While our attention is focused on cities in flame, armed militias on our courthouse steps, statues to a treasonous cause toppling, and democracy in the crosshairs, Lynne Buchanan’s documentation of the destruction of our very sustenance of life—water—should ring as a clarion bell and call for action.
Water is life and in these searing images we see a planet held hostage to corporate greed and societal indifference. Like a frog in a heating pan, we may not know the water is boiling until it is too late.
Her documentation need not be a talisman of the future, rolled back regulations can be reinvigorated, but it will take political will. Elections matter, she says, and if we expect to survive as a planet, this one matters a great deal indeed. Pay heed, she is giving us notice.
My work documents water issues during a period of accelerating climate change. Estuaries and deltas are experiencing saltwater intrusion related to rising sea levels and irregular flow in rivers from early snowmelt or water grabs upstream. The resulting reduction in freshwater is affecting the reproduction of sea creatures and is harming habits for endemic species. Biodiversity is reduced and those downstream are left with polluted waterways and/or shortages. Water is being pumped from springs in Florida and sold privately. This has a serious impact not only the quantity of water in the springs, but it affects the quality as well since lower water levels mean the concentration of nitrogen and phosphorous is higher and causes algae blooms to proliferate. Excess nitrogen in the water causes blue baby syndrome and other illnesses. There are algae blooms in springs located in the middle of the Ocala National Forest, and not just in areas that receive runoff from cities. The presence of algae in pristine areas may be the result of sea level rise, which is seeping into the springs from below since Florida’s foundation is made of porous karst. When saltwater interacts with bacteria, it creates a second bloom.
My book, Florida’s Changing Waters: A Beautiful World in Peril, was published by George Thompson last year. For this book, which has already been featured in the magazine, I worked with Waterkeepers, indigenous people, and scientists across the state. I chose Florida to focus on as I lived there at the time, and it is a bellwether for the rest of the country in terms of water issues. The water temperatures are increasing in Florida faster than they are in the rest of the country, so issues with Cyanobacteria and Red Tide are often evident there before they appear in the rest of the country. However, since I completed the book, I have observed bacterial blooms in other states such as South Carolina and Georgia. In fact, cyanobacteria have been observed in all 50 states of the country. These bacteria are neurotoxins and cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases as well as lung issues. Florida has also been experiencing long lasting and much more intense red tide blooms, which can also cause neurological damage. The blooms are caused by runoff from Big Sugar, farming, antiquated septic systems, the fertilization of our lawns, runoff from roads, and overdevelopment. Regulations are continually being relaxed instead of made more stringent, which is making matters worse.
Another factors impacting water quality is the continued usage and transport of fossil fuels, which are piped under the Great Lakes and taken across the country by train. The pipelines often leak, like they did in Kalamazoo (which is still a problem after $1 billion dollars in cleanup costs) and trains derail and wreck, often leaking oil into rivers, such as the Columbia River Gorge. In 2016, I followed the oil and gas route from Oregon to Florida. I was at Standing Rock for a week and saw many tribes canoeing together for Water is Life. On the way home, I met Anishinaabe Grandmothers protesting the Line 5 Pipeline on Lake Michigan. During this trip, I met many Waterkeepers and indigenous people and have photos of waterways throughout the country, as well as images of people who are involved with protecting them. I intended to make this into a finished project and have exhibited some photos in Albuquerque and elsewhere, but I got tied up with the Florida book.
Protecting our water supply and water quality is critical in this country now more than ever. Water and environmental regulations have been rolled back by the current administration, even though we all need water to live and it should not be a Democratic or Republican issue. The decision to stop protecting streams is going to have a huge negative impact on water quality, because more and more pollution will feed into our rivers. However, the issue is not confined to this country alone and is affected by what happens in the rest of the world. Melting glaciers and sea ice in Antarctica, Patagonia, Iceland, and Greenland create rising seas for the rest of the world and add to the existing water issues. I exhibited a series of diptychs showing the connectivity of water issues in Antarctica, Bangladesh, and Florida in Greece last summer. Melting ice causes increases in Cyanobacteria from warmer ocean temperatures throughout the oceans of the world. The cyanobacteria blooms in Florida grow larger and more dangerous the warmer the water gets.
Since I moved to North Carolina three years ago, the water issues I have been witnessing in the mountains are different. Here we experience lots of flooding from heavy rains associated with climate change. This creates a lot of erosion and causes streams to become filled with silt and trees to get washed away. There are also a lot of dying trees throughout the Blue Ridge from Acid Rain, which was getting better but with the relaxing of regulations and the current administration’s focus on coal, I anticipate things will worsen again quickly.
Water issues are human rights issues, as the most polluted places are often found in the poorest areas. The people who live in poverty are often forced to engage in subsistence living and fish in heavily polluted streams or rivers, which compounds the health issues they already experience. Additionally, wealthier people are beginning to make an exodus away from low lying areas and are taking over areas formerly populated by lower income people who have nowhere to go and can’t afford to move. But the bottom line is that everyone is affected by water quality no matter what party you belong to or how much money you have. Wealthier people can filter the toxins through reverse osmosis or some other powerful water filter, but then they are losing all the minerals their bodies need too. The best thing for everyone and the health of our planet and food supply is to protect our waterways.
I am attaching a series of photographs, but I have many, many more from my travels around the country and around the world, as well as all the images in the book. As this call was for the upcoming election, I only included photos from the US. However, I have photos from other parts of the world that contribute to the water and climate change issues we are experiencing if you are interested in including some of those. I went to Bangladesh to see just how bad water can get, and I went to Antarctica and Patagonia to see how fast glaciers and ice is melting.
It behooves everyone in this country to open their eyes to what is happening and learn about the water issues, because things have been getting worse exponentially. Our health and the ecosystems we share the planet with are dependent on having access to enough clean water, and we should all demand that our elected officials, whose job is to protect us, demand that proper regulations are reinstated and/or developed. While we have been focused on all the other dangerous things that have been happening in this country, more and more regulations have been undone and legislations passed to protect corporate polluters at the expense of people. If we wait too much longer to take action, the consequences will be dire. Cancer and neurological issues will increase if we don’t start forcing corporations to clean up their discharges, enforce limits on how much is withdrawn by agricultural operations and reduce runoff from our cities. We also have to learn to live more sustainably, because water shortages in some places are already a reality and wars in the future will be fought over water not oil.
For the past six years, Lynne has been photographing water issues and climate change in Florida, across the country and around the world. She has worked with Waterkeepers, water advocates, scientists, and indigenous people in learning about issues affecting water and the riparian zone. She is publishing a book entitled Florida’s Changing Water: A Beautiful World in Peril, which is being published by George F. Thompson in early 2019. This image was made on a trip to Bangladesh, where she was working with Waterkeepers Bangladesh and the Blue Planet Initiative on climate change and pollution issues affecting this region. Since moving to Western North Carolina a year ago, Lynne has been photographing mountain ecosystems and has become interested in studying the effects of climate change and acid rain on the environment, as well as how fungi, trees, and plants help to ameliorate the affects of climate change. Lynne is currently enrolled in the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate of Merit Program at the North Carolina Arboretum and is teaching photography there.