NWNL Press

NWNL Press

Message in a Bottle: Essay by Alison M. Jones

With 100 other water conservationists, Alison Jones represented No Water No Life in this art project focused on design expressions of water issues. A bottle was painted to represent her article on fresh water estuaries.

Reprinted from the Message in a Bottle Project, Sea Speak Sphere, June, 2012

Water bottle painted by creative conservationist Asher Jay, the founder of Sea Speak Sphere.

RIVERS connect almost 90% of our terrestrial lands to the oceans. In the US, 70% of the population resides on or close to our estuaries. Most industry and ports, as well as 80% of our largest cities, are near and dependent on our estuaries, which provide fresh water, food, transportation and recreation. They nurture cultural and spiritual traditions, as well as a wealth of biodiversity.

Earth’s estuaries are filled with fresh water that has traveled downstream from high mountain ice-fields and underground aquifers. These reservoirs, filled with rain, ice, vapor, fog, and snow, slowly drain via rills and streams into rivers and finally estuaries, where fresh water first mingles with salt water before spilling into the ocean. Our estuaries, deltaic wetlands, shorelines and bays are a very dynamic element of the hydrologic cycle.

But most of our estuaries are now often sick or dead.

Industrial and agricultural pollutants and human sewage degrade our estuaries, causing eutrophication and coastal hypoxic zones. Extreme climate events such as droughts and floods significantly alter the water flow into our estuaries. Deforestation presents a double whammy – it exacerbates destructive flooding and causes erosion and sedimentation of rivers and wetlands. Urban development with its solid cover of impermeable surfaces produces storm-water runoff of agricultural and industrial pollutants, as well as raw sewage overflows. Predicted rises in sea level rise will raise estuaries’ salinity levels, thus drastically altering their ecological functions.

We must control carbon emissions. We must more sustainably manage our upstream, freshwater resources in order to protect downstream estuaries and oceans. Some estuaries are now either completely or nearly gone due to heedless upstream water consumption and damming that ignores downstream needs or rights. Since agriculture consumes 70% of our freshwater resources, we must put in place more efficient irrigation techniques and plant more drought-tolerant crops.

Many glacial deposits, accumulated over the eons, are predicted to melt away forever within a few decades due to global warming. Likewise, our aquifers are being drained much faster than they can ever be refilled. Human disregard for the importance of these critical “savings banks” of our fresh-water reserves puts the health of our rivers and oceans at alarming risk. We can and must reduce water consumption and institute aggressive plans for water recycling.

We must protect the estuarial exchanges of fresh and salt-water nutrients, abetted by tides, migratory birds, seasonal floods and anadromous fish such as salmon, alewives and sturgeon. We must preserve our estuary wetlands so they can continue to naturally cleanse riverine pollutants that would otherwise be washed into our oceans. Loren Eiseley wrote, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” We cannot lose that magic. No Water No Life!

— Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life ®