June 2008 Newsletter

“You think of water when the well is dry.” - African proverb


The Mississippi River’s flooding and breached levees have shocked us all. Remembering the Great Flood of 1993, I’ve hustled to post onto NWNL’s website my images, my essay and press coverage from my month on the river in Missouri that July.

I feel the ’93 Flood is relevant now for several reasons. First, the ’93 Flood has been used as a yardstick by observers wondering if the ’93 water levels would be topped. Then hydrologists were stunned by how much higher flooding has been in ’08 than in ’93. And now questioners are asking whether the lessons from 1993 were ignored. Pundits are recollecting concerns, prompted by the ’93 Flood, on the on the wisdom of levee infrastructure. Floodplains were deemed inappropriate for settlement. Recommendations were made to move towns up off the banks of “Ol’ Man River.” However within a decade, as human nature is wont, stakeholders and residents succumbed to complacency and false security: levees were not demolished, but heightened – and floodplain development continued. Now crops are ruined and homes filled with toxic sludge – again.

One of the main reasons NWNL chose the Mississippi River Basin as one of its six case study watersheds was to examine these issues of infrastructure and the evolution of the roles of the US Army Corps of Engineers, politicians, developers, and environmental organizations in developing sustainable management policies. NWNL is fortunate that it has four new research interns, two of whom will be working on the Mississippi River Basin and the impact of infrastructures within all watersheds.

— Alison Jones, NWNL Project Director



Lapham’s Quarterly Book on Nature: Vol. 1, No. 3, Summer 2008. This is a broad and historical approach to nature, not to be confused with Vanity Fair’s annual “Green Issue.” Literary contributors include Ovid, Darwin, Haiku writer Basho, de Montaigne, Steinbeck, Kant, Thoreau, and more recent authors Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben, Sting and Annie Dillard. Visual artists represented include Salgado, Rousseau, Klee, Hopper, Hokusai, a Roman fresco painter and Zuni sculptor. Editor Lewis Lapham, former Harpers Magazine editor for 30 years, offers his “Message in a Bottle” on man’s place within, rather than opposed to, nature. This compilation of philosophies and visions from throughout human history and across many cultures addresses how nature shapes humankind and humankind shapes nature.


•  Aug. 8–Sept. 21, ’08: Kootenay Gallery, BC, Canada
•  Nov. 5–Dec. 15, ’08: 101 Gallery, Rowayton, CT
•  Spring 2009 (Dates TBD): Darien Nature Center, CT
with good gallery or lecture venues for NWNL !

NWNL WEBSITE ADDITIONS: Our website is constantly posting new imagery and data on our six watersheds. Thanks to Robert Winokur, our webmaster, for keeping it updated. Keep checking our site, specially our new pages:
•  Mississippi River Basin Expeditions & Photo Galleries
•  Omo River Basin Photo Galleries (see side bar)
•  Press about NWNL

PREDICTION: 75% of world population to face water shortages by 2050 (Accessed 4-7-08 by AMJ from ) “By 2025 more than half of countries will face freshwater stress or shortages and by 2050 as much as 75 percent of the world’s population could face freshwater scarcity, but policy measures and new technologies could help reduce the shortfall....”



Barlow, Maude, Blue Covenant: the Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. Maude Barlow, author of Blue Gold, focuses on the past, present and future of the global community’s approach to addressing the question of who owns and who has rights to the planet’s water. Endorsed by David Suzuki, Bill McKibben and others, Barlow discusses how our water sources have been threatened; the responsibilities profit-oriented corporations and companies working in the water sector must address; today’s issues of water scarcity and the work by grassroots organizations to insure sufficient public access worldwide to our vital, but rapidly declining, supply of clean fresh water.

Mark Edwards, Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature. Following the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1963 desperate song on acid rain, Mark Edwards has traveled to 150 countries as a photojournalist covering humankind’s “collision with nature” and today’s critical issues of climate change, habitat loss, pollution, poverty and human rights. In his introductory “World Gone Wrong” he worries that philanthropists and foundations are powerless against the upcoming ravages of climate change. He suggests that if our societies at a grass roots level can demand sustainable technologies and an end to the divide of nationalism and sectarian beliefs there can be a difference. He offers his searingly poignant images as motivation to “see feelingly.”

2008 Watershed Expeditions

February: Omo River Basin at Low Water Season. NWNL photographers, Alison Jones and Jane Baldwin, visually documented the traditional flood recession agriculture practiced by tribal cultures in the Lower Omo Valley and Omo Delta. This seasonal planting and harvesting of crops according to the rhythms of the river is likely to be greatly impacted by year-round consistent water levels that will be maintained by the series of four hydropower dams now being installed on the Upper Omo. Aerial documentation of the dams’ construction was achieved while in transit to and from the Lower Omo. As well, five days were spent interviewing scientists and engineers at Ethiopia’s Water Technology Institute.

March: Mississippi River Basin’s Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. Alison Jones researched, photographed and video’ed the “No Water No Cotton” theme of levees, agriculture and the culture they have produced. Among the current issues is a $220 million flood control project that could increase the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta farmers’ crop yield on marginal land in the southern corner of this wedge of nutrient rich land. The issues are complex, and many are addressed in Gerard Helferich’s book High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta and in Felicty Barringer’s article on 4-9-08 “Death Looms for a Flood Control Project.”

May: Mississippi River Basin’s Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. NWNL-ers Alison Jones and Robin MacEwan researched and documented the values of this watershed’s headwaters. The focus included the importance of biodiversity to freshwater hydrology, the role of natural water retention systems that slow the melt rate of annual snowpack and thus reduce flooding potential downstream, the effect of climate change on mountain pine beetle attacks on forests, and the role of tourism in protected and private lands that are the source of downstream freshwater supplies. Fellow conservation photographer Florian Schultz’s book Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam offers a visual journey through what should and could be the continent’s greatest wildlife corridor for species so cherished by Yellowstone NP visitors. Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson have written Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone to describe wolf behavior and impact on the ecosystem’s trophic cascade that includes elk, riverine flora browsed by elk, and beaver populations dependent on that flora. Hydrologically, the loss of the wolf as an elk predator threatens to create a loss of natural water retention mechanisms.

August: Columbia River Basin’s Upper Watershed in British Columbia. Project Director and Lead Photographer, Alison Jones, will return to this region to open a NWNL exhibit, give some NWNL lectures and follow through on previous NWNL documentation from NWNL’s June “Source to Sea – Columbia River Expedition.” Alison is returning to photograph the Columbia Wetlands, Kinbasket Reservoir, and other sites; schedule video updates from stakeholders working on sustainable management policies; and seek opportunities to obtain aerial footage over the Columbia Glacier.


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