Stillwater News Press

February 19, 2014

Cousteau explores stewardship of water resources

By Chris Day
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Water is the star of Alexandra Cousteau’s life.

It has been all her life. Water and exploration, you might say, are the family business. Her grandfather Jacques-Yve Cousteau and her father Philippe Cousteau Sr., took audiences worldwide below the surface of the ocean.

Her grandfather and engineer Emile Gagnan developed the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus or scuba in 1943. Later, Jacques-Yves Cousteau would take followers under the sea in books, documentary films and television. Her grandfather and father produced the most popular documentary series in broadcast television history with the series “the Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau.”

Alexandra Cousteau joined her parents on an expedition to Easter Island when she was 4 months old. She was scuba diving at age 7.

“My grandfather created tools that allowed everybody to go do what he does. He democratized access to the oceans. He distributed that knowledge on television to millions of people in 100 countries. That was unique,” she said.

Alexandra Cousteau discussed the Cousteau legacy and her expeditions that explore water use and sustainability in the United States and throughout the world Wednesday night at Oklahoma State University’s Student Union Theater. The event was part of the university’s Research Week.

She established Blue Legacy International in 2008 to explore water issues and how those issues shape society. She has led expeditions to Colorado River, Tennesee River, Washington D.C., Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico, Canada, Middle East, Botswana and the Middle East.

Short films, blogs, photography and interactive elements on the website promote conversations about the world’s water problems, she said.

A clip from Cousteau’s expedition to investigate water use and management on the 1,450-mile Colorado River showed how dams and water use drained the river before it reached the Gulf of Mexico.

The Colorado River was instrumental in settling the southwest. It slakes the thirst and meets the energy demands of approximately 30 million people.

“The death of the Colorado River is a pretty shocking occurrence,” she told the audience. “It’s happening here in the U.S. We know better. We’ve got money. We’ve got science. We’ve got a thriving civil society. We’ve got all the know-how to understand why it’s happening and why it shouldn’t happen and how to prevent it.”

There are too many straws removing water from the Colorado River, and government irrigation regulations that create a “use it or lose it” reality, she said.

If 1 percent of the water taken from the Colorado River was returned, the river would reconnect with the Gulf of Mexico, Cousteau said.

Politicians, environmentalists, scientists, The National Geographic Society and Environmental Defense Fund worked on a solution for approximately a decade. They sought a way to find that 1 percent and return it to the river.

On World Water Day, March 22, a pulse of water will be released and the Colorado River will reconnect with the sea, she said.

“That’s never happened before. That’s what I mean when I say the United States can create the solutions to problems that happen all over the world — rivers are falling to reach the sea all over the world,” she said. “Estuaries are drying up. Fishermen are having to change livelihood. Hopefully, now that we are able to do it with the Colorado we will be able to export that solution to other countries.”