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Cousteau urges protection, preservation of rivers

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POTSDAM — The north country is awash with the world’s most precious resource, but an environmental advocate argues residents of the region should dedicate themselves to protecting and preserving its fresh water.

Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of French explorer and filmmaker Jaques Yves-Couseteau, will speak Saturday at Clarkson University.

“I’ll be talking about exploration and sharing stories about my expeditions around North America and the world and what it means to live on a planet where water is our most critical and precious resource,” she said.

Ms. Cousteau has followed the footsteps of her grandfather, and her father, Philippe Cousteau, a documentary filmmaker, by dedicating her life to the study and appreciation of water. While the Cousteau family is most known for their work in the world’s oceans, she chose to focus on lakes, streams and other freshwater bodies.

“What we are doing is a logical evolution of where my grandfather’s work was going,” she said. “I am not interested in the freshwater work per se, but in the interconnectivity of our waterways.”

Ms. Cousteau founded Blue Legacy, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit which educates people on the importance of their freshwater resources using social media.

“I started it in 2008 to look at the interconnectivity of our water resources,” she said. “I came back to the states after living several years in Central America looking at marine conservation issues. I realized when I came back that there is a difference between understanding global issues and understanding the issues happening in our back yard. We think the global water crisis is a big trend, but we don’t realize that it is happening in our local communities as well.”

Blue Legacy creates short ‘conversation-starting films’ to encourage people to think about water issues in their daily lives.

“We are in the business of telling stories,” she said. “All of our videos are viral. We tell the stories in very short form, eight to 10 minutes only, and encourage people to share them on Facebook or Twitter or their own websites.”

Ms. Cousteau said that many environmentally-minded people think of the ocean and marine life when considering water resources, but freshwater resources are also important.

“We tend to measure the difference between fresh waters and oceans by one thing, salinity, but I don’t think it is the best measure of what our water bodies are,” she said. “They are systems that cover everything from the mountains to the ocean.

While the north country doesn’t face the water shortages experienced in desert regions like the southwestern United States, where a population boom drains the Colorado River Basin, Ms. Cousteau said issues of water quality, ecology and access are still of great importance.

“We need to stop and look at what is happening in our own back yards, the St. Lawrence has a lot of problems,” she said. “The Beluga Whales that live in the lower St. Lawrence are considered hazardous waste. When they die, people come in hazmat suits to remove them because they are considered toxic.”

The St. Lawrence River is harnessed for industrial and commercial purposes, as a generator of electricity and an important transportation route linking the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, but it is also part of an ecosystem stretching from Minnesota to Quebec. It ranks third among North American rivers in average water discharge, with only the Mississippi and MacKenzie River systems besting it.

“A lot of places that feel like they are water rich are polluted and are not being managed properly,” she said. “Having a lot of water doesn’t necessarily mean that water is safe. We need to be more mindful of what we are putting in our water and how we protect it. For example, the Clean Water Act protects our water but is currently under fire.”

At Clarkson, Ms. Cousteau will be the inaugural keynote speaker at the Clarkson Reunion, launching an annual series of addresses to give the community a fresh perspective from recognized experts on relevant issues that impact global society.

She will speak at 1 p.m. in the Clarkson University Student Center Forum. The event is free and open to the public.

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