HIDDEN WATERS :: DESERT SPRINGS

 

Water is the first act of creation, swirling in a language before words, mysterious and beautiful emerging from underground springs creating marshes, ponds, rivers and lakes.

Hidden under our feet, some aquifers are vast, very deep pools of million year old water. Others are younger, shallower, and able to be recharged by rain and snow. They are earth's time keepers from deep to recent time. Spring ecosystems reveal the conditions of their source. Since the beginning of human existence, springs have been key to our survival and revered as such by all cultures as a symbol of beginnings, hope and rebirth.

While holding the secret for our ability to live in the desert, they are mostly unnoticed or disregarded. Most commonly they are overused resulting in their loss. Yet preservation efforts are negligible at best. Springs are an emblem of why we need to think more long term, past our immediate needs and comparatively short lives. The potential for running out of water is real.

This project began on a springs inventory field trip with a group of biology students led by Larry Stevens, the director of the Springs Stewardship Institute. He showed me a world teeming with life within a trickle of water—a single spring that held an entire ecosystem. What looked like an insignificant, balding patch of green on an arid hillside contained invertebrate and plant species engaging in a complex web of interactions.  I was drawn to the fragility of life in the desert. And fascinated by the fact that, despite being only a small feature in a vast landscape, springs wield a massive influence on the ecosystem. For the last two years, armed with a sense of adventure, a rented GPS, a cell phone with unreliable service, and a little luck, I’ve searched for the reality behind those little blue dots on my paper maps.

Each spring has a story to tell about time, water and survival.  Be it lush, bone dry, pristine or unaltered the narrative often contains both a cultural importance and a historical past. Immigrants of the 1800s relied on water being a day or two apart as they travelled west, often settling at perennial springs. In land as dry as chalk, water rising from the ground seems a gift. To Native Americans each spring is a living being deserving respect and protection.

As long term drought combines with expanding population, industrial agriculture, mining pollution and destruction of wetlands, the overuse of existing water supplies is inevitable. In some places it's happening already. The UN and World Resources Institute among others, predict that as much as two-thirds of the world may suffer from water scarcity by 2025. Natural ecosystems will be hit even harder.

This fact is hard to comprehend when still most of us can get water easily, by turning on our taps.

How many people can withdraw water from an aquifer and have it survive?  Dry land springs live in a state of insecurity. Some of them hold silent clues to persevering through difficult times. Protecting them could serve a function beyond what we presently imagine. As their conservation may ultimately reveal the purposefulness and potential of the unseen while changing our relationship with the way we view our experience of time.

Preservation of water is vital in dry lands, for only where there is water can there be life.