After 100 years of often angry conflict and confrontation, a gathering of local and international water activists are poised to present a softer, more personal approach to the battles over water and resources that have linked the Owens Valley and Southern California since the early 1900s.
About 50 people will come together in the Eastern Sierra at the end of August to take part in Walking Water, a unique effort to enhance awareness of water issues in Inyo and Mono counties, California and around the world. The community of pilgrims will take three weeks, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22, to complete a trek from Mono Lake to Owens Lake. Along the way, they will “engage” local communities, generate publicity about “the water story” in the Owens Valley and beyond, and share experiences and information related to their personal connection to, and concern for the future of water and the environment.
The walkers range from long-time local environmental leaders such as Mike Prather of Lone Pine and Janet and David Carle, of Lee Vining, to well-known Los Angeles water/environmental activists such as Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People, to international water activists such as Rajendra Singh, of India, known as the “waterman of India,” and recipient of the Stockholm Prize for Water, also known as the Nobel Prize for Water. (See below for a complete list of local Walking Water participants.)
After this first phase of the project, over the next two years Walking Water walkers will eventually walk all the way into Los Angeles.
“Walking Water is not a demonstration, it is not a march against something, instead it is a celebration of the possibilities we have when we come together. Walking Water asks us to think together, feel together, work together, resolve together, create together and walk together. Walking Water refuses to be enemies, to judge or to take sides. Instead it chooses to create space where everyone involved in trying to deal with the situation that has been handed to them can share their vision, their dreams, their story, as well as their pain and grievances,” explained organizer Kate Bunney.
Bunney, who is from the United Kingdom, hit on the idea for Walking Water in 2012 after attending a workshop for community leaders led by Gigi Coyle, of Big Pine. Bunney, of course, had also walked into the middle of California’s iconic and contentious water stories: how water from the Owens Valley contributed to the urbanization of Los Angeles and the current spate of negative environmental impacts in both locations.
The ongoing, four-year drought has focused attention on the full gamut of water issues, from water supplies, to usage patterns of large and small water users, to personal efforts to conserve water and other resources, she added.
With the drought as a backdrop, Walking Water organizers hope the sight of a group of diverse individuals moving through the Eastern Sierra will bring attention to both the region’s history of providing water for a thirsty Southern California and how to better use that resource in the future.
“Walking Water intends to attract the interest, and open the hearts of people who live in Southern California to further move and inspire them to understand the impacts of their personal lifestyles on other people and the ecosystem, and motivate and equip them to make effective changes in those lifestyles that can reduce the amount of water they use, waste and pollute,” Bunney said.
The walkers expect to have a unique experience as they travel though the Eastern Sierra on foot. “Each walker will bring their own intention and meaning to the walk,” Bunney said. The group includes seasoned activists and educators who have been working on water and other resource issues for decades and people just beginning on the path of activism and action. The international nature of the group and their common interest in water issues and solutions to water-related problems around the world should create opportunities to share experiences and knowledge, she added.
Walking Water is somewhat similar to 100 Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct, an artist’s action by Loren Bon and the Metabolic Studio. That effort utilized the 100-mule caravan and attendant riders and wranglers traveling from the Owens Valley to Los Angles to bring attention to the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 2013, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the aqueduct.
The budget for Walking Water is about $100,000 for the leg from Mono Lake to Owens Lake. Each walker secures their own funding based on how long they will walk during the event, with $2,000 fully funding a walker’s three weeks journey. Donations and grants will also be used to offset costs, Bunney said. The Ojai Foundation and the Wild Foundation are assisting as fiscal facilitators. Information on how to donate or contribute can be found on www.walking-water.org.
The local walkers preparing for the trip through the Owens Valley are: Cathy Bancroft, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe; Gigi Coyle, of Big Pine, a community facilitator and outdoor educator; Chris Langley, of Lone Pine, a retired teacher and currently the Inyo County Film Commissioner, president of the Inyo County Board of Education, and author; Alan Bacock, coordinator of the Big Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe Water Program and manager of the tribe’s sustainable food project; Mike Prather, of Lone Pine, a retired teacher has been an advocate for wildlife and the environment in the Owens Valley and on Owens Lake for decades; Janet and David Carle, of Lee Vinning, worked as state park rangers at Mono Lake for 20 years, while David wrote 15 books, including “Water and the California Dream.”
Other walkers hail from California and United States, India, Portugal, Germany, Spain, the Congo, Bolivia, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Written by Jon Klusmire, Inyo Register Correspondent
Published on August 4, 2015 in The Inyo Register.
Photo by David Wright