ongoing retreat.”  To learn more about how climate change contributed to this calving, and what the affects will be, read the article here.

 

“The alarming rate of glacial shrinkage worldwide threatens our current way of life, from biodiversity to tourism, hydropower to clean water supply.” (climatenewsnetwork.net)

During and in between NWNL’s dozens of expeditions to its six case-study watersheds, we have explored the value and current condition of glaciers on three continents, since they are a critical source of freshwater.  NWNL visited the Columbia Icefields of Alberta, Canada in 2007; Argentine glaciers in 2003 and 2005; and Rebman Glacier on the summit of Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro in 2003.   We have witnessed the effect of climate change on glaciers. The melting of glaciers will affect  all forms of water resources for human and wildlife communities.  Just as upstream nutrients and pollutants travel downstream, “the loss of mountain ice creates problems for the people who live downstream.” Glacial loss must be thought of as just as important in the climate-change discussion as flooding and drought have become.

 

Jones_030809_TZ_0745Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route. Tanzania, East Africa. (2003)

 

Jones_050402_ARG_0155Hole in ice of Lake Viedma Glacier in South Patagonia’s Glacier National Park, Argentina. (2005)

 

Jones_070609_ALB_2357Sign marking the former edge of the glacier. Columbia Icefields, Alberta, Canada. (2007)

 

ARG SC LVgla 059DA.tifLake Viedma Glacier at Glaciers National Park in Southern Patagonia, Argentina. (2005)

 

Canada: Alberta, Columbia Icefields Center Bus Tour, Athabasca GlacierAthabasca Glacier in Columbia Icefields. Alberta, Canada. (2007)

 

ARG SC Azul 004DA.tifGlacier melting and pouring into Blue Lake in the Andes Mountains. Southern Patagonia, Argentina. (2005)

 

Posted by Sarah Kearns, NWNL Project Manager.

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

 

On Combating Drought and Desertification

June 16, 2017

Today is “World Day for Combating Drought and Desertification.”  Ironically, today I am on a NWNL expedition in Nebraska atop the northeastern edge of the Ogallala Aquifer, which spans and supplies water to 8 states, all the way down to Texas.  The farmers I’ve talked to here are all aware of this observance.  After all, Nebraska was one of six of those same states so heavily impacted by the severe Dustbowl drought in the “Dirty Thirties.”  While these “black blizzards” caused terrible casualties and human displacement, much was learned about the importance of dry-land and no-till farming, planting windbreaks and the value of deep-rooted prairie grasses – all of which prevent wind erosion of these sandy “loess” soils.  During the Dustbowl, more than 3/4 of the topsoil was blown away in some regions.  Thanks to indomitable “Great Plains” human spirit, there has been recovery, albeit at the expense of large population declines, and continuing slim profit margins, provoking yearly concern.  The lesson still to be considered today is how we can mitigate extreme weather patterns.  Several means come to mind: irrigation and farming technologies, drought-tolerant crops, reduced consumption, reduction of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, and paying attention to the lessons of history.

THE ROLE OF WATER IN HUMAN HISTORY:

For how long have our species worried about water availability?   For eons, civilizations settled on the planet’s great rivers and have flourished. I think of the Nile and its pyramids; the Tiber and its Roman Forum; and the Ganges and its Taj Mahal. There were also great civilizations that are believed to have literally dried up. I think of the Mississippian, Anasazi, and Incan cultures. Their power was decimated by their wanton consumption of natural resources, which intertwined with intense droughts and resulting food scarcity.
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Taj Mahal next to the Yamuna River, India. Photo by Alison M. Jones. NM-CCK-210A os.tif

Anasazi ruin ‘Chetro Ketl’ in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

THE ROLE OF WATER IN THE US WEST

Recently, David Beillo reviewed David Owen’s Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River. He began his article by saying, “The waterways of the [U.S.] west now exist as monuments to an ambitious desert civilization. Across this vast region of America, few, if any, rivers flow without hosting one or more dams, concrete channels, diversions or other human-made ‘improvements’ that allow people and farming to flourish in this dry country.”

Nevada: Boulder City, Hoover Dam,

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Owen’s book follows a stream of well-known authors who’ve analyzed the issue of water availability in the desert – from Wallace Stegner’s many books to Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (where did my well-worn copy of that classic go??) to John Fleck’s recent book on the Colorado River, Water is for Fighting Over. In describing the changing American West, Stegner muses on John Muir’s approach: “Instead of thinking what men did to the mountains, he kept his mind on what the mountains did to men.” A riverine parallel could be: consider what men have done to rivers in order to address what lack of rivers could do to men. Stegner succinctly states: “The West’s ultimate unity: aridity.”

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Parker Dam, hydrodam across the Colorado River that siphons water from Colorado Aqueduct to Los Angeles. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

In The Sound of Mountain Water: The Changing American West, Stegner describes the Cowboy Country – much of which supplies critical bounties of food and livestock – as a “land of little rain and big consequences.” The U.S. West is an extravagantly endowed region, but has one critical deficiency – water. Without water, watersheds, timber and crops are all vulnerable. Stegner mused, “There have been man-made deserts before this in the world’s history. The West could be one of those.” NWNL undertook five “Spotlight” expeditions to document the just-ended, six-year California Drought, including ten August days in the Mohave Desert when nights never cooled down below 108 degrees. Experiencing such extreme heat seemed to be possible preparation for what might be the norm in the future for larger areas than the deserts we now know, given climate change predictions.

Jones_140322_CA_3790California Aquaduct, seen from levee road, in San Joaquin River Valley, California. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

Rising populations are using many straws to pull from that finite source of water called the Colorado River. It was named the Red River because of the color of the soil it carries, but perhaps we should also consider its color being derived from the blood of dying ecosystems and water-dependent livelihoods and communities. The death toll that many fear is exacerbated by the increasing droughts seemingly induced by climate change.

DESERTIFICATION IN AFRICA

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Aerial view of deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

Africa is also haunted by the specter of drought and desertification. The late Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to stem deforestation and resulting desertification by gathering legions of women to plant saplings across Kenya. No forests, no water, no life, no peace – as Ms. Maathai told NWNL after an appearance at NYC’s Cooper Union. But forests continue to disappear across Africa to be replaced by fields of maize to feed a growing number of mouths. Politics also interferes with efforts to protect Africa’s precious water towers, like Mt Kenya’s slopes and the Mara River’s Mau Forest headwaters.

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Indigenous cedar stump. Deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones.Jones_120124_K_5375

Truck full of cut logs. Deforestation of Mau Forest, Kenya. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

THE FUTURE

In the face of today’s increasing droughts and deforestation, change is needed and is possible. But, given the human species’ tendency to short-termism, is it probable? Counter that tendency, our species also has often risen to crises — whether they were created by uncontrollable forces or by ourselves. Our inventiveness can overcome our inertia with leadership from grassroots and legislative actions. We certainly possess the ability to fight the specter of water scarcity.

We just need the will to change behavior and habits in order to stop deforestation, desertification and droughts. We need the will to reduce unnecessary consumption. We need the will to invest in research and technology. We need the will to respect nature’s needs and consider the long-term impacts of our human footprint.

 

 

 

Showering in South Sudan…Sometimes

February 3, 2017

DSC_6347.JPGNWNL Director Alison Jones met fellow journalist Dale Willman just before he left for South Sudan. We stayed in touch as he worked to help young local journalists in this Nile River Basin, newly-formed country.   Dale is an award-winning editor, reporter, trainer and photographer with decades of reporting from five continents. During more than 15 years in Washington, DC, he worked for NPR, CBS and CNN. As a trainer, he was recently in South Sudan working with the staff of a local radio station. During the first Gulf War he reported from London for NPR, providing coverage for an IRA bombing campaign. 

South Sudan’s struggles with peace and availability of clean water continue to create disturbing headlines.  NWNL is proud to carry Dale’s story. 

By Dale Willman

Showering outside is one of the few pleasures for a temperate-zone kind of guy working in the tropics.

But water is a precious resource in South Sudan. It is also a complicated topic. For many of the country’s 8-10 million people, clean drinking water is relatively accessible. The operative word here of course is “relatively.”

I lived in Turalei, a small village in South Sudan from July of 2015 until March 2016. Older U. S. sports aficionados will remember its most famous resident, NBA basketball star Manut Bol, who is now buried in a memorial north of the village. I was there as a journalism trainer for Radio Mayardit. We lived in a fenced compound with our radio station, a small living area of three tukuls (small huts), a cooking area, latrines – and that outdoor shower.

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Turalei is a sleepy village. Its rutted dirt roads pass by market stalls made of sticks and rusty, corrugated metal roofs.  Posters of soldiers killed in the country’s civil war are plastered on a monument that marks the middle of the village. Food is scarce. I lost 30 pounds in my first two months. For a guy more comfortable with snow, it is hot. South Sudan is a tropical country where daytime temperatures regularly reach north of 115 degrees. An evening shower under the stars helped me survive.

The entire country however lacks the most basic infrastructure, including running water. Many larger villages have at least one wellhead, thanks to the tireless work of dozens of NGOs over the past ten years. But for those in the countryside, which is most of the country’s population, the nearest well may be a kilometer or more away. That presents difficulties for some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens – its youngest population.

Children are an economic asset in this country. Kids working at home are more important to a family struggling to survive than kids getting a classroom education. So rather than backpacks filled with books like American school kids, many South Sudanese children carry dirty, yellow jerry cans a kilometer or two from wellhead to home. Each can holds five or more gallons of water and weighs 40 pounds or more. Often children do this several times each day in order to have water for the most basic of needs – cooking and bathing among them.

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Having access to clean water though does not mean that the water people drink is clean. For as many as 2/3 of homes, by the time water is consumed it is contaminated with E coli and other impurities, according to research over the past decade.

Open storage is a huge problem. In Turalei’s compound where I lived and worked, drinking water was kept outside in a 50-gallon drum, loosely covered by a broken wooden board, often left lying on the ground. It was not uncommon to see mosquito larvae and pupas floating in the water. Birds that regularly sat on the drum’s rim would defecate into the water. And of course the dust – there is always dust – also infiltrates the barrel.

And there’s that shower I so relished. The water tank for my shower was regularly left uncovered. The container was so contaminated that at one point I was treated for a ruptured eardrum, probably caused by an infection from contaminated water.

Transport of water from its source to a home is another source of potential contamination. Many worked and lived in our compound, thus our water needs were extensive. A young man we hired regularly brought the water to us in two 50-gallon drums welded together and hauled on a donkey cart. One day my shower smelled of petrol. It’s possible that he made a little extra money that week by hauling fuel for someone, using the same drums he used for our water.

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How water is stored in the home plays another major role in whether families will be drinking clean water. The jerry cans that store water in homes across South Sudan are often also used for cooking oil, petrol and other commodities.

The way water is used, or not used, is a significant health factor for the country’s population. It was common during my year in South Sudan for me to see people returning from a toilet before meals without washing their hands. Since most meals are eaten communally, diarrheal diseases easily spread through entire communities.

Throughout history, water has played a major role in defining South Sudan. The White Nile divides this country as it flows from its Ugandan southern border to its northern Sudanese border. Above Juba, the nation’s capital, the river spreads out to form the world’s largest swamp called The Sudd.

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In 61 A.D., The Sudd blocked invading Romans, ending Emperor Nero’s hope of dominating all of Africa. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the British attempted to cut through the Sudd. While the British were periodically successful, their efforts were always short-lived. Nature, it turns out, is a better reclamation artist than humans usually give credit. Even now, the Egyptian government’s effort to create a canal to drain a portion of the swamp in the next 24 years has stalled.

For many years, The Sudd has been an advantage for the citizens of South Sudan, having created a natural barrier to fighting that has ravaged the country. With much of the conflict based around the oil fields in the northeast, the Sudd has prevented some of that fighting from infecting much of the nation’s western flank.

Like I said, water is a complicated issue in South Sudan.

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

November 29, 2016

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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

The Circles of Cultures and of Water

November 7, 2016

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By Alison Jones, Executive Director of No Water No Life

In the 1970’s my mother gave me Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence by T. C. McLuhan (1971). I was intrigued by the sepia photographs of Native Americans by Edward S. Curtis.

After reading Timothy Egan’s book on Curtis (The Short Nights of a Shadow Catcher, 2012), I pulled my mother’s book off the shelf. While its paper cover is somewhat raggedy, the photos and text inside again mesmerized me. These two books, when taken together, underline the significance of perpetual circles within Native American cultures, before and after their forced reservation existence.

Why write about this for No Water No Life?  I want to share the correlation of cyclical sustainability between water and indigenous cultures.  Many of thoughts in Touch the Earth I’ve heard in NWNL interviews with indigenous cultures in African and North American river basins.  Mandala-like spherical designs abound in the decor and life of the Chinook, Nez Perce, Colville, Choctaw, Okanagan, K’tunuxa and Californian tribes.

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Both the Hydrologic Cycle and Indian circular designs represent more than a graphic pattern and reflect NWNL’s search for clean fresh water for all, forever.  The Hydrologic Cycle illustrates replenishment.  Native Americans consider how impacts will roll outward from their circle – for at least for 7 generations –  before making decisions. Many of today’s water problems, induced by pollution, infrastructure and climate change, might not exist if “new” Americans were better at weighing eventual risks to our life cycles.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce:  “We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit made them. [The white men who moved the Nez Perce to Lapwai] were not.  They would change the rivers if they did not suit them.”

Going deeper, what grounded the Native American focus on circles?  While reading Native American commentaries in Touch the Earth, I noted many mentions of circular rhythms and constructions. Cycles are found in their prayers where the four seasons and four cardinal points on a compass are centered by their Great Spirit.

Black Elk, prayed at Harney Peak in The Black Hills in 1931 to the Great Spirit:  “From the west, you have given me the cup of living water… You have given me a sacred wind… of the cleansing power and the healing…. At the center of this sacred hoop you have said that I should make the tree to bloom and be filled with singing birds.”

For ten years No Water No Life has focused on the health of water’s hydrologic cycle as it passes from clouds, mountains and rivers, down to the sea and back up into clouds again. It seems Native Americans focus on that too as they design their circular tipis, drums, beaded jewelry and dances?

Chief Luther Standing Bear said, “The man — who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things — was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.”

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Here are some more passages from Touch the Earth that I have enjoyed:

Chief Flying Hawk, Ogalala Sioux, born about full moon of March 1852: “The tipi is much better to live in: always clean, warm in winter, cool in summer; easy to move….  Nobody can be in good health if he does not have fresh air, sunshine and good water all the time.”

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Hehaka Sapa, the holy man of the Sioux:  “They have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying for the power is not in us any more. When we were living by the power of the circle, in the way we should, boys were men at 12 or 13. But now it takes them very much longer to mature.”

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Tatanga Mani, a Stoney Indian:  “I turn to the Great Spirit’s book, which is the whole of his creation. You can read a big part of that book if you study nature. …The Great Spirit has provided you and me with an opportunity for study in nature’s university, the forests, the rivers, the mountains and the animals, which include us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Drought Threats – New Jersey Up Next?

October 25, 2016

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.

 

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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.

 

 

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