A few months ago, it was a typical day at work for me. I was tasked with producing a basic map graphic for an outreach brochure—nothing extraordinary. I sent off the completed graphic and moved on to another project. The next day, our local watershed partner replied to my email and asked me to “add the reservation communities of Little Rock and Ponemah to the map.”
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In southeast Minnesota, we are fortunate to have an abundant supply of groundwater. It is the water we drink and the source of water in local trout streams. However, the unique geology of this region makes it vulnerable to contamination. A complex network of cracks, open channels, and caves below the surface provides a quick and direct path for surface water to reach groundwater. As water travels over the landscape it can carry contaminants such as bacteria, pesticides, fertilizers and road salt underground.
As part of the 1931 Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Uaxactun expedition, geologist C.W. Cooke (1931: 286) noted, “If the bajos were restored to their former condition, the Petén would be a region of many beautiful lakes. Travel in it would be easy, for one could go from place to place by boat, with only short journeys overland, from one lake to another, across country that offers little impediment to travel at any season.” These bajos mentioned by Cooke, low-lying swampy areas prone to flooding, are spread throughout most of the northern lowlands of Petén, Guatemala, characterizing the region with seasonal and perennial wetland systems.
To create this list of “contraband” practices (forwarded by David Naguib Pellow in our feature of the same name), our contributors responded to the following question: If you were to gift someone one thing (reading/practice/site of engagement) to guide them to environmental justice or a different relationship with water, what would it be?
Questions about water are often implicitly about systems of power. The benefits and impacts of how water is used, distributed, and accessed are unevenly distributed. Water thus becomes a site where the inequalities in society are made visible and contestation arises. The readings listed here offer a sample of some of the ways water is implicated in systems of inequality and work toward social justice.
For millennia, Native American people traveled and traded on the Mississippi River. When colonial powers moved into North America, they quickly saw the importance of controlling transportation and the movement of goods on the river. In 1820, The United States government established Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers to protect American fur trade interests in the region and to gain a foothold in the western territory that would become Minnesota.