War on Water

Apparently the war on water has escalated. On both surface and subsurface waters. This is a battle much time and effort has been spent in the past, and involves such tactics as canoeing with board members of the state’s corn growers association, being a 12 year board member of a river advocacy group, and even having been awarded the coveted Riverkeeper award … an honor I certainly don’t take lightly.

Now with the continued assault of our natural resources by the Republican Party on apparently all levels of government, mining and other industry, Big Ag and our so-called president, I’m asking for your help. For the past few months I’ve been trying to decide just when and where I should go to complete a photography project I began last summer, and fear I can wait no longer.

Minnesota River, 2017

Waters from a “protected” stream enters the muddy Minnesota River in Renville County, taken in the summer of 2017. 

This information came through on Tuesday: On Monday, April 16, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 69-56 to pass a bill that will block the state’s Groundwater Protection Rule from going into effect without legislative approval. The rule would have regulated farmers’ use of nitrogen fertilizer in areas where groundwater is sensitive to nitrate contamination.

Followed by this from my state representative, the very same man who blamed goose shit as the main culprit  for polluting our troubled surface waters: “We also object to author Rep. Jeff Backer’s claims that agricultural producers were ‘blindsided’ by the proposed rule. The draft rule is the product of a planning and rule making process that began in 2010, and has been the subject of nearly unprecedented public outreach and engagement by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.” This was reported by Friends of the Mississippi River.


An aerial image of the confluence of the clean St. Croix River with the Mississippi, where most of the dirtiness comes from the Minnesota River upstream.

My project has a pre-published title of “Art of Impairment.” It is an effort to use photojournalism to highlight our state’s impaired waterways, and I’ve attached some of the images so readers can see where I’m headed with this.

This effort follows my earlier “Art of Erosion” project, which was jointly sponsored by CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) and the Minnesota Master Naturalist program. As a Master Naturalist, I was humbled that they would agree to partially sponsor the 20-canvas show with about ten “pull outs” explaining the cautionary story of what erosion is costing us. And CURE stepped up immediately to volunteer its sponsorship after viewing the initial images, an effort to portray the ugliness of the loss of life-sustaining top soils in an artistic and beautiful manner.

Big Stone County Wetland, 2017

Birds walk on the matted algae on a Big Stone County wetland adjacent to a small dairy. No, this is not a manure lagoon. 

The Art of Erosion has been hung at various conferences in two states, including meetings of the Sustainable Farming Association, at least three University of Minnesota Extension Service sponsored events, MOSES (the largest organic farming meeting in the U.S.), and others. It was also a part of the Smithsonian Institutes’s traveling Water Ways exhibit, and has hung in two one-person exhibits. Pieces of that display have been loaned for use in other educational exhibits. I can only hope that the Art of Impairment will reach as many people, if not more,  upon its completion.

My hope is to portray ample examples of impaired waters that are being polluted by runoff and drainage. Algae-choked waters, for example. Please address emails at jsjawhite@yahoo.com/ to explain what you have witnessed, and where, and I’ll make an attempt to get there as soon as humanly possible. One image I envision is an underwater closeup of micro-organisms of a lethal algae bloom.

Minnesota River Backwater, 2015

Algae chokes a backwater of the upper Minnesota River. 

Wholly a third to a half of the entire state of Minnesota’s waterways are impaired by unhealthy farming practices and urbanization. That includes all the rivers, lakes and wetlands basically south of I-94 to the Iowa border. Lethal algae blooms have killed pets, and few, if any, of the aforementioned waterways are safe for swimming. Many of the fish and game harvested from many of the waters carry advisory warnings. Yet, people like Jeff Backer and others are intent in continuing to reduce and/or prevent protective legislative actions to even halt the continued polluting of the waterways. Not just statewide, but nationally as well. Our natural resources are under attack, and as such, our existence on the planet is at stake.

Backer’s political party, and the nation’s president, seem intent (if not, content) on eliminating all safeguards for both our surface and groundwater sources. It’s as if they simply do not care.

9.12.17 roadside4a

Algae found typically on a prairie wetland … this in Big Stone County. 

Mine is only a small part to hopefully bring these issues to light. I don’t believe humanity is ready to completely poison the planet, and most particularly the lifeblood of our existence … water. In so many ways we’re at war over our rights of protecting both surface and subsurface waters.

I’m asking for, and need, your help.

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

1 thought on “War on Water

  1. Pingback: War on Water | Listening Stones Farm

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