Over the course of nearly two months, field producer Pete Stegen and conservation photographer Mike Forsberg traveled 1,000 miles across the Platte Basin to call attention to the question: “Where does our water come from?” The two chronicled the journey for use in an upcoming documentary. NET News spoke with Forsberg about the trip and his work.
NET NEWS: Mike, obviously this is a large undertaking. What prompted you and Pete to do this and how did you set things in motion?
MICHAEL FORSBERG: We decided to do this trip and do it slowly so we could take the time to get to know this place in a way that I had never done before even though I've worked in this basin most of my life. Pete's lived in Nebraska quite a while and worked on this project. We both needed to connect the dots. So we decided to do it by non-motorized - mostly by bike, backpack, and canoe. You can only plan something like that something so much (laughs). I figured it would take about two months if everything went decent, everybody stayed healthy, and nothing else happened in our lives. I'll be darned if we didn't do it. It was just an amazing trip.
NET NEWS: You’ve said that you went into this with the goal to answer the question of 'Where does our water come from?' What do you mean?
MICHAEL FORSBERG: We don't think a lot about where our water comes from. If we live here in Lincoln, Nebraska- where we are today - turn on the tap and it's good enough that it comes out. But where does that water come from? What's its story? Water's that one thing that intersects every one of our lives intimately, and all life here on this planet. And we have to know its story because it's not an unlimited resource. When you turn on the tap and you live in the Platte Basin that water comes from three sources. It comes from snowpack in the Rockies in Colorado and Wyoming. It comes from the Ogallala Aquifer - the holy grail of the high plains, that vast reservoir of water that's underneath our feet - and then it comes from our weather and climate. We need each of those sources in order to be able to not just survive here, but to thrive here. There is probably not a more important issue or topic of our time in the twenty-first century as water. It is our economy. It is our ecology. And in the Platte that is our lifeline.
NET NEWS: You’ve spent your life as a wildlife photographer, how much of that has also coincided with raising awareness of environmental issues, be it in this situation with water shortages, or climate change?
MICHAEL FORSBERG: I've been working as a photographer for about twenty-five years now, full time. And what I am today is a conservation photographer which is now actually a word, it's actually a phrase, it's actually a thing. What that is, is not just showing people pretty pictures but it's taking an honest look at where we're at in the environment today - that intersection between nature and humans and wildlife and people. We all live on the skin of the earth together and land health is the baseline for all of life… A good photograph can tell a great story. If there's one thing that's inherently human, it’s that we tell stories and we love stories. The goal here is to try to tell the stories of water and the stories that matter in our lives.
NET NEWS: So last Wednesday, you and Pete pull up to the confluence of the Platte and the Missouri rivers, and you end this two-month, 1,000-mile journey. What’s going through your head at that point? Did you feel like you accomplished what you set out to do?
MICHAEL FORSBERG: (Laughs) There was a great sense of accomplishment but there was also almost this - I don't want to say fear - but apprehension of saying "OK, now what?" One of the first questions that we were asked is, has this journey changed you in some meaningful way? I know for certain that for me it has. I just can't tell you what that is yet. It's going to take some time to settle in. But what I do know is that being able to take that trip was a very personal journey. It was very intimate. You only moved as fast or as slow as nature allowed you to move.
By way of full disclosure, Forsberg and Stegen are employees of the Platte Basin Timelapse project which shares a partnership with NET Television.