Follow a drop of water
Photo courtesy trodel via FlickrIn this ongoing series of features, slideshows, and discussions, we explore the complicated and often dramatic relationship between urban rivers and the people who defend and rely on them. Where does our water come from? What kind of convoluted journey does it make on its way to our taps? How do we think about its critical role in building a sustainable urban future?
We start with the Colorado, then head to New Jersey’s Passaic, taking a hard look at how we’ve poisoned it. But that’s just the beginning. Come back each week for a new installment of our travels down some of America’s most important rivers.
Stories in this series:
Down the Colorado
As a native Coloradan, photographer Peter McBride always wondered how long it took irrigation water from his family’s cattle ranch to reach the Colorado River and ultimately the sea. That question sent McBride (with author Jonathon Waterman) on a two-year journey to follow the water. He photographed the Colorado, mostly from the air, in an effort to document where the river’s water actually goes. The results will appear in the book The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict (Westcliffe Publishers), due out in September. This sneak preview of McBride’s work marks the launch of our “Follow a drop of water” series, …
From paradise to Superfund, afloat on New Jersey’s Passaic River
For the first 18 years of my life I lived along the final 17-mile stretch of the Passaic River. That’s the dirty, ugly part of the river that passes through the most crowded, industrialized part of the United States. The Passaic forms the western border of my home town: North Arlington, New Jersey, a tiny borough just a few miles north of the river’s mouth in Newark. Our house sat on a steep slope above the river. In the winter, when the oak and maple trees were all bare, I could see the water from our front porch. Sometimes in …
How we poisoned the Passaic
In June 1983, Newark’s close knit Ironbound community was overrun by investigators in Hazmat suits after EPA officials found dioxin at the Diamond Alkali chemical plant site.Photo: wirednewyork.comOn the morning of June 2, 1983, the governor of New Jersey declared a state of emergency. Speaking at a press conference in his Trenton office, then Governor Thomas Kean told reporters that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection had detected disturbingly high levels of dioxin at the former Diamond Alkali chemical plant at 80 Lister Avenue in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood. With a three-page executive order, he shut down the Newark Farmer’s Market, …
“Follow a Drop of Water” photo contest winners
Taunton River in Bridgewater, Mass.Photo: Corrie Collin Water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but chances are there’s a body of water close to home that’s also close to your heart — a fjord that strikes your fancy, a beautiful bayou, or a river that gives you shivers. Grist asked our Facebook fans to send in photos of their favorite watering holes, be they bays or brooks. We received more than 40 submissions. Wow! Such lovely pictures! Invite us on your next hike/swim/canoe trip, OK? Our favorite photo — and winner of Grist’s “Follow a Drop of Water” photo …
Passaic riverkeeper sees signs of hope despite the slow pace of cleanup
Andy Willner, activist and advocate of the Passaic.Photo courtesy of al-ICE g via FlickrOn Jan. 2, 1990, a leaking pipeline at Bayonne, New Jersey’s Exxon Bayway oil refinery sent 567,000 gallons of heating fuel into the surrounding waterways and marsh. Andy Willner volunteered to help the affected wildlife. He wound up collecting a truckload of dead Canvasback ducks and driving them straight to the refinery. When a worker there tried to shoo him away, Willner threatened to drive the oily carcasses across the Hudson to the door of The New York Times. The worker acquiesced. An activist was born. Not …
Cleanup efforts bring life back to Grand Calumet River
Grand Calumet River near Gary AirportLeslie DorworthThe first time I saw the Grand Calumet River, I was driving down the Indiana Toll Road. It was 1996, and I had just arrived in northwest Indiana from North Carolina to take a new job as an aquatic ecology extension specialist with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program. All around me I could see steel mills and processing plants, and the Grand Calumet, meandering slowly through this highly industrialized landscape like a rare natural jewel. There were herons, egrets, and other birds wading along the banks, and abundant, luscious greenery such as cattails and …
How a river went from diversity to dumpsite
A sign near the Cal Sag channel, part of the Calumet River System, warns against “any human body contact.”Photo courtesy Tom Gill via FlickrThe Grand Calumet River is about 13 miles long and flows through one of the most industrialized areas in the United States. At one time, the river’s branches and tributaries flowed throughout northwest Indiana and supported globally unique fish and wildlife. Today, thanks to being moved and manipulated by humans over the years, the Calumet river system is one of the smallest watersheds in the region, and there are stretches of river that support nothing but sludge …
Running dry on the Colorado [EXCERPT]
Author Jonathan Waterman followed the Colorado River from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park to where it trickles away in the Mexican desert. Here is the first of two excerpts from his book, Running Dry.
Mighty Colorado River dribbles through Mexico [EXCERPT]
In his effort to paddle the entire length of the Colorado River, author Jonathan Waterman had to walk the last 60 miles of delta and infected his feet in the polluted remains of the drying river. Here is the second of two excerpts from Waterman's book, Running Dry.
Photo contest winners: Waste on the water
Grist readers once again sent us photos of the watery wilderness close to their hearts and homes. This time around: polluted waterways. We all know water pollution is a serious problem -- this collection of five photos and video highlights the reasons why we should be wary of our wasteful habits. Take a dip with us -- if you dare.
How to restore the Colorado River
Jonathan Waterman, author of Running Dry: A Journey from Source to Sea Down the Colorado River, brought together two experts from either end of the river to talk about what's happened to the Colorado over the years, and how to get more water flowing in the future.