Betsy Damon from Jo Tempest

Betsy Damon

I have come to realize that my blog is fast turning into where you can read about people who have left their mark on the world, one way or another. I hope you are enjoying reading about my finds as much as I am enjoying writing about them. I have a great one for you today.

Betsy Damon loves water and wants all of us to also love water! Well, if her projects are anything to go by, she has certainly succeeded. She came out of Columbia University with an MFA and knew where her heart lay.

In 1985, while making a paper cast of a dry stone riverbed in Castle Valley, Utah, she decided to devote the rest of her artistic life to water. In 1991, Betsy founded ‘The Keepers of the Waters‘ in Minnesota, USA with the aid of the Hubert Humphrey Institute.

She saw herself as an environmental art pioneer and wanted to create large scale art parks that featured sculptured flow forms of water. These parks would help to clean urban waterways and also raise awareness around the globe about water problems. 

Her non profit making organization ‘Keepers of the Water’ provides useful information and the technical support required for other groups who are working with similar design projects. 

Her best known project is probably ‘The Living Water Garden’ in the center of Chengdu in the Sichuan Province in China. With the help of landscape designer Margie Ruddick, the Chengdu Landscape Bureau and many Chinese artists and designers, it is truly beautiful. Completed in 1998, it won The Top Honor Award from the Waterfront Center in Washington, USA, and also an award from the Environmental Design and Research Association.


Living Water Garden, Chengdu, Sichuan

Living Water Garden, Chengdu, Sichuan

Chengdu was the first inner city ecological park in the world with water as its theme. The 5.9 acres of public park is located on the Fu and Nan Rivers, a really ancient river diversion system that was designed and constructed in 250BC.

It’s a fully functioning water treatment plant with some wonderful features. Polluted river water moves through an artistic and natural treatment system of filters, flow forms and ponds.

This makes the process of cleaning the water visible for everyone. Every day, 200 cubic meters of polluted water moves through the natural treatment system and emerges clean enough to drink. Obviously this small amount of water is not enough to affect the whole river quality but the idea is that it teaches and inspires people.

There are some wonderful features of sculpted black marble and cement flow form pools found throughout the park. They help the water purification by creating gentle rhythmic oscillation of the water currents as they pass from one pool to another. You will find a giant sculpture of a fish which in Chinese culture is the symbol of regeneration, along with a refuge for plants and wildlife.

Visitors can walk anywhere they want in the park and they love to see the many birds, butterflies and dragonflies that have made it their home. The forested areas are made up of over 100 different plant species, some of which are very rare. This part of the park represents the biodiversity on Mt Emei, a very sacred Buddhist Mountain that is located 160 kilometers outside of Chengdu.

A clever feature is that there are 2 places where steps have replaced the flood wall, giving visitors a way to reach the river. 

The park has become a living environmental education center and visitors love spending time there. In fact, since the Water Park was completed, it has become the most popular park in the city as well as being a huge national tourist attraction. They understand they are privileged to see the dead river water being brought back to life and watch it become cleaner and cleaner as they walk through the park.

There is a 5 year plan to rebuild Chengdu’s infrastructure so that it can support the growing population for the next 200 years! Isn’t that an amazing piece of forward thinking. 

Betsy has been involved in many other projects such as the Da Vinci Water Garden in 2003. This was a community

DaVinci Water Garden, Oregon

DaVinci Water Garden, Oregon

based collaboration between Urban Water Works and the Da Vinci Arts Middle School in Portland, Oregon, USA. 

You can find it located on an abandoned tennis court and it redirects the storm water from the roof tops and a parking lot through a beautiful artistic water garden. She has personally changed our views of how a water purification plant should look and we thank her. 

I will leave you with a few of her own words on how she describes her work.

I am a conceptual humanist artist who has dedicated my art and life to informing and awakening public consciousness to the need and memory of clean water. I seek to release the initiative in a community through community organizations, educational institutions and government agencies. The projects create a language and a vision of living water in the community.”

Thank you Betsy Damon for all you have done so far and all you will inspire others to do in the future with regards to cleaner water around the world. 


Jo Tempest.


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