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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

July 28, 1995

Air Date: July 28, 1995


Project Del Rio / Becky Rumsey

In a model of international cooperation, high school students on both the United States and Mexico sides of the vast Del Rio river are working together to monitor water quality and track problem areas. Becky Rumsey reports on this unique environmental education program. (08:30)

The River Keepers / Tatiana Schreiber

On a small river in northwest Vermont, the Abenaki Indian tribe has elicited help from area school children who are researching pollution in their local watershed. The hope is that children will grow up to be aware and concerned about the river that helps sustain them. Tatiana Schreiber reports. (07:16)

Living on Earth Profile Series #13: Winona LaDuke / Milt and Jamie Lee

LaDuke is a native American activist who heads up the White Earth Recovery Project in Minnesota. The project buys back Indian land working to restore the environmental legacy of the area's original inhabitants. Milt and Jamie Lee provide this profile of Ms. LaDuke. (04:59)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1995 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Jan Nunley
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Terry Fitzpatrick, Becky Rumsey, Tatiana Schreiber, Milt Lee

(Theme music intro)

NUNLEY: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley. As Congress battles over clean water regulations, local community groups like the Abenaki tribe in Vermont step in to monitor and protect local water supplies.

BRIGHTSTAR: And I noticed where the great blue herons, every time the water level goes up and down their nests are flooded and their babies drown. All the wildlife that lives are the edge of the river are dying.

NUNLEY: And in Minnesota we meet a Native American activist who spent the past 8 years reclaiming a thousand acres of timber land. She's driven by her feelings for the environment, her tribe, and her native culture.

LaDUKE: And I don't think that Mother Earth just talks to indigenous people. I think Mother Earth talks to all people. And that the environmental movement, a good portion of it, there's people feeling responsibility to take care of their mother.

NUNLEY: On Living on Earth; first this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's ruling coalition is taking strong steps to protest nuclear testing by both China and France. The Kyodo News Agency reports the coalition will ask the Japanese Parliament to approve a resolution calling the tests impermissible acts that threaten the survival of mankind and damage the earth's environment and ecology. The resolution says Japan is protesting as the only nation to have suffered nuclear attacks. Earlier this year Japan took the unprecedented step of cutting aid to China following a nuclear test in the Gobi Desert, and a Japanese move to boycott French consumer goods have caused jitters in the French stock market. In June, French President Jacques Chirac announced plans to conduct underground nuclear tests in the South Pacific, triggering protests around the world.

This fall, voters in Washington State will decide if the nation's most sweeping property rights law should take effect. The measure requires compensation for people whose property is affected by land use restrictions. But a petition drive has suspended the new law and forced the issue to a vote. From KPLU in Seattle, Terry Fitzpatrick reports.

FITZPATRICK: Washington's new property rights law is widely regarded as the most far-reaching measure of its kind. It requires extensive study before any regulation can be enacted, and requires payments to property owners when regulations lessen the value of their land. Proponents claim the law is needed because constitutional protection for property is too difficult to enforce. For example, they say it can take up to 4 years and a quarter-million dollars to prevent the government from declaring private property as protected wetland. The measure was enacted when timber companies, builders, and real estate agents delivered 180,000 petition signatures to state lawmakers. The legislature passed the petition language directly into law. But before the rules could take effect this summer, environmental groups, civic organizations, and municipal governments collected 230,000 petition signatures, enough names to suspend the measure and put it to a statewide referendum. These opponents claim the law is so sloppily written that urban zoning will become unworkable. They predict that strip malls and gas stations will pop up in family neighborhoods unless the government pays developers not to build them. The public referendum is set for November. For Living on Earth I'm Terry Fitzpatrick in Seattle.

MULLINS: The Interior Department would be barred from listing any new endangered species under a bill passed by a key Senate appropriations subcommittee. The measure would also prevent the Federal Government from protecting the habitat of threatened species. The bill is identical to one already passed by the House. The same appropriations subcommittee also voted to restore $724 million cut by the House for nuclear weapons clean-up. And, unlike the House version, the Senate bill would continue funding for research into whether high-level nuclear waste should be buried at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Landowners are flocking to sign up for a Department of Agriculture program to convert farmland back to wetlands. More than 3,700 landowners nationwide have offered 572,000 acres for wetlands conversion. The department will select an estimated 60 to 70,000 high priority acres by September. Paul Johnson heads the wetlands reserve program.

JOHNSON: The response to this program began as very surprising to an awful lot of people. There's a lot of feeling across the country that farmers don't like wetlands, they don't care about them. But we're finding throughout the country that private land owners also really respect wetlands and the ecological systems out there and want to do what they think is right.

MULLINS: Under the 4-year-old program, the government pays landowners for conservation easements at no more than the agricultural value of the land. Wetlands provide habitat for migrating birds, as well as help purify water supplies and prevent flooding.

Atmospheric concentrations of an ozone-destroying chemical are decreasing for the first time since the signing of the Montreal Protocols. A study published in Science magazine says compliance with the international treaty, which restricts the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, is causing a reduction in methyl chloroform, a relatively mild ozone destroyer used as a degreasing solvent. Another report says some substitutes for ozone-destroying CFCs may threaten certain types of wetlands. The study, published in the journal Nature, says 3 CFC replacements used in refrigeration and in air conditioning break down into a chemical compound that's harmful to plants when it later falls to the Earth as rain. The scientists estimate that in 15 years, average concentrations of the toxin will remain well below potentially harmful levels. But they also warn that because the chemical compound does not break down very easily, concentrations could reach toxic levels in aquatic ecosystems.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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(Theme music up and under)

Project Del Rio

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in this week for Steve Curwood. The battle over clean water is one of many struggles over environmental policy in Washington. Conservative Republicans and some Democrats want less regulation, reduced funding for agencies charged with ensuring water quality, and more authority for the states. Whatever the outcome, it's clear the trend right now is away from tougher Federal regulation of water quality, and that puts more pressure on states, localities, and private groups to monitor and protect water supplies. Across the country, local groups are responding. This week on Living on Earth, we look at 2 river monitoring projects: one on a small river in rural New England, the other on one of North America's great rivers in the desert Southwest. Both projects involve schoolchildren, linking different regional cultures, and both try to fill what organizers see as a regulatory void. In New Mexico, reporter Becky Rumsey reports from the banks of the Rio Grande.

(Flowing water from the Rio Grande)

(A young man speaks: "...I'm testing the turbidity, how dirty the water is, how many dissolved solids per...")

RUMSEY: Half a mile down in northern New Mexico's Rio Grande Gorge, Questa High School student Philip Gallegos fills vials with water.

GALLEGOS: When you have too much turbidity in the water. It's not safe for the animals to live in...

RUMSEY: Gallegos is perched on a rock below volcanic canyon walls 700 feet high. On this day, students in New Mexico, Texas, and 5 Mexican states are conducting about a dozen different water quality tests on their stretches of the Rio Grande. They're measuring things like pH, nitrates, phosphates, and fecal coliform bacterial.

GALLEGOS: So what you do is you fill up this little vial. This thing's like 20, 200 milliliters, I'm not exactly sure. And you get it in the water, you fill it up, and make sure the edges are clean and nice, and you stick it in the turbidimeter. It measures somehow how many particles are suspended in the water.

RUMSEY: Five years ago, Project Del Rio launched its water quality monitoring program with 12 participating high schools. This year, hundreds of students from more than 60 US and Mexican schools are involved.

GALLEGOS: Fifteen point three and 71.8.

RUMSEY: While there are other programs in which students study water quality on rivers around the world. Project Del Rio is unique because it involve students from 2 different countries working together on the same river. Students enter their data into a binational computer network and create a watershed profile of North America's fifth longest river. The results from Questa, just south of the Rio Grande's Colorado headwaters, show a relatively clean, healthy upstream section.

(Sounds of traffic on a highway)

RUMSEY: Four hundred miles downstream, Project Del Rio research tells a different tale. Raoul Yates is a student at El Prepatorio Chamisal in Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. His class sampled a cement-lined section of the Rio Grande where it begins to form the international boundary between the US and Mexico.

YATES: We found the water more contaminated than last year. We found more bacteria from coliform, fecal coliform. It wasn't countable. We couldn't count all the bacteria. And also we found, from the US side, water dumping. It had a lot of, like, soap.

(Sound of applause. A woman speaks in Spanish.)

RUMSEY: Yates was one of several hundred students to attend Project Del Rio's congress in El Paso-Juarez, this year. There, students shared results and learned what they could do to increase public awareness and protection of water quality. Patricia Martinez-Tellez is Project Del Rio's Mexican coordinator.

TELLEZ: One of the high schools in the lower Rio Grande found fecal coliform there, so they put field data and they took precautions, and we're glad for that, you know? There's people that want to do more things and participate more in the community.

RUMSEY: To do that, Project Del Rio organizes workshops at its congresses that pair students with media and science professionals. Professionals like Sergio Mendez of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, who spent an afternoon showing Project Del Rio students pollution from urban runoff.

(Running water)

RUMSEY: Standing at the Franklin Canal, where the Rio Grande is divided between Mexican and US interests, Mendez says water quality problems here include chemical residues from stonewashed jean factories, fertilizers and pesticides on the US side, and on the Mexican side, high levels of bacteria from untreated sewage.

MENDEZ: I think Project Del Rio is a good thing because they are working with students from both sides of the Rio Grande, from Mexican and the US side. Like, most of the students on the US side don't know that some of these kids don't even have water, good drinking water.

RUMSEY: Mendez says that while El Paso has 8 water treatment plants for half a million people, Juarez has 3 times that population and no wastewater treatment facilities. In addition, many people in Juarez don't even have plumbing. They depend on the Rio Grande for drinking and bathing, and for some the river is also a source of food, often contaminated carp and catfish.

(People speaking at a gathering, ambient conversation.)

RUMSEY: At the congress, teachers say they like Project Del Rio because it gets kids involved in these kinds of real world environmental issues.

(A woman speaks in Spanish)

RUMSEY: Science teacher Berta Libastrilla of El Prepatorio Chamisal in Juarez uses Project Del Rio to give her students first-hand experience with challenges they'll face as adults. All her students plan to pursue careers in chemistry, biology, or medicine. But Libastrilla doesn't expect Project Del Rio to solve any problems immediately. Like other parts of the region, communities in the Rio Grande watershed are booming. By the year 2,000 some 5 million people will live in the 10 largest cities along the Rio Grande. All of them depend on the river or its aquifers for water. That's why programs that emphasize a watershed perspective, without artificial or political boundaries, are so important, says Project Del Rio coordinator Patricia Martinez-Tellez.

TELLEZ: The 2 countries are working together. Through the students. That is fantastic. That is great. And we were doing this the last 5 years. Five years, you know, is like a little embassy of good faith and people worried about the environment.

RUMSEY: Project Del Rio's 2 staff people face constant fundraising and technical challenges. In Mexico's foundering economy, many teachers have to work several jobs. And while most US high schools have computers and access to good telephone lines, that's not the case south of the border.

(Young man's voice: "So we're reading so far, 13.9, 15.3, and 71.8...")

RUMSEY: But the number of schools involved in Project Del Rio grows every year. Recently it won several prestigious environmental education awards as a model of participatory learning and action-oriented research. For Living on Earth, I'm Becky Rumsey.

Back to top

(Running water; children talking. Music up and under.)

The River Keepers

NUNLEY: Across the country in northwestern Vermont, another river monitoring project is just getting started. The River Keepers Project started with a group of Abenaki Indians long frustrated by the degradation of a central element of their culture and economy, the Missisquoi River. The Abenaki are seeking help from local school kids, fishing groups, and business people. Tatiana Schreiber reports.

SCHREIBER: The Missisquoi begins in northeast Vermont, winds north through rolling hills into Canada, then dips south again, ending in the Missisquoi Bay of Lake Champlain, a lowland delta home to osprey, hawks, and herons. It's also home to the Abenaki ,Native Americans whose territory once stretched across 300 miles from here to the coast of Maine. Blooming meadows and acres of corn fields suggest the river valley is as lush and fertile as ever, but the Abenaki are worried.

BRIGHTSTAR: Some of our sacred sites are now under water, and burials are under water.

SCHREIBER: Abenaki activist Dee Brightstar.

BRIGHTSTAR: And I noticed where the great blue herons, every time the water level goes up and down their nests are flooded and their babies drown. And so the great blue herons are going to be extinct around here. All the wildlife that lives are the edge of the river are dying. Because you can't have a home and have it flooded every 2 or 3 hours. That's what the dam does.

SCHREIBER: Brightstar and other Abenakis cite additional problems: periodic fish kills, serious erosion, and what they say are high rates of certain cancers in the Missisquoi watershed. The Abenaki are not a Federally-recognized tribe, however, so they've had little political clout in their efforts to protect the river. They're continuing to push for recognition, but the tribe is also directing its energy toward education.

(Man's voice: "So right now we're going down to the nature trail that we're working on, the new construction on it. About a mile or so here south of Swanton")

SCHREIBER: The new nature trail is a short drive from the tribe's office along a small tributary to the river. It's part of the River Keepers project. Coordinator Dave Gilman says one of its goals is to teach children, both native and non-native, their responsibilities toward the land.

GILMAN: I felt for the Missisquoi River Keepers, which is, you know, kind of a function of the Abenaki Nation. We can use this down here as a demonstration area as well as an educational area for the Swanton Elementary School, the High Gates School, as well as the schools in St. Albans.

(Running water)

SCHREIBER: Like many Abenaki, Gilman wasn't raised among Indians and only recently came back to this area, in part to learn more about his Indian heritage. A retired soil conservationist, he is deeply troubled by what he sees as threats to the river.

GILMAN: Roads, farming, logging, just improper land use. And we've got to stop this We've got fish with sores on them; they're diseased. You know, it's just an indication of the condition of the watershed.

(Woman's voice: "Who's going in?" Several girls: "I will." "I am.")

SCHREIBER: The Missisquoi is wide and shallow near the Sheldon Elementary School. It's just started to rain rather hard, but these 5th and 6th grade girls are brimming with enthusiasm and anxious to get to work.

(Woman: "Which way is upstream? Which way is downstream?" Children: "That way is downstream." "That way's upstream." Woman: "All right, so which way do you want the net to go?")

SCHREIBER: Dave Gilman is convinced the best route to change is through kids, who are a direct link to parents. He's raised funds to expand science education at area schools, and involved children in monitoring and evaluating the condition of the river.

GILMAN: What they're doing, they're basically getting samples of the macro- invertebrates in a small net, and then they'll take and analyze them and see what they look like under a microscope. Then they can identify the different species.

KENNESIN: Because like some, some macro-invertebrates that we find in this river only live in polluted water. So by finding out the macro-invertebrates we can find out what kind of water this is. Like, over the summer we did some testing in this stream, and I think we found 99 aquatic worms. And they're specifically, they only specifically live in polluted water. And while we were in another stream farther down from this stream in Enosburg called Tyler branch, we found, like, a lot, about 32 water pennies. And they only live in fresh water, so we know that's a lot better stream than this is. How about over there in that sink hole...

SCHREIBER: Like many of her schoolmates, Lydia Kennesin believes she's part Indian, and that's one reason she likes working with the River Keepers. But she's also just worried about the river. She and the other 10 and 11-year old students have done species counts, analyzed water samples, and made presentations at school and for parents and community groups. Steve Dickens, Vermont Coordinator of the Riverwatch Network, says what the kids have learned has helped them make persuasive arguments to adults. At one public forum, he says, they explain that manure entering the river was a problem, and the solution was to convince farmers to plant between their fields in the riverbanks. Dickens says they emphasized the need to involve farmers in the educational process.

DICKENS: So, these kids really, I think, won everyone's hearts over. Because they can speak better than any of the rest of us about problems on the river. It's their river, it's their future, it's their community in the future. And I think everyone recognized that, because when these kids were talking the room was really silent.

SCHREIBER: The Missisquoi River Keepers project seems to be bearing fruit. New alliances are being built between the schools, the Abenaki, farmers, conservationists, and businesspeople who form the Missisquoi Basin Association to protect the entire river. Steve Busher, a prime mover behind the new group, is a realtor and president of a Lake Champlain sports fishing association.

BUSHER: From the watershed to the delta here, probably somewhere on the order of 140 miles or so, it just isn't a project that any one group can really encompass. The Abenaki group seems more than willing to work with anyone that can share in the load and they've been real receptive to suggestions. They really need to get the credit for starting the idea up.

SCHREIBER: On their side, Vermont state officials say they welcome community projects like the River Keepers because funds just aren't there for any one group or agency to do the job alone.

(Running water. Girl's voice: "Ooh ooh, that's going to have a lot. Maybe.")

SCHREIBER: Lydia Kennesin and her classmates are ready to help, but they want more of their parents and friends to get involved, too.

KENNESIN: Somehow, we've got to get the word out that we need help, because we can't do it all.

GIRL: Yeah, so they'll stop polluting the rivers and stuff.

KENNESIN: I mean we're just 5th and 6th graders, and I know we've done a lot for 5th and 6th graders, but we can't do everything.

SCHREIBER: That's something the Abenaki recognize as well. While keeping the focus on education for now, they're also evaluating what legal recourse they have in case education, monitoring, and awareness aren't enough to clean up the Missisquoi.

For Living on Earth, I'm Tatiana Schreiber in Swanton, Vermont.

Back to top

(GIRL: "Last time we were told to get the big rocks...")

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: What's your concern about water quality where you live? Call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR. ORG, and our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

(Music up and under)

Living on Earth Profile Series #13: Winona LaDuke

NUNLEY: The struggle to maintain and restore native lands is as old as the United States. Today, one of the centers of that struggle is Minnesota's White Earth Reservation, home of the Annishinabe Indians and Winona LaDuke. Through her White Earth land recovery project, LaDuke has become one of the leading figures in the movement to preserve the environmental heritage of the country's original inhabitants. As part of our ongoing series on 25 leading environmental figures, producers Milt and Jamie Lee have this profile of Winona LaDuke.

M. LEE: The first time I saw Winona LaDuke, an Annishinabe from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, she was at a forum telling Bobby Kennedy, Jr., about the true origins of Democracy:

LaDUKE: Democracy came from us. You know, all they had in Europe was the experience of monarchies and feudalists. When they came over here to this country, democracy was learned from people at 6 nations, was learned from our practices.


LEE: LaDuke's environmental activities go back to the 70s. She came home to White Earth as the high school principal, but soon turned to environmental issues such as halting the massive clear-cutting of timber on White Earth, and reviving the Annishinabe arts and culture. A graduate of Harvard, Winona has represented her people at the United Nations and in Congressional forums. But nestled into her lakeside cabin on the White Earth Reservation, the US and Congress seem far away.

(Birdcalls of a loon)

LaDUKE: Mong, that's how you call a loon in Ojibwe. Mong. Zeesheeb is a duck.

LEE: On White Earth, Winona seems as firmly planted as the maple trees that surround her. However, even though she is a member of the Missisippi band of Annishinabe at White Earth, Winona was born in east L.A. and grew up in Ashland, Oregon. During the Native American relocation programs of the 50s and 60s, Winona's father, like so many others, left the reservation to find work.

LaDUKE: I remember when I was 10 years old that I got a check for $94.60 from the Federal Government. I was a little girl in southern Oregon, and I didn't really know what it was. So I cashed it, put it in the bank, put it in our savings account. But I remember it. And that was a land check for White Earth.

LEE: Ninety-four dollars and sixty cents: Federal compensation for land taken from the Indians. To a ten-year-old girl, that was a lot of money. But as Winona discovered many years later, it was not enough.

LaDUKE: Okay, the native press lists, that's the next thing.

LEE: Today, Winona directs a tireless operation started in 1988, called the White Earth Land Recovery Project. Their goal is to restore both land and culture to the reservation. Essentially resources that have been seriously eroded. On White Earth, a reservation of 800,000 acres, only 80,000 are tribally owned.

LaDUKE: A lot of land was procured by Weyerhauser. And Pillsbury, Musser, timber barons. Pine forests, clear cut, there's a thousand stories I could tell you.

LEE: It must be the stories that drive Winona. Stories of injustice, both to the environment and to the people. She has talked, lobbied, bargained, and begged to obtain environmental justice.


LEE: Since 1988, the Land Recovery Project has regained a thousand acres of land and started language camps and cultural programs. Winona is a curious blend of the hot fire of politics and the softer, cooling elements of her Annishinabic traditions.

LaDUKE: If you don't do that, if you don't rice, or don't eat things that grow from your land, I firmly believe that you begin to get weak. That eating process, the honoring, the harvesting, the giving thanks, the prayer, the ceremony, the dance, and the eating itself, is a reaffirmation of your relationship to the Creator. And that you need to do that to be who you are.


LEE: For Winona and those around her, every day is Earth Day. In fact, every day is Mother's Day.

LaDUKE: I think that the Earth, Mother Earth, talks to people. And I don't think that Mother Earth just talks to indigenous people. I think Mother Earth talks to all people. And that a lot of people hear that. And that the environmental movement, a good portion of it is people who are resonating with that, feeling responsible, feeling responsibility to take care of their mother.

LEE: For Living on Earth, I'm Milt Lee with Winona LaDuke on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.

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(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: Living on Earth is produced by Peter Thomson. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Constantine Von Hoffman, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, Bob Emro, and Catherine Gill. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Rita Sand. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Special thanks this week to Vermont Public Radio and to Alan Mattes and Jeff Martini.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston and Harvard University. The executive producer is Steve Curwood. I'm Jan Nunley.

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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