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Weekly Water Stories

Blue Legacy International | April 18, 2014

Don't miss these water news stories from this week: 

EPA Proposes Plan to Remove Toxic Sediment from the Passaic River; Largest Cleanup in EPA History Will Protect People’s Health and Create Jobs: Like many rivers and streams across the United States, contaminants including heavy metals, PCB toxins and pesticides saturate the riverbed of the Passaic River in New Jersey. Based on extensive study, the proposal to clean the river's sediment will lead to improved environmental health and human health

Iowa Water Quality Effort Paying Off What happens to river health when over 1,000 farmers coordinate agricultural practices for more eco-friendly outcomes?

Mississippi Basin Water Quality Declining in spite of Conservation Efforts "Even when policymakers and environmental advocates try to clean up the waterways, their efforts are not always successful."

Fieldprint Calculator Uses a USDA Tool to Help Farmers Track Water Quality Improvement “Water quality is complex,” McKinney said. “Experts have usually focused on one aspect of water quality – such as temperature, nutrients or pesticide content – instead of thinking about a more complete picture.”

Beautiful Water Photos from Blue Legacy's Backyard

Weekly Water Stories

Blue Legacy International | April 11, 2014

Don't miss these water news stories from this week:

Are You Drinking Drugs? A study released by the EPA earlier this year found trace elements of at least 25 kinds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs in water tested at 50 waste water treatment plants. But switching from tap to bottled water is not necessarily the best course of action.

Tune In - The West Virginia Chemical Leak and the Washington Mudslide: Politics, Regulations and Public Safety Can regulation prevent water catastrophes such as the Washington mudslide and the West Virginia chemical leak?

Update From Colorado River Delta: A Community Gets its River Back Just two weeks ago, the Colorado River was released at the Morelos Dam to course along what has become a dry river bed and reconnect to the sea. Since breaking free, the river has wound through Mexico toward the Sea of Cortez, and communities along the way have welcomed its renewed presence, with hope for brighter, and wetter, future.

Coping With California's Water Future Will Require a Sea Change in Perspective "If we align our thinking, our policies and our vast technological expertise accordingly, we may not be able to squeeze water from a stone. But with the right shift in perspective, lifestyle changes and management strategies, we can still live comfortably with what we have.

California Drought Gives Boost to Anti-Fracking Movement "California faces two interlinked crises, a water crisis and climate change, and fracking makes both of these problems worse," said Kassie Siegel, senior counsel for the Center of Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation group.

via WaterWire

Return to the Sea: The Colorado River

Blue Legacy International

The waters of the Colorado River once flowed freely across more than 1,400 miles of North America, tumbling over waterfalls in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains and sweeping through canyons in Arizona, coursing along high plains and deserts before rushing to the Gulf of California in Mexico, where it would nourish the rich wetland ecosystem of the Colorado River Delta.

Over the last decade, our overuse of this mighty river has seen its waters dammed and over-allocated, creating a mudflat rather than a punctuation mark of aquatic biodiversity in the Colorado delta. 

“They call the Colorado the ‘mother of rivers,’ because all these rivers flow out of it and none flow into it,” says Kara Lamb, a public information officer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages water resources across the western states. “The truth is, she’s a working mother. Almost all of her rivers are dammed and utilized."

The first water ‘pulse flow’ to the delta on March 23, 2014 was the first intentional release of water into the parched delta. This water event marked an enormous achievement for the environment, and begins a process of regrowth and restoration for the ecosystems, economies, and communities in the region.

From March 17 to March 21, 2014, Blue Legacy’s Founder and President Alexandra Cousteau – water advocate, explorer, and the granddaughter of legendary storyteller Jacques-Yves Cousteau – joined Sam Champion on his new Weather Channel program America's Morning Headquarters, to retrace the flow of the Colorado River, and explore the intricate ties between sustainable water management, conservation, economic growth, and the weather that shapes this watershed and our future.

Watch the clips below to learn more about the demands and innovative approaches that define the availability and sustainable management of this precious resource.    

Dams and Lakes


Interview: Cindy Ortega,
Chief Sustainability Officer,
MGM Resorts


Sustainable Urban Water


Agricultural Innovation


Full Story: The Big Dry


Colorado River Pulse Flow: Restoring Life in the Delta

Blue Legacy

All photos copyright Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

Blue Legacy International congratulates the U.S. and Mexican policymakers, water agencies, and conservation organizations in taking a historical step this month to restore, rejuvenate, and sustain the Colorado River delta.

This month, water will be released in a ‘pulse flow’ to the delta, the malnourished and depleted southern region of the Lower Colorado River that stretches across the national border. Stemming from Minute 319 in the 2012 bi-national agreement, the pulse-flow is an enormous achievement for the environment, and will mark the beginning of regrowth for ecosystems, economies, and communities in this region.

Today, the Colorado River no longer naturally and regularly flows to the Sea of Cortez as it did 50 years ago, where its waters once nourished a rich delta ecosystem and fishing communities in the Gulf of California. In our 2010 film Death of a River: the Colorado River Delta, Blue Legacy explored and documented the importance of this iconic river reaching the Sea of Cortez, and why the survival of our communities is intricately tied to the health of this delta.

From March 17 through March 21, 2014 leading up to a World Water Day event in Mexicali, Mexico, Blue Legacy’s Founder and President Alexandra Cousteau – water advocate, explorer, and the granddaughter of legendary storyteller Jacques-Yves Cousteau – will join the iconic Sam Champion on his new Weather Channel program America's Morning Headquarters airing from 7am to 10am ET, to retrace the flow of the Colorado River, and explore the intricate ties between sustainable water management, conservation, economic growth, and the weather that shapes this watershed and our future.

Join the expedition each morning at 7:40am and 9:10am ET on The Weather Channel and at as we trace the Colorado River from its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains, through the mighty Grand Canyon, to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, to explore how we have come to depend on this awesome river, and what we’ll lose if we don't do our part to #ChangetheCourse.

Want to learn more and support the future of our water? For every individual that makes a quick and free pledge to conserve water at Change the Course, corporate sponsors return 1,000 gallons of water back to the Colorado River. 

Voice of the Water

Stewardship Starts with One Person Taking Action

"So this is the Appleton wetland," Mike O'Malley says to me as we kayak along Drummond Creek, a side channel of the Mississippi River in Eastern Ontario. Haggard maple trees, fallen and floating tell us something is deeply wrong with this wetland. "What we're looking at are the dead and dying relics of the soft maple tree canopy that's been decimated by a very small rise in water levels of about 10 cm during their critical summer growing season," explains Mike, who heads up the local Mississippi RiverWatchers. 

The destruction of his backyard spurred Mike to become one of the loudest voices speaking out for the restoration and protection of the Appleton wetland. Where government, science and industry have failed to notice the devastating impact the rise in water level has had on the Appleton wetland, Mike has mobilized his community to become its champion. 

My expeditions always remind me that we all live connected to one another. In the case of the Appleton wetland, the dam downstream is operating with little regard for its impact upstream. This is where individual citizens, each of us, have an opportunity and responsibility to ensure the oversight and accountability needed to protect the water resources in our communities. 

Mike has rallied his community and works to find a financially feasible operating model for the dam. "If we manage the water levels so that we have a healthy ecosystem and don't be greedy about how much power we get, we could have a financially viable hydro operation downstream," he tells me. "We could have a healthy wetland that's accessible to both animals and humans for recreation. It could be very harmonious." 

Back on the water, Mike gestures to the landscape, which he has seen transformed from a lush and green canopy to a leafless skeleton of a forest in the span of nine years. Our kayaks float on the river and the duck grass that floats at the surface of the water sounds like sand beneath my kayak. " This is accessible wilderness and it's worth fighting for," Mike says. 


The First Question

How well do you know the state of your water?
Alexandra Cousteau | October 15, 2013

Since arriving in Canada on September 11th to film three documentaries about the Ottawa river as part of River Mission, a joint initiative between Ottawa Riverkeeper, Blue Legacy International, and the de Gaspe Beaubien Foundation, I have kayaked, whitewater rafted and canoed on the river. As the source of the region’s tap water, I have drunk from the river and seen firsthand the watershed's sewage plants as they clean and return water to the river.

As closely as I've gotten to know the Ottawa River during this expedition, I have gotten to know the people that are its champions even better -- people like Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown, Ambroise Lycke, director of the Temiscamingue watershed, and Algonquin elder Skip Ross, all of whom fight to give this river a voice.

While we've borne witness to stories of empowered and impassioned individuals advocating for the river, we have also discovered there is a dramatic lack of accessible information and technology tools to support public action and understanding of the state of our water. 

All that I have seen and heard here truly underscores the importance of knowing the state of our water - is it safe to swim in, can we fish in it, can we drink it. Information about water quality is the most critical tool we have to empower people to reclaim and restore their water. And yet, time after time, I see how hard it is for people to obtain and make sense of that information. 

Ultimately this is a river that belongs to the communities of people that enjoy and rely upon it every day. Hearing about their concerns for the river and their visions of a better future has truly reinforced my belief that we are all stewards of the quality of our own water. But to bring about the change we seek, we need the right tools, technology, innovation, access to water quality information, public accountability and openness. 

Water advocacy on every level starts with one question: How well do you know the state of your water?


Historic Agreement Creates Momentum for the Restoration of the Colorado River Delta

Minute 319 and the Growing Case for Reconnecting the Colorado River to the Sea
Blue Legacy | November 28, 2012

On November 20, 2012, delegations from the United States and Mexico met in San Diego, California to sign a historic binational agreement that will help shape the future of the Colorado River.

Minute 319, an amendment to the 1944 Treaty with Mexico, signifies an important shift in attitude towards water sharing and conservation—a pivotal step in creating a more equitable binational water distribution policy that maintains the integrity of the entire Colorado River watershed while satisfying the needs of the farmers, the fishermen, and the communities that depend on this vital river. By promoting the ecological health of the Colorado River Delta, this agreement provides an avenue for restoring critical base flow to the lower basin so the river may once again reach the sea.

In Blue Legacy’s film, Death of a River: The Colorado River Delta, we explore why it is so important for this iconic river to reach the Gulf of California, and why the prosperity of our communities is intricately tied to the health of our watersheds. In the film, while prowling the waters of La Ciénega de Santa Clara, we are presented with a vision of a restored, vibrant wetland ecosystem. The scene serves as a bittersweet reminder of what we have lost these past several decades—and what we continue to fight for.

Minute 319 marks a turning point in a long and committed effort by environmental advocates and community leaders on both sides of the border to restore the Lower Colorado River and the surrounding delta region. For an ecosystem that has been severely damaged by decades of over allocation and inequitable management, this agreement represents the beginning of a renewed, deepened partnership between the US and Mexico that will take the ecological health of the region into greater consideration when developing water management schemes in the future.

Here at Blue Legacy, we would like to extend heartfelt congratulations to everyone that has worked so hard to make this happen. Together, we are taking back this watershed.

And when water starts to trickle into the gulf once more, the estuary will begin to recover, and a rich web of life will slowly return to what is now mostly a desolate mudflat.

With the passage of this historic agreement, the finish line is nearly in sight. Now is the time to take this momentum—and ride it all the way to the sea.

To learn more about the work being done to reconnect the Colorado River to the sea, check out this recent BLOG POST by National Geographic Freshwater Fellow, Sandra Postel.

Read the PRESS RELEASE from the U.S. Department of Interior.

The Clean Water Act: 40 Years Later

Join Blue Legacy for a Panel Discussion September 13th!
Alexandra Cousteau | September 11, 2012

I have two birthdays on my calendar circled with a big red marker this year. One is for my daughter, who just turned one-years-old, and the other is October 18th. That’s the day one of my closest friends turns 40. And while getting over the hill is a bittersweet bon anniversaire for most, this one is special. Because this is the day when The Clean Water Act marks its 40th anniversary.

In recognition of this important event, Blue Legacy, in partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance and Potomac Riverkeeper, is hosting a breakfast briefing to celebrate the Clean Water Act's past, present, and future. The event is being held at The Hamilton restaurant in Washington, DC on September 13th starting at 8:30 am.

We are honored that an architect of the Clean Water Act, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), will be delivering the opening keynote address. Following his talk, there will be a panel discussion including the following leading voices in water conservation:

  • Ken Kopocis, Senior Advisor for the EPA’s Office of Water
  • Chuck Fox, Program Director for Oceans 5; former EPA Senior Advisor
  • Steve Fleischli, Senior Attorney and Acting Director of NRDC's Water Program
  • Azzam Alwash, Founder and President of Nature Iraq


I am serving as the moderator for the panel discussion and will give the call-to-action keynote at the close of the event.

We are having this discussion, because celebrating the Clean Water Act (CWA) is a priority for me this year. Amidst a tumultuous political landscape, it is more important than ever that we recognize the significance of this landmark legislation and raise awareness for the work that still needs to be done. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the transformative effect the CWA has had on our nation’s water, and I do not want our hard fought gains to be reversed in a moment of shortsightedness.

For the last 40 years, communities across the United States have used the Clean Water Act to take back their watersheds, and restore the treasured places that were once considered beyond repair. Looking out on the global community, it is clear the CWA’s impact is not limited to this country—the Clean Water Act is widely viewed as the standard for water regulation around the world.

Yet, since being signed 40 years ago, the CWA has had its fair share of detractors. During the last decade in particular, numerous attempts have been made to undermine its provisions, including challenging whether the Act protects “non-navigable” waterways, and creating exceptions for “fill material” left over from mining and energy operations. More recently, the House has introduced several bills to shift regulatory functions, such as the ability to set water quality standards, to the States and out of federal control.

Looking forward, we need to return to the roots of this pivotal legislation and keep in mind the intentions of those who crafted it. What is apparently clear is that, at its core, the Clean Water Act was designed to safeguard all of our water—not just the water we can float a boat down. Because the framers of this landmark piece of legislation knew that water moves in cycles within larger systems, and that pollution discharged upstream—even in an ankle deep tributary—is going to have an impact on the rest of the watershed.

As we tackle the complex water issues of today and try to anticipate the challenges of tomorrow, it is critical to think about watersheds in their entirety—as systems—to maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the whole. The Clean Water Act embodies watershed-first thinking, a whole-system approach that takes a balanced look at the numerous demands, threats, and developments within a watershed and works to develop solutions that bring all the shareholders to the table. It is when we forget about how systems function as a whole that we risk degrading the quantity and quality of water upon which we depend.

Reflecting on the special water places in our lives, let us give a thought to the role the CWA has played in protecting those areas. As a start, I have gone ahead and marked the birthday for the Clean Water Act in my calendar for the next few years. Because every time this Act becomes one year older, I know my daughter is also celebrating her birthday in a safer, healthier world.

Clean Water Act Breakfast Briefing

WHEN: Thursday, September 13, 2012, Registration: 8:00am EDT Panel: 8:30am-10:00am EDT

WHERE: The Hamilton LIVE, 600 14th Street NW, Washington DC, 20005


If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact

*** This article originally appeared in National Geographic News Watch’s “Water Currents” on 8/2/12.

TVA Liable for Massive Tenn. Coal Ash Spill

Federal District Court Rules TVA Negligent
Alexandra Cousteau | August 24, 2012

Federal District Court Rules TVA Negligent

On August 22, federal district court Judge Thomas Varlan ruled that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was negligent in its conduct and will be held liable for damages caused by their massive coal ash spill into the Emory River and the surrounding community of Harriman, Tennessee on Dec. 22, 2008.

This ruling is an important victory for the people and the waterway that were devastated by this preventable tragedy when a 70 foot tall dam catastrophically and suddenly failed sending more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash from TVA’s Kingston coal fired power plant into the surrounding community and the Emory River.

Watch Blue Legacy's film CLEAN COAL: WATER POLLUTION AT THE LIGHT SWITCH to see the effect toxic coal ash has on waterways and aquatic life.

The Dirty, Destructive Truth Behind “Clean Coal”

Earthjustice's "Mountain Heroes" Campaign
Alexandra Cousteau | June 29, 2012

© Earthjustice

We live on a water planet. This transparent liquid is the foundation of all life on Earth. It ensures our survival, fosters our development, and enriches the cultures of our civilizations. Yet despite the best efforts of scientists, filmmakers, and explorers, like my father and grandfather, our generation knows little more than theirs did about its ocean depths or the fragile scarcity of our freshwater resources.

Water is Earth’s great storyteller. It is the mark of sustainability in a society and the telltale measure of our ability to maintain balance. What we do on land ripples throughout our water systems, and it is within these telling ripples—the shrinking surfaces of our ice stores, the erratic runnings of our rivers, the shifting patterns of precipitation, and the rising of our seas—that we’ll feel the effects of climate change first. In the face of such a challenge, we can’t afford to divide over protecting fresh water or focusing on the world’s oceans, as though they are unrelated goals. If we are to solve any of our problems, we can’t continue to focus just on individual problems, such as the fragility of coral reefs, the scarcity of free-flowing river habitat, or the depletion of fish stocks. We have to return to the simple truth so many of us learned in grade school science courses: Our planet’s hydrosphere is a single, inter-connected system.

This realization was the beginning of a new era in my work—one recognizing that it is the “compartmentalized” understanding of water that has led to so many of the problems we face, and the poor management practices we’ve constructed as a society to address them. Confined to neat bubbles of discussion and management, we’ve failed to build and maintain intelligent infrastructure, and too often, we’ve completely destroyed the water-shaping ecosystems that could have provided sustainable solutions. It truly is time for us to redefine what it means to live on a water planet.

For this reason, I unequivocally extend my support to promoting the discussion on the dangers of mountaintop removal and raising awareness of its devastating impacts not only on the environment—but also the communities downstream. This issue connects all of the ill-conceived dots: our misguided and short-term energy policies, the lingering myth that somehow this dirty and climate-altering source of energy can be “clean,” and the environmental and social consequences of leveling mountains to extract coal to fuel our power plants which power our increasingly unsustainable society. We are filling our streams and choking-off the sources of our great Eastern rivers that millions of people depend upon. And in the process, we are marginalizing rural communities who are left in the wake of this destructive practice—their voice drowned out by the tons of rock rubble that are the remnants of the ancient mountains of Appalachia.

The practice of mountaintop removal is just another facet of a crumbling argument for “clean coal.” In 2010, Blue Legacy, the non-profit organization I founded, traveled to Tennessee to document the lingering consequences of the worst industrial spill, by volume, ever to take place in the United States: the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill. This disaster decimated communities and brought the freshwater ecosystems of the Emory and Clinch Rivers to the brink of collapse.

But, further upstream, at the beginning of the coal-energy nexus lifecycle, there is another spill taking place—one that is being condoned under the auspices of our government and regulators. I am talking about mountaintop removal, and the filling of the surrounding streams and wetlands that serve as the source of our great rivers—the lifeblood of our communities. And ever since former President George W. Bush created a loophole in the Clean Water Act in 2002, mining companies have been able to dump their toxic mining waste directly into the water—including the mountaintops of the majestic Appalachians.

This destructive practice has to stop. We are fragmenting our watersheds, destroying freshwater ecosystems, ruining people’s lives downstream, and accelerating our planet towards irreversible climate change by burning the coal extracted through this harmful process.

Water is the thread that connects us—we cannot allow it to be buried in the pursuit of shortsighted energy policies that, in the end, will undermine both our economy and our environment.