Smithsonian water exhibit traveling through Idaho

Cait Stewart watches her 6-year-old son, Constantine, as he checks the answer on a display June 9 about the amount of water required to produce various products commodities. The display is part of a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit now at the Idaho Falls Public Library focused on the importance of water.

IDAHO FALLS — Idaho Humanities Council Director Rick Ardinger believes the latest Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit to grace the state is especially timely, given the Legislature’s recent commitments to maintaining a stable water supply.

The free exhibit, which opened May 28 at the Idaho Falls Public Library, where it will remain until July 10, offers a multi-faceted look into the importance of water. Displays arrived at the library in 20 large crates — covering topics such as water’s spiritual, social and cultural significance, ocean life, harnessing water’s power to make energy, how water shapes the landscape, how modern agriculture puts water to use and the importance of protecting the critical, finite resource.

The exhibit will be displayed in six Idaho cities, moving to the Sun Valley Museum of History in Ketchum from July 16 through Aug. 28, to the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello from Sept. 3 through Oct. 16, to the Nampa Public Library from Oct. 22 through Dec. 4, to the Latah County Historical Society in Moscow from Dec. 10 through Jan. 22 and to the Burley Public Library from Jan. 28 through March 12.

The Idaho Legislature recently committed several million dollars toward efforts to reverse declining groundwater levels, and the state is in the midst of developing a sustainability plan to govern its water decisions.

Ardinger believes the exhibit will help visitors develop “informed opinions about where their water comes from and what use it should be put to.”

Ardinger said the council, a nonprofit organization supported by donations and an annual grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, books a traveling exhibit through the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program nearly every year. The council will spend roughly $50,000 for the rights to the exhibit, and to ship it to each city.

“We’re one of the first states to get this exhibit on water,” Ardinger said.

According to water trivia included in the display, it takes nearly 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. Furthermore, a 2010 survey found more than 40 percent of fresh water in the U.S. was used for thermoelectric generation, mostly driving steam-powered turbines for creating electricity. Another 38 percent of fresh water withdrawals were used for irrigation. And fresh water comprises just 3 percent of the 327 quintillion gallons of water on the Earth.

The display also offers quotations from deep thinkers, such as President John F. Kennedy’s belief, “Anyone who can solve the problems of water will be worthy of two Nobel prizes — one for peace and one for science.”

Speakers will be invited to each location to discuss a water-related topic in conjunction with the exhibit. Rexburg water rights attorney Jerry Rigby is among the scheduled speakers at the Idaho Falls Public Library.

During his June 29 talk, Rigby said he’ll discuss the monumental Snake River Adjudication Process, which was the nation’s largest effort to catalog water rights, as well as “the significant rulings of the courts through the 27 plus years of the SRBA, which guided decisions and eventual decrees resulting from the SRBA.”

Each Idaho exhibitor will provide local water-related content, such as water’s role in the formation of the state and the history of its canal systems.

Idaho Falls has included newspaper clippings on the 40th anniversary of the breaching of the Teton Dam. Library official Liza Evans said one exhibit visitor recognized her father, rancher L.W. Ball, in a photograph from the Teton Dam clippings.

“He stood up on Annis Butte watching his grandfather’s homestead wash away,” Evans said. “She told me all about how he was watching his grandfather’s life work wash away.”

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