Rivers, icebergs, human bodies, air – water flows everywhere. How do we use, reuse, and how do we reinforce these actions?  One way is through art. This past Monday, a presentation called ‘The Power of Words, Power of Water’ was held at the Alumni Center in Keene.

Andy Fiske, member of the Connecticut Watershed River Council (CWRC) and organizer for this event, said he realized there had to be a much more engaging way to get the public involved for something that can be so ridden with intricate policies and lengthy lectures. “We learned about Christine Destrempes, who runs the organization ‘Art for Water’; [she] has created this strategy for public participation art, where people tell their stories on large pieces of cover-weight paper, and she creates what she calls ‘Streams of Conscious’. These are created as large scale art installations.”

Destrempes, artist for the event, said she was inspired by an article called “Leasing the Rain” by William Finnegan, saying it left her questioning more, and wanting to get more involved in the efforts of conserving water.

“At the time…I had been living on a lake for about nine years so I think that’s why it hit me because water was such a huge part of my life. So anyway, I started thinking about what I could do, how I could use my creative skills to raise awareness.”

Fiske wanted to use this awareness for the public, to showcase the current re-licensure of the five Connecticut River Dams located in Wilder, Bellows Falls, Vernon, Turners Falls and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility.

“We are here tonight to transform [this topic] into something that is inspiring and influential. The Connecticut River Mainstream has 13 hydroelectric facilities along its length. We have an incredible opportunity…in that five of these facilities are being relicensed at once. The licenses are being issued by the federal government.”

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Denise Burchsted, said that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the agency

Dorothy England / Equinox Staff

Dorothy England / Equinox Staff

in control of regulating these licenses and making sure these hydroelectric power plants abide to these rules. “So as that license is set to expire, they are renewing. They are…reapplying to FERC for permission to run these hydroelectric dams…so to maintain the dam and manage it and generate electricity,” Burchsted said.

Burchsted also said, “FERC is deliberating about whether or not to award the license, which they probably, almost certainly will, and which conditions are required of that license in terms of managing the damage on the eco system.”

That damage to the ecosystem is just one of the many reasons why hydroelectric power is a controversial issue. Geography Professor Jo Beth Mullens said it’s important to evaluate each specific dam before making a decision; you have to look at the hydropower created as well as the species affected in the surrounding environment.

“There are some dams that certainly never should have been built. But in terms of the Connecticut River, the dams probably [have] sound infrastructure with minimum impacts on wildlife that currently exists.”

How do we weigh the options? English Professor and advisor for the Environmental Outing Club Mark Long said he believes it starts with how we individually identify with the place we come from. “A public participation project like this is really important because stories are one of the ways in which we understand our relationship to places. For those of us who live in the Connecticut Valley Watershed, we live these stories, but rarely do we tell them and share them and [realize] how important a place is to us,” Long said.

He continued, “You can talk about dams, and reclaiming a dam, and relicensing a dam and these are policy decisions, but policy decisions are also decisions that are based on people’s values, and what they care about and so a project like this [with] art has a really important way of contributing to public debate about these decisions that affect people’s lives.”

For KSC seniors Kim Pyszka and Connor Turmelle, they feel this issue is very important in their livesPyszka said how eventually water will diminish and be hard to find; that although we may not see it in New England, it’s definitely happening in other places. “We need to protect what we have, and if we don’t protect our water, we’ll be in the same place as California and Arizona which don’t have water” she said.

Turmelle said, “We’re definitely fortunate to have it, to have this natural resource.” Turmelle said we should never abuse what we have in water, “It’s like electricity; one day it could just be gone.”

Putting words into actions, Pyszka said, “I always carry my reusable, camelback water bottle; I take really quick showers and I never leave the faucet running.

” She went on to say how it’s even just essential to be aware of water; she lives on campus in the LEAD certified building and as an Architecture major, wants to someday build more water-conservative buildings.With the percentages roughly the same (71 percent of the Earth covered with water and 73 percent of the human body filled with water) some would say it’s time to test the waters and make a wave for change. It starts with a drop. The question: can we use it or not?

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com

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