Political Cartoonists Face Off in Drawing Duel

Updated Sept. 5: Stantis and Rogers joined the throngs of journalists that left Tampa and went on to Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention. We caught up with them again and talked about how their friendship and opposing political views affect their political satire of the conventions. And for the sake of parity, we challenged them to another drawing duel. The challenge this time: juxtapose the GOP and the Democratic events.

Click on thumbnail images to see the finished cartoons from the DNC duel:

Original Story

Newspaper editorial cartoonists Rob Rogers and Scott Stantis spent a lot of time on what was supposed to be the first day of the Republican National Convention drawing themselves and each other.

There wasn’t much fodder yet at the RNC, which was delayed a day due to the encroaching Hurricane Isaac. Most delegates who were in town were out celebrating and fundraising at invitation-only parties.

So Rogers and Stantis, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Tribune, respectively, allowed us to engage them in a “draw off.” We gave them a general topic: the spectacle of the convention in Tampa, where more than 10,000 media descended to cover a highly choreographed three-night political television event.

The friends, part of a cohort of about 40 full-time editorial cartoonists working in the United States, have expanded their craft from traditional newsprint to blogs and social media over the past few years.

Stantis frequently appears on talk radio — at one point he hosted a drive-time show — and regularly runs caption contests. Rogers plans to produce a documentary film from his trip to the conventions, which he funded through a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo.

They also happen to sit on opposite sides of the spectrum — Rogers a liberal and Stantis a conservative. They function for their hometowns and in national politics as visual columnists, who can analyze and opine about politics as well as traditional writers.

At one point in our conversation, they talked about the importance of GOP presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney demonstrating his appeal this week — Stantis calling it one of the most essential conventions of any campaign.

Their tactics include working with metaphors, embracing exaggeration, and finding a great pun. Sometimes slightly off-color topics find their way in, too.

We’ll plan to host a second draw-off during the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, N.C.

A Sour Season for Michigan’s Cherry Farmers

A Sour Season for Michigan's Cherry Farmers | PBS NewsHour | Aug. 16, 2012 | PBSThis report aired on the PBS NewsHour with a multimedia build out online as part of the Coping with Climate Change series. See the full report here.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. | Every summer, thousands flock to the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan for all things cherry: pit spitting, pie eating, even the royal crowning of the National Cherry Queen. The region produces roughly 75 percent of the country’s tart cherry crop each year for pies, juice, and preserves.

In 1995, Sara McGuire was reigning royalty of the cherry festival. That same year, she and her high school sweetheart, Pat, got engaged and started growing cherries. For the first few years, business was strong, but then a series of low-yield years set them back. Still nothing could have prepared Royal Farms for 2012.

2012 has been the worst year in recorded history for Michigan fruit. Statewide, more than 90 percent of the tart cherry crop was lost when freezing weather followed an unusually warm spring.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker, Camera: Michael Werner and Saskia de Melker Editor: Saskia de Melker

“It’s been a real challenge emotionally and physically,” said Pat McGuire. “We have no crop. We’ve had to lay people off. We’ve had to work extra hours. We did everything we could in the spring to minimize the effects of the freezes that we did have. We felt like we just lost a fight.”

Northwestern Michigan is considered by many an ideal place for growing fruit. Located on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the surrounding Great Lakes and rolling hills help create a temperate climate.

But as Pat walks through his orchards now, they are a haunting green. This year, nature harvested the trees.

Cherry trees remain dormant throughout winter until a spring warming wakes them up. That happened much earlier this year. Temperatures in March shattered records across the country, reaching the mid-80’s in Michigan that month – that’s nearly 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the state average. That pushed the trees to a development stage about 5.5 weeks ahead of normal, Nugent said.

And when temperatures dropped again, the trees’ early buds were vulnerable. From late March through May, there were 15 to 20 nights in which temperatures fell below freezing. Farmers tried using wind fans to keep warm air circulating around the fruit trees, but it was little help.

The cold snaps killed not only cherries, but also juice grapes, peaches, and apples. Losses across the state are estimated at $210 million.

Don Gregory is co-owner of Cherry Bay Orchards, the largest producer of tart cherries in the country. Usually, he grows an average of 10 to 15 million pounds of cherries a year. This season, that’s down to one hundred thousand pounds.

“It would be like somebody telling you, ‘Hey, you’re not going to get a paycheck for sixteen months. Now we expect you to come to work every day, we expect you to pay all of your bills, and we’ll get back to a normal paycheck in about sixteen months.’” said Gregory.

For most farmers, harvesting equipment was mothballed through the season. Many called up their seasonal workers to tell them there would be no work this season. Processors were forced to shut down operation lines, and producers imported cherries from as far away as Poland to meet demands.

This isn’t the first time Michigan experienced such a devastating season. A similar extremely early spring followed by frost events occurred in 2002.

“We thought that was really a statistical outlier, and 10 years later we have a very similar situation,” said Jim Nugent. “It’s really disconcerting when we have two once-in-a-lifetime events within an 11-year period.”

And while these years were particularly extreme, the trend gives state climatologist Jeff Andresen cause for concern.

We know from our climate records that our seasonal warm-up is beginning an average of a week and a half earlier than it did just 30 years ago.” Andresen said. “We also have very, very strong evidence that the number of freeze events following the beginning of development for these tree fruit crops has increased. So there’s a longer time frame where that crop is vulnerable to those spring freezes than used to be the case 30, 40, 50 years ago.”

That translates to more risk overall for the cherry grower and for the industry, he adds. Michigan scientists are now working with the fruit industry and international researchers to investigate how climate change will further affect the global cherry industry.

“If climate is changing, how are we going to address this and how are we going to give growers those tools that they need?” said Nikki Rothwell, horticulturist at the Michigan State University Horticultural Research Center, “For example is there a cherry out there through breeding that blooms later and is less susceptible to these frost situations?”

Despite these risks, protection for the industry is almost nonexistent. As a specialty crop, there is no insurance for tart cherries. Low-interest state loans are being offered to farmers as compensation for the disastrous crop loss this season, but that offers growers minimal relief.

To make matters worse, the damage may extend beyond this year. The frosts left fruit trees vulnerable to diseases like bacterial canker which invades the tissue and can permanently damage trees. Plus, the farmers are left with all of the costs of maintaining their orchards, but none of their revenue.

The McGuires are trying to stay positive and focusing on selling cherry products from past seasons to get through this one. “We try to constantly think creatively about how we can do things differently to reduce costs. That’s been our strategy since we got started, but this year it’s become more important,” Sara said.

Pat admits that they haven’t ruled out putting the ‘Out of Business’ sign on the door. They knew when they started that farming was a risky business, but the odds of crop loss feel stacked against them now, he said.

What if we don’t have fruit next year?“ Pat said. “How do you plan for that?”

It is a sour thought in the minds of many farmers.

Swinomish Tribe Adapts to Shrinking Salmon Supply

Northwest 'Salmon People' Face Future Without Fish | PBS NewsHour | July 18, 2012 | PBS

This report aired on the PBS NewsHour broadcast  on July 18, 2012 with a multimedia build-out online as part of the Coping with Climate Change series. See the full report here.

LACONNER, WA | Billy Frank, Jr. was 14 the first time he was arrested for fishing.

It was 1945, and he was on the Nisqually River in Washington state. Frank and other members of Washington’s Nisqually tribe were holding “fish-ins” as part of a civil disobedience campaign, protesting the violation of fishing rights guaranteed to them by treaties between the federal government and Washington tribes. Commercial fishermen were catching salmon by the millions of tons while the state attempted to limit Native American fishing.

In the decades that followed, Frank would be jailed more than 50 times.

The battle eventually lead to Judge George Boldt’s historic 1974 ruling, which reaffirmed the rights of tribal members to fish, hunt and harvest shellfish on their native land and allocated half of the state’s annual catch to tribes.

 Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker and Katie Campbell, Camera: Michael Werner and Katie Campbell Editor: Saskia de Melker, Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

That landmark decision ensured that Native Americans in Washington state would be allowed to harvest salmon for generations to come. But overfishing, loss of habitat and hydro-electric dams have depleted salmon populations throughout the Northwest. Five populations of Pacific salmon have been listed as endangered and 23 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Today, Pacific salmon are facing yet another threat, which Frank fears could drive them to the brink of extinction. Salmon need the glacier-fed streams of the Northwest to survive, but since 1920, the average annual temperature in the region has risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That slight increase in temperature has caused the glaciers of the South Cascades to shrink to half what they were a century ago, according to the United States Geological Survey.

South Cascade Glacier images courtesy of USGS. Time lapse video by Travis Daub.

Alan Hamlet, a hydrologist with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, said that glacier loss is devastating the salmon habitat.

“Glaciers are a kind of water tower, a way of storing water under natural conditions, and when we lose that water tower, then the flows in the summer go down,” Hamlet said.

Glaciers also keep rivers consistently cool throughout the year. Without them, stream temperatures climb. Temperatures that rise above 70 degrees are lethal to adult salmon. And researchers at University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group project that by 2080, nearly half of the streams they monitor throughout the state will average weekly temperatures of at least 70 degrees.

Salmon habitat spans a wide range of freshwater, estuarine and marine environments, leaving them susceptible to changes in temperature, sea level and the water cycle throughout their lives.

Rising water temperatures don’t bode well for Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, who call themselves “Salmon People.”

“Our economy was built around salmon,” said Frank, who is now chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “We’re trying to bring them back, to make that economy come to life within our tribes.”

Just as Washington tribes fought to defend their fishing rights in the years leading up to the Boldt decision, they are once again fighting to protect the natural resources so integral to their way of life.

The Swinomish reservation occupies 15 square miles of the Fidalgo Island in Puget Sound near the mouth of the Skagit River, a waterway fed by nearly 400 glaciers and one of the last remaining homes to all five species of Pacific salmon.

Fifteen percent of the reservation is at or just slightly above sea level, including environmentally-sensitive shoreline areas, where they’ve harvested shellfish for centuries. University of Washington climate scientists estimate that this area could see up to a meter of sea level rise over the next century.

Like many tribal communities, the Swinomish can’t just pick up and move out of harm’s way. Relocating is antithetical to who they are, said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

“We are a place-based society,” he said. “This is our homeland. The Swinomish have lived here for 10,000 years. We don’t go anywhere — ever.”

The Swinomish are not alone in this struggle. A recent report from the National Wildlife Federation has found that indigenous populations suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change because tribal lands are especially prone to drought, flooding, wildfires and coastal erosion.

After watching other tribes lose their homelands and traditional food sources, Cladoosby says, “We realized that something was happening in the environment. We didn’t want to get into the debate of what is causing it. We’re just trying to figure out how to prepare. We started asking the questions: What’s going on here? Are we next?”

Under Cladoosby’s leadership, the Swinomish have become the first tribe in the country to assemble a panel of scientists – the Skagit Climate Science Consortium – and conduct a comprehensive climate adaptation plan.

Among the group’s goals: strong science that focuses directly on the communities at risk and that can be used for future tribal planning. And they have more than just science to offer, they say. There’s also the ecological knowledge that comes from having lived in the region for thousands of years.

Read our related story Climate Change Threatens the ‘Twilight’ Tribe

“Traditional knowledge is on-the-ground stuff,” said Ray Harris, a fisherman with the Chemainus First Nation on Vancouver Island. “From observing and testing and catching and eating, we know how the state of the resource is. We put it on the table and feed our people.”

Larry Wasserman, the tribe’s environmental policy manager expects the consortium to become a model for local policymakers who want to prepare for climate change but don’t know how.

“Much of [climate] science is being done at a regional scale or a global scale,” Wasserman said. “So it doesn’t become usable to local communities. That’s where it needs to start.”

When Native American communities think about the future, they’re not just considering the next generation, they’re considering the next seven generations, Harris said. And they believe that very long-term perspective makes them uniquely qualified to cope with climate change.

“Seven generations ahead, that’s about the right time scale for sea level rise planning,” Hamlet said.

And for Billy Frank, Jr., it’s about ensuring that his great great grandchildren also have the right to fish in Washington’s rivers.

“We’re running out of time,” Frank said. “We’ve got to make a change.”

Frank will join hundreds of other Native Americans in Washington D.C. this week for a symposium at the Museum of the American Indian with policymakers, government officials, and scientists to discuss how tribes can prepare for climate change.

For more reporting on climate and environment in the Pacific Northwest, go to EarthFix, a project of KCTS9.

Twilight Tribe Threatened by Climate Change

Climate Change Threatens The Tribe From 'Twilight' | PBS NewsHour | July 16, 2012 | PBSThis report aired on the PBS NewsHour with a multimedia online build out as part of the Coping with Climate Change series. See the full report here.

LA PUSH, WA | With its craggy rocks rising from the sea, frequent whale sightings and white sand beaches, the Washington state community of La Push, located just west of Olympic National Park, is at first glance, idyllic.

But the beauty of the place is matched by the danger. Located at sea level, La Push lies directly in a flood and tsunami zone. It is home to the Quileute Indian Nation, a tiny tribe that gained popularity for their portrayal in the hit book and movie series “Twilight,” and their square-mile reservation leaves little land to buffer storms and high waters.

For centuries, the Quileute tribe has relied on the area’s ocean and rivers. Native fishermen and hunters once escaped dangerous weather along territory that stretched across the Olympic Peninsula. But that’s no longer an option. In 1855, the tribe signed a treaty ceding thousands of square miles of land in exchange for fishing and hunting rights. Now, restricted to their small coastal plot, they are facing increasing risks.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker and Katie Campbell, Camera: Michael Werner, Katie Campbell, Saskia de Melker Editor: Saskia de Melker, Narrator: Hari Sreenivasan

University of Washington researchers say that rising temperatures have resulted in reduced snowpack and diminishing glaciers, but also more winter rainfall. Heavy rains have already destroyed vital hunting grounds and homes on the reservation.

“I see water running down the street in the wintertime,” said Lonnie Foster, treasurer of the tribal council, adding that floods come on faster now than when he was a child. “Back then it would take two to three days before [the tides] would come up to the flood level. But now, when it rains hard, it comes up overnight.”

In the nearby Olympic Mountains, glaciers have lost about one third of their mass in the past 30 years, and the resulting ice melt has led to sea level rise. For tribal elders like Chris Morganroth, that means one thing: tsunami danger.

“Because of the water rising and the ocean, a wave that’s created by that tsunami is probably going to reach farther into the rivers,” Morganroth said. “If it happened a hundred years ago, it was probably not as devastating as it might be today.”

Photo Essay: Explore images from the NewsHour’s reporting trip to Washington state tribes.

The Quileute are already preparing for the worst.

To ensure the survival of their tribe, the Quileute have been entrenched in a 50-year effort to reclaim part of the land that they ceded – most of it on high ground that could keep them safe, while at the same time providing land for tribal members who now live off the reservation. Complicating the struggle was the fact that the land was designated federal government land, part of Olympic National Park

Quileute tribal chairman Tony Foster said there’s irony in fighting so long and hard for land that was theirs to begin with. “If I could rewrite history, we would have had more land base for our community, so we wouldn’t have the struggle that we face today,” he said.

Several Washington Congressmen have taken up the cause including representative Norm Dicks who sponsored the bill.

But there’s also been another, unexpected twist to the tale: Twilight’s Jacob, a shapeshifting werewolf, belongs to the Quileute tribe. In the story, his clan has an ancient treaty with a family of vampires.

While Quileute members have somewhat mixed reactions to their tribe’s role in the hit series, they’re often quick to acknowledge that stardom has helped galvanize their cause.

“It’s brought us a lot of national attention,” said Ann Penn Charles, a tribal member, “You got all these Facebook pages and then, of course you got the media coming out, doing coverage of us, and they got to see that little glimpse of our reservation. It helped us a lot to push Congress.”

That push finally paid off. In February of this year, Congress passed bill HR 1162 that transfers 785 acres of Olympic National Park back to the tribe.

“The National Park Service doesn’t transfer park lands casually, and it doesn’t happen often,” says Karen Gustin, former superintendent of Olympic National Park who worked to resolve the boundary dispute between the tribe and the park. “The reason this is going through is because it’s a serious life, health, and safety issue for the tribe.” She adds that the park service will also gain something from yielding the land: public access to several of the landmark beaches located on the tribe’s reservation and a large portion of land that the tribe will preserve as wilderness.

The process is still in the early stages. Planning meetings within the tribe and also with key federal agencies began last month and it will likely take years before they are able to fully relocate. Plus, there’s another challenge to overcome: the cost. Full relocation from planning to resettlement is estimated to cost about 25 million dollars. How to pay those costs is still uncertain. Both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Quileute council said possible avenues for funding could include theáIndian Health Service, áthe Bureau of Indian Affairs or Housing and Urban Development programs, such as Indian Community Development Block Grants.

Despite the challenges, many Quileute say they feel a great sense of victory, hope and relief that the relocation is moving forward.

“Moving to higher ground is essential for us.” Foster said, “because if this place gets wiped out, the Quileutes could be lost forever.”

How do you Recognize a Refugee in Lebanon?

Listen to their stories.

Scattered throughout the country, people are settling wherever they can. They often are living among Lebanese families, many of them poor themselves, and are at the mercy of local municipalities to welcome them into their communities. With rents very high, families cram as many people as possible into small spaces. They build tents out of found materials and donated plastic and turn dilapidated buildings into makeshift shelters. Even those who were not poor in Syria now find that the money that would buy them food for a week back home barely lasts a day in more expensive Lebanon.

Here are just a few among the hundreds of thousands across Lebanon.

Floating Architecture: Finding Ways to Live With Rising Water

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on May 29, 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.

There is a saying that “God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.” And for centuries, the Dutch have built different types of barriers to hold back rising water and allow for development.

But as sea levels continue to rise, instead of trying to fight the water, Dutch architects and urban planners are taking a new approach: finding ways to live with it.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007 that global sea levels rose an average of nearly 8 inches in the past 100 years and predicted that rate will accelerate in this century. Higher water makes for more severe storm surges, floods and land loss. With many of the world’s largest cities located on coastal estuaries, high and dry urban land will become an increasingly rare commodity.

Cue a renewed look at floating architecture.

“In the last decade, floating architecture changed from a fringe niche market into a realistic opportunity for expanding the urban fabric beyond the waterfront,” said Koen Olthuis, lead architect at Waterstudio.NL, an aqua-architectural firm in the Netherlands. For Olthuis, creating floating buildings goes beyond architecture and is about a new vision for city planning.

Rather than putting entire cities on water, most of the proposals today combine water-based buildings with land-based architecture protected against water using flotation fixtures, raised platforms or anchored structures. That kind of flexible, integrated approach is crucial for the future, said Olthuis.

“Instead of buildings that are not able to cope with the changing needs of a city, urban planners will start creating floating dynamic developments that can react to new and unforeseen changes.”

And there’s a range of designs out there, including a float-in movie theater in Thailand and a massive Sea Tree, which uses the model of oil storage towers found on open seas to provide habitat for animals.

One of the most ambitious projects under development is in the Maldives, where Waterstudio.NL was tasked by the Maldives government to design a network of floating islands, including the Greenstar hotel that will feature 800 rooms, a conference center and a golf course. The $500 million project is set for completion by 2015.

Other projects in the works include Baca Architects’ amphibious house destined for the Thames River in Great Britain. During dry times, the home would rest on a fixed foundation but could rise up to 8 feet if flooding occurred.

As the industry expands, Olthuis said the biggest challenge isn’t technology but changing the public’s perception of living on water. To help encourage the transition, designers often make the structures look and feel just like those on land.

“We want to diffuse the border between land and water,” said Olthuis. “That is the first step in the general acceptance of floating cities.”

On the NewsHour this week, we’ll be looking at the impact of rising sea levels on Louisiana’s coast as part of our Coping with Climate Change series.

See our Report on Louisiana

Fishermen Pioneering

Floating Architecture

Native Lands Wash Away as Sea Levels Rise

Native Lands Wash Away as Sea Levels Rise | PBS NewsHour | June 1, 2012 | PBS smaller
See the full report at PBS NewsHour

Home for generations to small bands of the Houma and Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribes in coastal Louisiana, this island is among the most vulnerable place in America to the effects of climate change. It is on the frontlines of severe coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion and intensifying hurricanes and floods. In the 1950s there were an estimated 1,500 families on the island – now only 25 remain. The loss of the   people and the land weighs heavy on the community.

“We’re not going to have anything for our children to see, you know, if it keeps on washing away, if they don’t try to stop it some kind of way.” said Theresa Dardar of the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe “So, they will never see what we saw.”

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker Camera: Fritz Faeber and Saskia de Melker Editor: Saskia de Melker Correspondent: Hari Sreenivasan

Zach Condon Takes Beirut on a Journey Home

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker
Camera: Saskia de Melker, Tom LeGro, Annie Strother
Editor: Saskia de Melker

Zach Condon can tell you the exact moment he first discovered Balkan folk music.

“I used to work in a movie theater in Santa Fe that would play a lot of foreign films [and] there was a festival of Balkan films. I remember just making popcorn at the time, but I remember hearing the music of ‘Black Cat, White Cat’ [by] Emir Kusturica. My jaw just kind of hit the floor when I heard the sound of the brass coming out of the theater,” he says. “I just couldn’t believe that someone had taken it to that level of excitement and melancholy all mashed into one. And so I knew I had to find out what it was and how to do it.”

By age 16 he had dropped out of school and set off for Eastern Europe in search of that sound. When he returned home to New Mexico, Condon hunkered down in his bedroom to record his debut hit album, “The Gulag Orkestar.” He assembled a band of musicians under the name Beirut (which stems from Condon’s fascination with city names rather than any particular significance of the Lebanese capital) and has been wandering the world blending musical influences, especially from Eastern and Western Europe.

Condon insists that his nomadic lifestyle hasn’t dictated his music, but that his musical inspiration comes from his fantastical imagination. Yet most of Beirut’s albums have followed Condon’s travels in tandem and center heavily around foreign musical traditions, from “The Flying Club Cup’s” French chanson to an homage to Oaxaca, Mexico, in “March of the Zapotec.”

On his latest album, however, “The Rip Tide,” Condon breaks his wanderlust streak and brings the sound of Beirut home.

Condon says the album is much more personal and retrospective, as he, now 25, finds himself settling down and looking back at his past. Several of the album tracks, including “East Harlem” were based on melodies that he developed as a teenager growing up in New Mexico.

Condon wrote all the tracks for “The Rip Tide” in a farmhouse in upstate New York one winter. There are still the big brass rifts and ukulele solos that fans will recognize, but there’s also greater simplicity to the writing and arrangements.

“In a sense I was just trying to distill the sound that’s always been there with Beirut throughout the albums,” says Condon. “Despite the logical jumping around from locales and ideas, there was always something in the middle that carried it through, that kept people interested beyond a novelty. I was really trying to dig into that with this album.”

In Drought-Stricken Texas, Hunt for Water Heads Deeper Underground

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on March 20, 2012 as part of the Coping with Climate Change series.


DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas | Lately, the Central Texas company Bee Cave Drilling has been flooded with calls sharing a common complaint: wells have stopped pumping water.

A year of severe drought has taken its toll on the estimated 1 million water wells that stretch across Texas. The water table is depleted, and many of the wells are too shallow. And that means a lot of work for well drillers and pump installers like Charles Barnard. He was working yet another Saturday when we met him.

There are nine major and 21 minor aquifers percolating underneath Texas. According to the Texas Water Development Board, these reservoirs provide 60 percent of the 16.1 million acre-feet of water used in the state. (An acre-foot is the amount of water covering 1 acre of land to a depth of 1 foot – that’s enough water to flood a football field.) And these aquifers depend entirely on rainfall for replenishment.

Click the map to see the major aquifers of Texas

Map of Major Texas Aquifers

Map from Texas Water Development Board

The drought’s damage to the state’s underground water reservoirs has been severe. Groundwater maps produced by NASA show unusually low storage levels in Texas, with Central Texas aquifers hit particularly hard. According to NASA and the National Drought Mitigation Center, it could take months or longer to recharge these aquifers, and that’s only if Texas has a period of sustained and significant rainfall.

While last week’s rain brought some relief to the parched aquifers, the long-term outlook is less optimistic. Climate models project that rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall could mean continued drought in the future for Texas, according to state climatologist John Neilson-Gammon.

And for Barnard’s customers, tapping water from a dry well means drilling deeper. The wells average about 600 feet, but can range anywhere between 60 feet to 1,260 feet depending on location. There are approximately 200 feet between zones in aquifers underground — that’s how much farther drillers have to go on average to hit water in an aquifer when the zone above is dry. But Barnard says there are no guarantees, especially in a drought.

“We tell customers everyday, we can only give you what Mother Nature provides. If she’s not providing it, then we can’t give it to you.” Barnard said.

He’s also getting more calls from those who want brand new private wells. In Texas, groundwater is considered private property of the landowner, and many want to tap into the water deep beneath their land in order to avoid the water restrictions on public systems in times of drought. “A lot of people want to have their own supply of water to keep on watering their lawns and gardens,” Barnard said.

It might not be long before that right to groundwater is curtailed. In West Texas, farmers who rely on groundwater are now fighting new regulations that limit the amount of water they can pump from the Ogallala Aquifer.

For now, homeowners that want Bee Cave Drilling to dig them a private well will have to wait their turn: the company currently has a five-month waiting list for new drills. And as spring and summer loom on the horizon with little water in reserve, Barnard could be working a lot more weekends.

“If we get another summer like last summer, we’re going to be in trouble,” Barnard said, “and there’s going to be a lot of people who are really going to freak out when they wake up one morning, and they turn on their faucet, and they’ve run out of water.”

‘The History of American Graffiti’: From Subway to Gallery

This story was published on PBS NewsHour’s ArtBeat blog on March 31, 2011.


Since its explosion onto city walls and subway cars in the 1970s, the increasing popularity of graffiti as an art form has won commercial success for its artists and a regular presence in pop culture and the contemporary art world.

A new book, ‘The History of American Graffiti,’ comprehensively documents the evolution of this often controversial art movement across the United States. As kids, authors Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon tagged city walls. Today, Gastman is a gatekeeper between the underground artists who work on the street and the mainstream world of galleries; Neelon, a Harvard grad, is a graffiti artist and educator.

For “The History of American Graffiti,” they tracked down thousands of photographs, from freight trains to city streets, and conducted hundreds of interviews with graffiti artists, ranging from pioneers to the biggest stars.

Young people were the key players in shaping the contemporary graffiti movement, says Neelon. The first modern graffiti writer is widely considered to be Cornbread, a high school student from Philadelphia, who in 1967 started tagging city walls to get the attention of a girl. But it was only in the 1980s that galleries began to showcase graffiti as artwork.

Today, auctioneers and collectors shell out thousands of dollars for graffiti-style pieces. British street artist Banksy’s documentary, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ (on which Gastman was a consulting producer) was nominated for an Oscar this year. And before Marc Ecko and Shepard Fairey were household names designing clothes or Obama campaign posters, they were (and still are sometime) street artists.

But graffiti is, by definition, a defiant and public exhibition. Gastman contends that there’s an earned respect and craft to graffiti work done outside in the streets. There’s also an intrinsic subversion and vanity to an art form that defines itself by writing one’s
0331_WildStyle.jpgname over and over again on property, which doesn’t translate when it moves into a more sterile setting like a gallery.

Neelon says, however, that artists who master the craft of painting on the street can create perhaps even greater work in studio settings, where they have more time, resources and don’t have to worry about the weather (or the police). What they might lose is the volume of people who see their work on a daily basis.

Bringing graffiti from the street into the museum venue isn’t easy, Gastman says, but he’s developed a niche for doing just that. Opening on April 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gastman is a curator of “Art in the Streets”, the largest American museum exhibition of graffiti and street art.” The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 8, will showcase installations by 50 graffiti and street artists.
Above photo: ‘Wild Style mural by Zephyr, Revolt, Sharp’, 1983; front: Doze, Frosty Freeze, Ken Swift; secord row: Patti Astor, Fred Brathwaite, Lady Pink; back: Lil Crazy Legs, Revolt and Sharp, directed by Charlie Ahearn, photo by Martha Cooper