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Crew Voices - A Tale of Two Rivers

Series Director Ben Pederick tells the story of this America's great rivers' water woes

Crew Shot of the Day: August 2, 2010

Ben Pederick gets in the water looking for the best shot in El Golfo de Santa Clara, in Sonora, Mexico on the fifth day of the expedition's visit to the Colorado River Delta. ©Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

The water of the Sea of Cortez was salty and warm, the sunset flamingo pink and daffodil yellow. My thoughts lingered mostly on how shark infested the whole thing looked. Unlike some around me I have a healthy fear of being eaten from below. I headed for the shower, a trickle of cold water too close to the wall to cover my body. Later, I wondered if the briny waters had not once been sweet, when the Colorado still met the sea.

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©Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

The Colorado River

From the start the Colorado is dramatic, and at the end you can still be moved by its immense absence. The riverbed is shadowed by jagged mountains rising abruptly from the baking alluvial plains created by the great river over thousands of years.

On the way to where the river mouth used to be a pod of bottle nosed dolphins and pelicans coasting together in floating daisy chains demonstrated the fertility of the old delta, now reduced to brown silt flats. The hulls of abandoned fishing boats lay stranded on the crumbling banks of dirt carried from the Rockies, through western America to meet the sea.

Between the sea and the windless heat, the salt and humidity, it was like being inside a strange sauna, slightly profane. One could feel the power of nature here, suspended but straining to get going again. Yet here was the Colorado River and its delta drunk dry much less than a hundred years.

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Mudflat near the area where the Colorado river used to reach the sea. ©Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

The Mississippi River

And then the expedition went to the Gulf of Mexico and reunited with Wilma A. Subra, Scott St. Pierre and Caroline Cheramie. We also met up with new friends Mary Lee and her boys, and many others, some of the warmest and most genuine people in the world, and all of them are facing, if not the worst, then certainly one of the most insidious technological disasters in history, BP's oil spill.

We interviewed Dr. Steve Picou, whose work on the Exxon Alaskan disaster for over 20 years provides a vocabulary that valorizes the intangible social and cultural harm done to the community. Alexandra interviewed Keith Jones, who lost his son Gordon in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a lawyer now fighting for reform over marine liability in the oil fields. All around the disaster unraveled in a terrible a slow motion.

As I write this BP is still making a profit, and most of the people in the towns down there don’t really know what they will be doing this time next year, except working in the oil industry, which isn’t going anywhere for a while. A creeping uncertainty gathers in everybody’s hearts; there is just so much unknown.

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Scott St. Pierre guides his boat Mom and Dad out of the dock at Bayou LaFourche. Scott, a lifetime shrimper is off to help on the clean up, as most shrimp boats in the area have been contracted to do. ©Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

The mouths of the Colorado and the Mississippi have suffered different disasters: one is shut, the other poisoned. These two mighty rivers define America from within. Both of them rise in the Rocky Mountains, just beside each other in the snow and rain. Like rain off a roof, these two rivers divide the continental range, one flowing west and the other east. One ends in invisibility, and the other 24/7 on CSPAN.

But these differences are imposed by human mismanagement. Intrinsically both river deltas are super-abundant. In both places the water seems to almost want to consume your skin. It is the limit of two states, the birthplace of life. As Christoph, our camera man put it, the waters of the Mississippi delta are like the "magma of life".

Places like these are sacred to life. Being able to explore both is a gift of insight. We all need to restore these places for their innate value, and then also revel in the material and ecological benefits that their restoration will provide.

But first, go and see where your water goes. You might be surprised by what it says about you.

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Camp on the Bayou, La Forche Parish, Louisiana. ©Blue Legacy/Ali Sanderson