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Out of Africa, into Nevada County

John Hart
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

From Africa to Nevada County, working to save rivers and streams is right up Elizabeth Soderstrum’s alley.

Soderstrum helped Friends of Deer Creek get a $365,000 state grant for creek restoration.

She’s a Nevada County newcomer, having moved here a year ago after four years in Botswana.



Soderstrum and her husband, Steve Rothert, worked for the National Heritage Institute’s International Rivers program to try to preserve the pristine Okovango River, which flows through three countries in southern Africa – Angola, Namibia and Botswana – before finally emptying into the Kalahari Desert.

“It creates this green oasis in the middle of the desert,” Soderstrum said. “It’s just a … beautiful ecosystem. It’s one of the last, really big (undisturbed) ecosystems in the world.”




“You can drink the water out of the river. It’s amazingly pure.”

But pressures are starting to emerge on the river system, Soderstrum said.

Namibia “is one of the driest countries in the world” and is proposing to pipe irrigation water from the river. Likewise, Botswana is proposing an irrigation diversion.

Soderstrum’s group doesn’t want to prevent the countries from irrigating, she said.

Instead, the goal is to come up with a central set of scientific data the countries can share and depend on as they negotiate how to manage the river.

“Our focus is really on bringing the best science to bear to solve natural resources problems,” she said.

Some data already exists for the Okovango. For example, the English who colonized Botswana set up stations to monitor the river’s flow.

The African nations that share the Okovango River are relatively stable, Soderstrum said. “I have a lot of hope,” she said. “There’s a lot of political will, and people really listen to each other there.”

Botswana, for example, has no foreign debt, lots of money in reserve, and is Africa’s oldest democracy, Soderstrum said. Unfortunately, the country also has the world’s highest infection rate of HIV/AIDs, she said.

Soderstrum and her husband lived in a one-room, tin-roofed shack in a small village in Botswana but were able – to their surprise – to go to the store and buy items such as pre packaged, pre-washed salad in plastic bags.

“South Africa is just the bread basket of that region,” she said.

Lots of cattle are raised in Botswana. The country can’t afford feed lots, so the animals are all free-range, and “they’re just some of the best meat I’ve ever had,” Soderstrum said.

Soderstrum and Rothert moved to Nevada County because his parents live here and “we’d gotten used to living in a rural setting.”

The couple works full-time. But they’ve spent weekends and off hours building their new home: a roughly 400-square-foot cabin on property they bought on Deer Creek.

The couple’s proximity to the creek is one reason Soderstrum helped Friends of Deer Creek write its grant request.


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