Agua es Vida

By Connie Bransilver for NWNL
(Edited by Alison Jones, NWNL Director)

Photographs by Connie Bransilver

Connie is a Founding Senior Fellow at International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP, NWNL’s Fiscal Sponsor). She  recently returned to her native New Mexico from Naples, FL. Connie has been a professional nature photographer for 26 years, working in all seven continents. Her major work has been with rare lemurs in Madagascar, and human-wildlife interactions throughout Indonesia. See more of her work on her website.

IMG_6579 Rio Grande north of Montano.jpgRio Grande north of Montano, New Mexico

Throughout the middle Rio Grande Basin acequias (ditches) and the public paths on either side, connect neighbors, knit communities, irrigate agricultural fields in season, and are now caught in a Gordian Knot of rights to scarce water. Their cultural and social significance for traditional Hispanic and tribal communities are deep. But after the mid 1800s, when the United States acquired the southwest from Mexico, the value of water, always scarce, ran counter to those values.

Understanding the centrality of the acequias in traditional agrarian life along the Rio Grande is understanding the dependence of Native American, Spanish and eventually, even Anglo lives in honoring, beneficially using, and exploiting the waters. Traditionally, acequias provided water for all uses, along with communal obligations for their care and maintenance. They endure because of “querencia,” meaning attachment to place and respect for the land, nature and the miraculous water that sustains body, mind and spirit. The questions of who, if anyone, owns the rights to what water usage has split villages and cultures, and clogged courtrooms for hundreds of years.

IMG_4314 Acequia path dogwalker.jpgAcequia path dog-walker 

Rio Grande headwaters lie in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. Passing through New Mexico the Rio Grande trickles along 1,885 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the Texas-Mexico border and making the Rio Grande the fourth longest river system in North America. Agua es Vida; so custody battles between Colorado, California, the Navajo Nation, pueblos along the river, burgeoning cities (like Albuquerque), and dams (like Elephant Butte holding water for Texas and Mexico) result in traditions butting against new laws and regulations, and fierce court battles without clear resolution.  Demands grow as water becomes increasingly scarce.

Once alive and sacred, the Rio Grande formed the centerpiece of the Puebloan world. Wide, muddy, meandering, shifting braids of water, sometimes drying to a trickle, other times widening into a broad swamp (or cienega), taking homes and fields hostage, are now harnessed by technology, governed by an elaborate web of laws and uses for economic growth.  Therein lies the essential conflict: competing claims challenging ownership of the flow.

IMG_4358 Weir open for flow.jpgWeir open for flow

The first Spaniards reached the middle Rio Grande around 1541, but did not find the gold they sought. Instead they found, and used, the natives who suffered at their hands until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. By 1692 Spain had sent armed soldiers, settlers (including, we now know, many Jewish “conversos” fleeing the Inquisition) and priests to tame the Indians.  With Juan de Oñate and his men came the systems of acequias and land rights via massive land grants from the King and Queen of Spain to secure settlement. Foreign to the native populations living along the river, this Iberian mastery of controlling and distributing water was rooted in the Moorish occupation of Iberia, and also in ancient Rome and the Middle East. Native Americans had instead lived with the rhythms of the river, never aiming to master it. Those who survived, and whose pueblos remained viable, soon adopted the network of acequias to maintain their agriculture, still based on the golden triangle of corn, beans and squash that provide a nearly complete human diet while simultaneously regenerating the soil.  Spanish recipients of huge land grants applied their own brand of subsistence agriculture. Both communities honored the land and the water.

IMG_4359 Acequia, paths and adobe home.jpgAcequia, paths and adobe home

Spain yielded to Mexico, then Mexico lost this land to the United States in 1847 in the Mexican-American War.  Then followed a wave of Anglos arriving from the East who sought fortune. They also brought a profound ignorance of the indigenous, irrigation-based culture that had sustained this fragile land for centuries.

Now the mighty Rio Grande’s life-giving waters are shrinking. Warmer winters yield less moisture, increasingly delivered as rain rather than snow in the headwaters. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that the San Juan Mountains are “at the bull’s eye of the future drought region.”1 While Anglo technocrats consider the acequias as anachronisms, the acequias have recently joined into a state-wide umbrella organization to push back against unrestricted transfers of water rights.  In this part of the world, water rights, or the right to use water transfer separately from surface rights.

IMG_4323 Weir releasing irrigation water.jpgWeir releasing irrigation water 

And what of the competing needs for water? Increasingly the courts are looking at Queen Isabella’s 1492 will, forming the basis of Pueblo, Spanish and Mexican claims to water. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the war with Mexico, acquired Nuevo Mexico and other lands in the West, and honored existing claims to water that were in place at the time. Those rights extend back to the 1492 will. Thus the claims to precious water in the Middle Rio Grande — between Cochiti Dam to the north and Elephant Butte Dam to the south, where half the state’s population resides — may ultimately be defined by that 500-year-old Spanish document.

In the meantime, my village, Los Ranchos, and all the adjacent villages along the Middle Rio Grande, share the pathways and rural culture of the web of acequias. Neighbors greet neighbors and work together to maintain the water flow – Hispanics, Anglos, Indians and all the mixtures among them. Questions about how the river can meet all the demands of its people might even be turned around. Maybe current residents value the agricultural ambiance and natural environment supported by the water and the acequia systems more than continued growth. A broader conversation on the value of water might begin now.

IMG_6578 Rio Grande north of Montano from balloon.jpgRio Grande north of Montano from balloon

Footnotes

 

  1. Reining in the Rio Grande – People, Land and Water, Fred M Phillips, G. Emlen Hall, Mary E. Black. University of New Mexico Press, 2011.

Other Sources

Iberian Origins of New Mexico’s Community Acequias, Jose A. Rivera, University of New Mexico and Thomas F. Glick, Boston University. NewMexicoHistory.org.
Prior-appropriation water rights,” Wikipedia.
“New Mexico files counterclaim in water suit: Texas accused of mismanaging water, hurting farmers in NM,” Michael Coleman, Albuquerque Journal Washington Bureau, Albuquerque Journal, May 24, 2018.

 

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

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.

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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.

RECENT NOTABLE 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.

 

Raritan River Week!

New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River
New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River

We love the Raritan River!

Celebrate RARITAN RIVER WEEK
April 16-30, 2016!

Check out the events page for rain barrel workshops, nature walks, stream cleanups, composting/gardening sessions and more for people of all ages to enjoy! There’s also a great list of resources for the region which includes maps of parks and protected areas, a book list, and lesson plans for teachers.

Did you know that there’s a Quarterly publication called Raritan too?Raritan offers writers and readers the opportunity for sustained reflection and aesthetic pleasure, uncluttered by academic jargon. Founded in 1981 by the distinguished literary critic Richard Poirier, and supported by Rutgers University, Raritan aims to reach the common reader in everyone and to provide a particular experience of reading, one that nurtures an engaged and questioning approach to cultural texts of all sorts: literary, artistic, political, historical, sociological, even scientific.”

USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin
USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin

The eternal dance of water

Our waterways dance through lush green forests, industrial cities, into vast oceans, even underground and dried up river beds leave their trails as they drift across the earth, supporting all life.

Ethiopia: aerials of Lower Omo River Basin in flood stage
Ethiopia: aerials of Lower Omo River Basin in flood stage
Mexico: Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, aerial views of Old Maya canal from Gulf of Mexico into Lake Campechen. LightHawk
Mexico: Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
USA:  Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin, Morgan City
USA: Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin, Morgan City
Zambia, confluence of tributaries of Zambezi River, aerial view
Zambia, confluence of tributaries of Zambezi River
USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area, St Martin Parish, electric lines and posts for old RR track on Right, next to Interstate 10 elevated highway - bridge - causewauy over Lake Henderson (aka Henderson Swamp), wetlands with bald cypress standing in water (Taxodium distichum, aka  baldcypress, bald-cypress, cypress, southern-cypress, white-cypress, tidewater red-cypress, Gulf-cypress, red-cypress, or swamp cypress), a deciduous conifer
USA: Louisiana, Atchafalaya Basin, St Martin Parish
USA  California, aerial view of confluence of San Joaquin (on R) and False River (on L), NE of Antioch
USA California, confluence of San Joaquin and False River
Namibia: Naukluft Park and mountains in Namibia Desert, aerial scenic
Namibia: Naukluft Park and mountains in Namibia Desert

Inspired by The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge – dance.

Posted by Jasmine Graf, Associate Director of No Water No Life.

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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A walk on the edge of the woods

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta are a small, unique ecosystem within the Raritan River Basin, along the edge of its Manalapan River tributary. They are part of the Spotswood Outlier of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Many who think they know the Raritan River Basin are amazed to learn of this outlier with its acid cedar bogs filled with spaghnum moss and muck, porous soil and pitch pine forest. But Joe Sapia has lived here his whole life. His knowledge and appreciation of this special “neck of the woods” is found in each one of his series of almost 50 photo essays. NWNL thanks Joe for giving us a tour of his “backyard” and sharing this lovely photo essay.

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Changing colors of foliage

A WALK ON THE EDGE OF THE WOODS

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta,
November-December, 2015; No. 46
 by Joseph Sapia

As I hiked through Jamesburg Park, Jimmy Talnagi stood outside his cabin, lighted punk in hand.

Strange, I thought, I just had an online discussion with fellow, local 
baby-boomers about punks, or cat-tails. As children, we would light the 
cigar-like flower, ostensibly to keep mosquitoes away, but more likely to be one of the kids. Jimmy was not part of the recent discussion, but here he was, as if waiting for me, with the smoking punk. And, this being November, was not part of the season for mosquitoes.

I had three punks left from the warmer weather, what am I going to do?  Jimmy said. They just start shredding, like a big puff ball.



True, the fluffy vegetation of this punk was coming apart, sticking to my 
sweatshirt. So, either light them for the heck of it or let them disintegrate.

Jimmy and the punk were one of various unexpected discoveries on today’s walk – a walk on the edge of the woods. The walk was meant to combine two things: one, a hike into nature, and, two, a pragmatic commute to the other side of the woods to Krygier’s Nursery, whose owner, Jimmy Krygier, was giving me a ride to pick up my Jeep, which was getting some mechanical work done about 8 miles away near Englishtown. Because I was tired and busy with house projects, I did not really have the will or the time to get into the woods. So, I compromised, turning down Jimmy picking me up at home, but sort of walking the woods – that is, walking on the edge of the woods – to Jimmy’s house.

So, around 2 p.m. on this overcast day of 55 to 60 degrees that was calm 
to having a light breeze, I set off toward Cranberry Bog. The idea was to 
walk the Pipeline to the ConRail railroad tracks, then to the bog, past 
Shekiro’s Pond into Jamesburg Park and out the woods at Jimmy’s, roughly a walk of two miles.

Walking the edge of the woods is not as good as walking deeply into the 
woods, but I made my first discovery hardly off the beaten track. On the 
natural gas Pipeline, I came across plentiful and huge acorns. This year is a “mast year,” somewhat of a mystery when oaks really kick out acorns. An oak in my yard was covered with acorns; Here, they were huge.

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Huge and plentiful acorns during this “mast year,” here on the Pipeline. Classic Pine Barrens ecosystem of white sand, pitch pine,Virginia pine, and oak.

Continuing on, I turned toward Helmetta, briefly walking the ConRail freight tracks, before turning toward the Bog. Almost immediately I came across a microcosm of the Pine Barrens: white, beach sand-like soil mixed with oak, pitch pine and Virginia pine. If someone doubts this area is part of the Pine Barrens, have that person look at this scene.

As I continued, I came across blazing red tree leaves, the changing colors 
of vegetation during the transition from hot to cold weather. What a 
beautiful scene, but nearby there was evidence a local neighborhood is dumping its vegetative waste in the area. At the Bog, too, I was greeted by another sad scene: invasive phragmites. Not only overtaking the bog as a whole, but overtaking a nice stand of valuable punks.

As I moved on, the phragmites invasion continued. I counted five plants 
growing in Shekiro’s Pond. Five now, but how many in a short time? On the bright side, literally across the unpaved road from the pond, I found nice tands of winterberry. Not only beautiful, but food for birds and decorative material for my Christmas decorations.

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Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an invasion at Shekiro’s Pond.

Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an 
invasion at Shekiro’s Pond. I dipped back into civilization at the former worker houses of the George W. Helme Snuff Mill, then worked my way out again into the woods passing Jimmy’s cabin and a few other homes. Finally, I was back in the woods, but out all too soon, my walk done.

Sometimes, life gets in the way of doing fun things, such as playing in the woods. So, one has to take advantage of snippets here and there.

As for the lighted punk, Jimmy insisted I take it as I continued hiking. 
But it was dry and leaves heavily littered the woods.

I don’t want to set the woods on fire, I said.

This went back and forth, with me finally agreeing. I took the punk, bit 
into its stem, and held it like a cockeyed version of President Franklin D. 
Roosevelt and his cigarette.

I tromped on, looking like a swamps-around-Helmetta aristocrat.

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Jimmy Talnagi with a lighted punk.

~ ~ ~ 
Joe Sapia, 59-years-old, grew up in and lives in the Pine Barrens around 
Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at Snufftin@aol.com or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Sapia.