Hello, Radio Readers! Where have the books in our spring series Water and Replenishment been taking you?
Me? Well, talking about these books have made for some fantastic conversations! One example: some friends and I were noticing surprising similarities between Milagro Beanfield War and Dune. Sure, one is set in northern New Mexico almost 50 years ago while the other takes place on a desert planet 20,000 years in the future. But both show the ways that limiting access to a limited resource empowers a few and deprives many. William Ashworth’s 2006 Ogallah Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains documents the consequences of certain entrenched beliefs that some have a greater right to, a greater need of, water than others. Listen to the questions he asks: “should underground water be a public resource, as it is in six of eight High Plain states, or should it belong to the owner of the overlying earth, as in Oklahoma, or to no one, as in Texas?” He also wonders whether a standard of “beneficial use” should be applied when pumping ground water. Who defines that standard? Who resolves conflicts between competing needs? These are the same questions at the heart of the fictional Milagro Beanfield War and of Dune, right?
I mean, think about it – in Milagro Beanfield War, some people are reduced to poverty when water is diverted from their fields, yet those former farmers find employment elsewhere, seem to adapt to life with limited water; most of us applaud when they do resist the scheme of big money developers and government officials to raise funds for a profitable fishing resort through tax increases. True, the “war,” in Milagro is farcical. An annoying oversized pig is its only casuality. In Dune, the armed conflict for essential resources between governments and interplanetary councils has both human costs and cosmic consequences. But, of course, these are merely novels. Such things rarely happen in our actual lives….right? I mean, we’re not talking about the Dakotas here, we’re not talking about Standing Rock and privileging pipe lines over clean water, after all. Are we?
But, as I was saying, in talking about the books in this spring’s Radio Readers series on water, my friends and I meandered into sharing stories about our elders’ reverence for water: my own grandmother used to toss the water she’d cooked and cleaned with out the back door –cleaner water onto her kitchen garden; soapy or dirty water on noxious weeds. As a child, I resisted bath-time at Grandma’s mostly because she seemed so stingy, allowing only a few inches to fill the tub, barely enough to get wet in. Of course, as a child herself, one of her chores was to water was to pump and carry water from a well to the house; as a wife and mother, she’d pressed dampened towels and sheets against window and door sills to keep the dust of the dirty ‘30s from her house. Having lived in Kansas through periods of drought, dust, and water scarcity, of course, she appreciated the value of water.
So how is it, in contrast, as my friends and I admitted, we’re water wastrals: we leave water running while brushing our teeth, take looong showers, rinse our dishes before running the dishwasher, wash clothing after one wearing, and water fauna that nature never intended to grow on our High Plains?
In Ogallah Blue, Ashworth notes that since the 1950’s, our aquifer “has sustained a net loss of as much as 120 trillion gallons [or] 11 percent of its original volume….[and] most of it gone with full knowledge it was going.” Within so many of the stories and interviews Ashworth shares is a weird paradox – we seem to know we’re running through a limited resource; we seem to know emptying the aquifer means the end of life, yet we seem fatalistically unable to change….I admit, I too often take my ease of access to water for granted. A turn of a spigot, a press of a button, and there it is: water. Not too long ago, I blithely turned the spigot in my kitchen – I don’t remember why—for a glass of water? To rinse my hands? – and nothing happened. I turned the spigot off and I tried again. I bent in close and peered at it. Nothing. Nary a drip, not a flush, no backup or reserve. For me, in that case, a call and payment to my local utilities, and my water was restored the next day. Lucky me….in Frank Herbert’s 1967 sci-fi novel Dune, readers are shown a world in which water is so rare and precious, that even one’s spit is considered a blessing, of sorts.
For HPPR’s Radio Readers, I’m Jane Holwerda, from Dodge City, Kansas. And I’ll be sure to pay my water bill on time from now on…