Water Blog

October 11, 2010
An Amazing Model for Clean Rivers and Sustainability by Lonnie Feather

This summer I had the privilege of accompanying Betsy on her work in China. We explored and experienced all walks of life – in Beijing we had lunch with Noam Chomsky and dinner with a developer and his business partners who were all anxious to hear about innovative, sustainable practices; in Chengdu we dined with Central Communist Party leaders, grass-roots organizers from the Chengdu Urban River Association, and farmers at the CURA model village site; and in Lhasa, Tibet, we picnicked on the edge of a river with our Tibetan friends not far from the headwater, next to the most beautiful fertile valley I’ve ever seen, and provided an incredible lunch from a local family. And, finally, we worked side by side with sculptors at a stone factory on a 14’ diameter granite image of a living water drop for a public art project in Carnation, Washington.

There are so many wonderful stories to share that I will limit my thoughts to our experience in Chengdu in Sichuan, China. For four years I’ve worked for Keepers of the Waters and have known Betsy for nearly twenty years and for all of that time I have been hearing about her travels in China and remember the very beginning, the very thought of the Living Water Garden in Chengdu. And, over the years, I’ve been creating newsletters, organizing photographs and reading wonderful descriptions and articles about the garden that was created 12 years ago. The surprise and pride I felt at finally seeing it in person was extraordinary. It is truly a revolutionary idea and to have it fleshed out for real in an urban setting in a major city in China is a feat of endurance, courage and utter belief in the reality of this vision. Thank you, Betsy.

The park itself is vital in the life of the city. People were everywhere. Children had their shoes off and were playing in the water with their bug-catching nets and water-shooting toys, parents were watching close by in the shade of a tree, musicians and singers gathering in groups to play and laugh and sing, and, as in typical Chinese parks, hundreds were playing cards on the seats of the amphitheatre that looked out over the river. Immediately next to a busy street, you had the feeling of an oasis, calm and soothing, green everywhere, and profound beauty. The flow forms were mesmerizing, watching the water flow and move, and listening to the intense hum of crickets in the overhang of trees mixed with the sounds of water splashing and cascading down the forms. The paths through the park were intimate and zen-like. I could commune with nature, with the water, and experience quiet moments to myself.

What I also noticed was that people really understood the intension of this place. First, it has garnered much attention in the media. Since it was copied in the Shanghai World Fair they were doing a TV story on the Living Water Garden and Model Village. As Betsy was seminal to both they were delighted to be able to film her. Secondly, the park has a natural flow with signs that hint at the process that’s happening -- that the water from the river is being cleaned and revitalized as it moves through the series of flow forms, cleaning ponds and the naturally landscaped creeks. This park truly is about the water. Simple and clear and beautiful.

Our next day was spent outside of Chengdu in an upriver village that has passionately grasped the concept of sustainability and environmental protection. (But first, we made a quick stop at a local elementary school that cleans and returns their grey water and waste to the nearby stream. I’m amazed!)

The Model Village as a project of Chengdu Urban River Association is directly the result of Betsy’s work and involvement. Her guidance and encouragement has made this a very successful experiment and an ongoing project that benefits the farmers, their families, the village and the region. I’ve heard about the Model Village but didn’t really understand the incredible impact that it has. What I saw during our visit was a river left to flow free without hardscaping, farming that used no pesticides or chemicals, and composting toilets that separated the urine from the solid and, combined with animal waste, created a source of bio-fuel that made electricity. It is designed to strengthen environmental awareness and water conservation in rural communities that are up-stream from Chengdu in the main watersheds that feed the city’s waterways and it aims to reduce chemical run-off into the rivers -- as well as improve livelihoods in those rural areas, by introducing organic agriculture, capacity building and other sustainable practices.

After a day in the midst of the program and sharing time with the families in the village, I fully understood that this is a project that really works, that the families are proud of their involvement and that they have support from the government and the agency that created it. Their gardens and farmland were beautiful and rich and full and their farm animals were healthy and thriving. And their faces were full of hope, life and happiness. What could be better?


July 14, 2018
Mother Earth Conference

June 19, 2018
Keepers Board

April 20, 2018
Betsy Presented at University of North Carolina

November 14, 2016
Betsy Speaks at the 10th INTECOL Wetlands Conference, Changshu China

February 28, 2016
Betsy at the UN: The Power of Collaboration

January 05, 2016
A Wall: Socially Engaged Art from Greater China

November 25, 2015
Water: Elemental, Mutable, Essential

November 20, 2015
Healing Power of Art

October 08, 2015
Documentation of Betsy Damon's talks in Logan Utah

August 20, 2015
Website for Living Waters of Larimer

July 20, 2015
ArtPlace Grant for Living Waters of Larimer

March 03, 2015
Living Water of Larimer Workshops

February 15, 2015

January 28, 2015
Press for Living Waters of Larimer

December 16, 2014
2015 Fundraiser - Original Prints from Betsy Damon

November 01, 2014
Betsy at the International Water Conference

August 18, 2014
The Keepers Board Convenes

June 01, 2014
Water, Water Everywhere

February 10, 2012
It's About Water

October 30, 2011
Living Water

September 28, 2011
Newsletter from China

April 28, 2011
Project 12x12

February 18, 2011
The Dream of a River

May 14, 2010
News from Betsy Damon and Keepers of the Waters – May 2010

December 30, 2009
Happy New Year (To Be Alive is to Have Water)

December 06, 2009
Composting toilet as a holiday gift?

August 13, 2009
reSources: Saving Living Systems (A report fromTibet/China)

June 30, 2009
reSources: Saving Living Systems (Hello Dear Friends)

June 02, 2009
"reSources: Saving Living Systems"

September 15, 2008
Update from China, September 15th

September 06, 2008
Great news from Keepers of the Waters and Betsy

August 19, 2008
Betsy Leaving For China

January 12, 2008
News and Projects

November 21, 2007
We Could Have Such a Beautiful World

December 18, 2006
Water - The Link in Our Life

June 24, 2006
Project Updates

May 23, 2006
Betsy in China

November 03, 2003
Water Exploratoriums in Oregon, Public Art in Beijing

August 30, 2003
Volunteer Opportunities in China

June 30, 2003
New Keepers of the Waters Online Network up!

June 30, 2003
Edwards Aquifer Park Design

June 30, 2003
Water and Art Exploratorium at elementary school

June 30, 2003
News from China