ClearWater’s New Map and the Mad Genius Behind It

The central component of ClearWater’s recent website relaunch is the new, cutting-edge, interactive online map that displays the impact of oil drilling and industrialization on the once-pristine rainforest region of Ecuador’s northern Amazon. But in addition to the negative impact, the map allows the user to scroll around and zoom in to learn about the indigenous communities who are building a movement for clean water & cultural survival there, and even click to see where ClearWater has installed each and every new rainwater catchment system, along with stories about some of the local ClearWater technicians and coordinators working to support their families and extended communities.


This powerful tool was developed by our partners at Digital Democracy, an organization committed to empowering marginalized communities to use technology to defend their rights. Digital Democracy’s efforts are dedicated to helping their partners “achieve transformative change and works toward a world where all people can participate in decisions that govern their lives.”  A few days ago, influential tech & politics site TechPresident featured the map and interviewed Digital Democracy founder & director Emily Jacobi and program director Gregor Maclennan, the man who actually built the map. And Gregor Maclennan is the special kind of obsessive mad genius it takes to bring something like this map to life. Evidence? Gregor built most of the map while traveling between remote indigenous communities from Mexico to Peru, while providing training and hands-on support to indigenous people who are trying to map their territories and resources, and institute environmental monitoring systems to help them fight off threats to their lands, livelihoods, and cultures.


Most of the time, Gregor was far from electricity or wifi, though he did call in from a satellite phone a couple times, and sometimes sat up overnight in a remote Amazon village, writing lines of code for the map on his laptop plugged into the community’s one generator. While we prepared to relaunch the website, Gregor was completely offline for a while because he was traveling in remote parts of the northern Peruvian jungle, in Achuar Territory, an area he’s visited numerous times for his work with Amazon Watch, and before that a group he founded and ran for years called Shinai. To visit one remote Achuar community meant a round trip that included six days of canoe travel on the river and four days trekking through swamp forest. Gregor traveled there to help them map their ancestral claim to territory in which an exploratory oil well has been drilled. The government wants to start oil production here; the Achuar want to stop it. Read more on this from Gregor himself, over on Digital Democracy's blog. After that, mad map genius Gregor spent a few days in Lima so that he could have decent internet access to work on the ClearWater map, and traveled to Tarapoto where he led a workshop with indigenous Kichwa environmental monitors living along the Pastaza river, where 40 years of oil drilling has left devastation similar to that in Ecuador’s northern Amazon. Next he was in the jungle city of Iquitos for a week to help those monitors organize their data while continuing to work on the ClearWater map, and finally made it to Cusco in time to get online and finish up the map only hours before the website was due to go live. And of course, as soon it was up, Gregor disappeared once again, into southern Peru to attend a workshop in Atalaya on how Digital Democracy can help local groups who are working on forest monitoring. It’s too bad there isn’t a secret, hidden part of the online map that shows Gregor’s travels as he was building it!


Please go visit the ClearWater map, note the instructions overlaid on the map to help you navigate, and then explore. The map is designed to allow you to visit each of the five indigenous nationalities who are the beneficiaries and local leaders of ClearWater. You can see the different communities, and each of the hundreds of new rainwater catchment systems that provide clean, filtered water for thousands across the region. And throughout the map, and along the left side, you can read lots more about some of the people working tirelessly to help their communities, and the places that these communities are fighting to protect.