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Reflections on Water ELP Makes Deep Connections

The McKenzie River is the lifeblood of Eugene, OR. Running 90 miles from its headwaters in Clear Lake in the Cascades, it courses through a watershed sculpted by lava flows, meanders through the lush northern rainforest, crashes down waterfalls, squeezes through hydroelectric dams, and finally filters into our homes through our tap water faucets.

IMG_3638 (1)It’s difficult to imagine the diversity of places through which these waters flow, but thanks to the 9 students partaking in Reflections on Water this year, the stories of the McKenzie River are now being told.

Reflections on Water is a term project that is part of the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) at University of Oregon. Students apply to be part of the project, and are selected based on their individual skills and interests. In this project, students learn how to use photography as a narrative tool for conservation and education.

Environmental Studies sophomore Sulley Schuster had experience with leadership and team projects, but less so on the photography side of things. “Over the course of the term,” she says, “I’ve been able to improve my skills quite a bit and take this opportunity to explore artistic methods of communicating environmental issues.”

Watch_LeaburgThis year’s group came up with the theme, “Top to Tap.” As team member Anya Vollstedt explains, “Eugene, Oregon’s drinking water takes a tremendous journey before it is cleaned and regulated at Hayden Filtration Plant, and pumped to provide for 200,000 people.”

“I imagine not many people at the University of Oregon actually know where all of our water comes from, let alone how beautiful and pristine this water is before it gets to our tap,” says classmate Riley Fortier.

After spending the term getting to know the river, it is clear the students have a deep understanding of its relevance to Eugene. “This project is important because the McKenzie River plays such a huge role in our community, and many people don’t even realize it,” says Schuster. “Educating the community and providing connections to the McKenzie can help to draw us closer to the place we live and the resources it provides us with.”

Reflections ELPVollstedt voices similar sentiments. “The simple act of turning on a faucet can often dilute the understanding of a water source,” she says. “It is important for people to have a personal connection and understanding of the origin of this water because we are dependent on it for our survival.”

The final product of the team’s efforts will be opening to the public as the Reflections on Water Gallery on Friday, Dec. 4th from 3-5pm outside of Columbia 150. Light refreshments will be served, and the team will be there to answer questions and talk about the project.

In Spring 2016, the Reflections on Water Gallery will be on display at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

To learn more about the project and see the students’ photos, check out the Reflections on Water website here: