Friday, May 8, 2015

Mayim, Mayim

May 8, 2015 by Susan Weinberg
Our Artists' Lab retreat began with a gathering at the All My Relations Gallery. We were fortunate to catch the show shortly before it came down as it tied closely to our topic of water. The show The Art of Indigenous Resistance: Inspiring the Protection of Mother Earth brought together work by twenty artists that examined the power of activism through art.

Graci Horne, the new director and curator of the gallery, talked of the Native American tradition of caring for Grandmother Earth. In this tradition water is very sacred. She recalled that when she was growing up she was told that some day there would be wars over water. She noted that where her tribe is located is the second largest aquifer in the US and there is fighting between those who want to drill. The drilling company seeks water rights while their opponents allege that drilling is likely to contaminate the water, the source of drinking water for the nearby cities. The focus of Native Americans is to unify people and remind them of their responsibility for the earth.

Camille Gage then spoke about her project I Am Water, an interactive public artwork that challenges people to consider their relationship to our planet's fresh water. Camille noted that 80-90% of marine pollution is plastic. Plastic beverage holders take 400 years to disintegrate.

Camille spoke to a number of threats to our water supply. Monsanto's Roundup, the number 1 selling weed killer was recently reported by the World Health Organization as a "probable carcinogen".

She spoke about the commodification of water and shared a quote from Nestle's Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe in which he notes "water is the most valuable food stuff on the planet" as if it were made in a factory. She noted that it takes 1.5 gallons of water to make the plastic that holds the water. Nestle's benefits from this commodification of water, making $7B annually on global water sales.

More than two thirds of the Bakken oil fields production is shipped through Minnesota, over 23 million gallons daily. This highly flammable shipment has already caused serious explosions. 

Mining is declining on the Range and attention has begun to shift to creation of new jobs when mines are capped. Mining versus environmental protection remains a volatile subject. Camille called for reframing the discussion to have a dialogue that respects the historic contribution of miners even as we look at what it will be in the future.

She shared a number of artworks that deal with water including Bodies on Ice, Basin, the Overpass Light Brigade and Ananya Dance Theater. Camille also shared her experience as a water walker. A water walker walks a body of water and each step is a prayer. They carry a copper vessel of water and in presence and prayer make their statement.
We also have an opportunity to add our prayers for the water. Camille is doing a community art project that invites people to imagine a body of water they feel close to, write a prayer or wish for the water and paint an image on the other side. She is collecting these wishes/prayers in an installation that continues to grow.

We concluded our visit with an impromptu dance to the song Mayim Mayim. The words mean "With joy shall you draw water from the wells of deliverance". And one last group photo.
Fridley Softening Plant Wall Map
After savoring the renowned corn pancakes at Maria's Cafe, several of us traveled on to the second part of our retreat, a visit to the City of Minneapolis Public Water Works. A special thanks to Kris Prince who recommended this visit which proved to be a fascinating glimpse at the process behind the tap.

The buildings were actually spread across a campus that had been constructed over many years. The river ran alongside the buildings, a location that was of course critical to the function they performed.
In the lobby of the Fridley Softening Plant we met George, the Water Quality Plant Manager who took us on a tour of the facilities. A map was on the walls of the process and the locations where each process occurred. We were to learn that the color coding was significant with dark green representing untreated river water, light green- softened water, brown- the sludge that is taken out and blue-the drinkable water. We later were to learn that even some of the machines were color coded in a similar fashion.

George advised us that the plant serves 500K people and that 50M gallons a day were treated although capacity is 140M. Water usage has in fact fallen as people have begun to manage it more effectively.

Grates in Station 5 with River Below
River outside Station 5
The water goes through several processes to soften, filter and purify it. He noted that around 1910 people started dying from typhoid because of the water and they began to chlorinate it to purify it. Typhoid deaths fell to zero. The filters are .02microns and don't allow e-coli to get through. A human hair by contrast is about 100 microns. Two thirds of the water goes through Fridley with the balance going through Columbia Heights. There are built in redundancies so they are always pumping.

Station 5-sludge goes into green containers
We walked over to Station 5 where the river ran next to the building. George pointed out a sluice gate from 1920. The river water flows in below and was visible in the grates beneath our feet. It then goes through filters and the sludge is captured within green containers. Sludge is sold to farmers to put on their fields.
Pumping Room

After a visit to the Pumping Coordination Center we entered the Pumping Room. Here the green pumps represent river water going to the softening plant. The blue pumps represent clean water.
We returned to the Softening Plant and stepped into the basement. There giant pipes snaked across the building which had actually been constructed around the pipes.

Lime slakers
Minneapolis draws its water from the Mississippi River so has no water shortage. Water comes out of the river and runs back into it. Surrounding suburbs rely on groundwater which flows back into the river. Thus they are more challenged by potential water shortages. The MPCA has proposed that suburbs contract with the city or build their own plant to bring in river water.

Within the softening station we stopped by the area in which this occurs, the lime slakers. The room was dusted in white from the lime which plays an important role. Lime is added to soften the water. It then precipitates out of the water bringing an equivalent amount of calcium with it. George showed us three containers, one with lime, one with alum and one with carbon. The lime removes the hardness, the aluminum sulfate removes what the lime doesn't and the carbon removes taste and odor. In a nearby room, we were shown the computer station where the monitoring occurs. Although much of the equipment dates to earlier times, the computer technology allows them to work with a more minimal staff.

Our final stop was the precipitators. Here hardness materials settle to the bottom and are pumped out. The softened water overflows to collector flumes. Again the buildings were constructed around the giant precipitators. Skylights reflected in the water creating a distorted sense of space.

By the conclusion of our visit we had a much more visceral sense of the process behind the tap, a process that we have often been isolated from in our daily life.

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