>240 miles: Oakland to Highland Lakes 1 month: July 2022 1 woman: Nina Gordon-Kirsch 1 dog: Petey A Film Crew: Marielle Olentine & Julia Maryanska Goal: Tracing the Mokelumne River and making a film to educate East Bay residents about where their water comes from.
About Me: Hi! My name is Nina and water has been a through line in my life.
I was born and raised on Chochenyo Ohlone land in Berkeley, California. Similar to many urban residents, I spent most of my life using water on a daily basis and I had no idea where it came from or how it got to me. I left home at age 18 and went off to study water quality issues both here and abroad. When I was 19, I spent three months in India creating a water and sanitation curriculum and training Indian college students to teach the lessons in local elementary schools. We also worked on getting point-of-use water filters into as many homes as we could find funding for, guaranteeing clean drinking water for hundreds of rural Indian residents. After undergrad, I did a Fulbright Scholarship in Israel/Palestine studying the presence of hormones and pharmaceutical waste throughout the wastewater treatment cycle. Israel is the leading country in the world for reusing wastewater, and roughly 85% of their irrigation water comes from treated sewage (in CA, less than 1% of our agricultural irrigation comes from recycled water). I stayed in Israel for my masters degree and continued my research on Palestinian water recycling options. I wrote my thesis on viable options for Palestinian wastewater reuse, comparing costs and treatment efficiency for presence of hormones and pharmaceuticals. In grad school, I traveled to Uganda with one of my classes and helped design and install a rainwater catchment system at an elementary school so that students would have water to wash their hands after using the toilet.
I am back in the Bay Area and over the past seven years I’ve had a number of jobs in the water sector. I apprenticed with Greywater Action for 3 years and then went to LA to become a CA certified greywater installer. I now manage a business called Backyard Permaculture Guild and get hired to do professional greywater installations. I also lead workshops teaching people how to retrofit their laundry machines to send greywater to their backyard to irrigate their fruit trees and perennial plants. For two years, I worked for the regional office of the California State Water Boards in the watershed division, monitoring water reuse projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also worked with a collective called Walking Water, that helps people see water as a Being to be witnessed and listened to, as opposed to a resource to be manipulated. A few years ago, I volunteered with Friends of the Riverand went to raft guide training school with them on the S. Fork of the American River. I attended the FOR River Advocacy Training school, which taught me about political activism and river protection policy, and I volunteered with the Rose Foundation, going into Oakland high schools teaching about (lack of) water access in CA.
Spring 2022 was my sixth year co-teaching a CA Water Resources class called Cal Studies-Water at Urban, a private high school in San Francisco. Time and time again, my students tell me how impactful it was for them to learn about where their water comes from. Many of the students who take this water class go on to study and work in the water world; previous students have become policy makers, water regulators, litigators for contaminated water sources, founded businesses to find and fix water leaks, and more. I am so grateful that the private school I work at funds the class I teach and it’s my dream (through the documentary we will make) to bring this kind of education into public schools.
(thank you to Dave Walker Cartoons for this image)
About the Walk: I started the walk with the new moon on June 28th and it took me 33 days. I arrived at Highland Lakes just after the next new moon.
Part one of the walk was from Oakland to Pardee Reservoir - where our water is stored before it’s piped to us. Part two of the walk went up to find the wild waters - where the water isn’t owned or controlled by humans, but instead runs free.
While I had originally planned to backpack my way up, a herniated disc in my low spine last year has altered my plan. Instead, I walked with a daypack each day and had logistical support to bring my sleeping items and food resupply to me each night. Because of the support, the journey included many more people and word of the walk rippled out to even more people. Off and on, I had some company on the trail - other water walkers who felt called to join would come walk for a day or two and my dog, Petey, joined for parts of the journey.
I asked permission from Corrina Gould, of the Chochenyo Ohlone people, to walk on her and her ancestors' land, and I asked permission of the indigenous people of the lands along the whole route. I also asked farmers and other landowners if I could walk across their private land.
I walked in the heat of summer through the Delta and Central Valley. Most of my trip was walking in the 90s and a few days it got over 100 degrees. I truly learned how holy and life-sustaining water is. I got up before the sun to walk the bulk before the heat. I walked on trails, streets, highways, and swam across some river crossings.
Want to check out the journey? My team and I posted on Instagram every day of the trek! Take a look at my posts from the summer. Follow me at @Nina.GK
About the Film: We will create a 25 minute film that documents the journey and shows where East Bay water comes from. The film team came and found me on the walk at pivotal moments and recorded the journey. I also filmed myself everyday to document my surroundings, feelings and reflections.
Once the film is done, we will have public showings and bring the film into East Bay schools. It’s important for all people to know where their water comes from. And if people learn at an early age where their water comes from and how to care for it, we will have a next generation of eco-literate citizens who can help solve climate change. The most devastating effects of climate change - fires, floods, drought, sea level rise - are caused by not caring for the waters. It is imperative that the next generation learns to be water protectors, and that starts with learning where their water comes from.
High school is a very formative time - it’s the time when youth start to choose where to focus their professional interests. These students can be inspired to become policy makers, water law litigators, innovators, and more - to help change the water systems of California. Join us and support this journey!