Learning to See California’s Vanishing Water

The recent New York Times article, “Apocalyptic Schadenfreude” (https://medium.com/matter/let-it-rain-ac793178d51c ), written by Steven Johnson, shows how coverage of the California drought is driven in part by an historical narrative of paradise lost.  A common thread connecting much of the news coverage is a tale of hedonism and corruption, and the defiance of nature, followed by just deserts. In the case of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/us/california-drought-tests-history-of-endless-growth.html), aerial photography captures the unreal green of golf courses and suburban housing tracts surrounded by a menacingly arid moonscape of rock and sand.



Northwest Mexico “Water Wars”

Crisis:an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially :  one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome <a financial crisis> b :  a situation that has reached a critical phase <the environmental crisis>” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

This series of articles, published by The Americas Program, and researched and written by Tom Barry, focuses on the politics of water control and infrastructure in the Mexican state of Sonora, which shares its border with Arizona.  Barry highlights the struggles of indigenous communities in particular, as they fight against several new, large-scale water-control projects.  The idea of actual or impending “water crisis” permeates the report, as it does so much of what is written on the issue of climate change and environmental transformation.  We ask, what does a crisis ‘look’ like — how is it framed, spoken about in everyday terms, represented visually, through photography and other objects?  What is the relationship between ‘crisis-speak,’ environmental politics, and infrastructure projects? What does it mean when infrastructure projects, justified as means to stave off a crisis-ridden future, create crises for people and places in the present? For whom is the current situation in Sonora a crisis, and who is best equipped to handle it?

This is what 2 1/2 years of water looks like!

We — a small group of Art Historians, Geographers, and Photographers — made a field trip in November 2014 to Tucson’s Avra Valley Clearwater Recharge Facilities.  The water flowing into the basin travels 336 miles from the Colorado River before it reaches Tucson. The recharge field receives  162,000 acre feet of water each year through the Central Arizona Project aqueduct which was created by the Colorado River Basic Project Act of 1968.  The facility includes 543 acres of recharge  basins. Tucson Water takes close to 65,000 acre feet per year for city water demands. The remaining 80,000 feet are stored in the aquifer.

Our Tucson Water hydrologists estimated that the system has enough water to meet Tucson’s demands for 2  1/2 years, if all other sources suddenly dried up. Who’s drinking who’s milkshake? Does this milkshake have endless refills?

The Color of Water

When we built this site, we looked at the available themes and decided on the one you see here — with its banner of floating orange-ish disks. We did ask ourselves if orange was an appropriate color for a blog about water and its objects. Maybe we should stick with the color that everybody seems to associate with water: blue? A colleague who checked out the site recently said “the color is wrong.” Now, we could go on and change the theme or just change a few lines of code to make a more appropriately aqueous palette. Is it really wrong or inappropriate to feature orange here? We did actually consider orange as suggestive of sun and drought — living in Tucson, it’s not hard to see why. And, we just didn’t want yet another water = blue presentation.

So, let’s have a think about the color of water. Is associating water with the color blue kind of a nostalgic proposition? a commercial ploy? How much blue water is in your life?

What Color is Water?

Color of Water

Bottled-Water Keeps Tight Grip on Mexicans

Agua.org.mx  – Noticias nacionales

Mexico Acid Leak Leaves Orange River, Toxic Water

And an update to the Orange River, Toxic Water story…





Monumentalizing Water in the 21st Century–Northwest Mexico

This mural, created by R.V. Payán, adorns the north wall of the Mayo Valley Water Users Association building, in Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico. It contains a good deal of symbolism that resonates with regional and national history, and is in Mexico’s tradition of populist muralism that followed the 1910 Revolution. Water is portrayed as a connection, a link between diverse geographies, and as a substance whose management requires cooperation among a variety of social groups. Some of these groups are represented by the different people forming a kind of bucket-line relay, moving water from one place to the next using their cupped hands. In the center of the line are, on the left, a representative of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), and, on the right, someone from the Water Users Association. Digging a little deeper into regional water politics, however, disturbs somewhat the harmonious picture of water management presented here. If you follow the different images in this post from top to bottom (on the mural, more or less the equivalent of moving left to right), you will see several earth movers in action. They are building a second dam and reservoir on the Mayo River, upstream from the original dam, built in the 1950s. The proposed new dam would displace several Guarijío indigenous communities upstream and has therefore been a source of controversy and struggle over the past three years. For more information, consult the Water User Association website and the Chiltepines blog. (Mural photographs taken by Jeffrey M. Banister, April 2014).

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