The Water Beneath Our Feet

Feb 24, 2017

Spanish American woman washing items in an irrigation ditch.
Credit LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  In this, our third Book club series, Water and Replenishment is our theme. 

We’ve been talking about a classic 1970’s novel, John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield Wars, where the struggle for water highlights differences in the values and lifestyles of two groups of citizens – those who see the economic possibilities in reservoirs and those who prefer to honor natural topographies. As Nichols brings his novel to a close, offering a tenuous cease-fire in the Beanfield war over water, we readers sense the cease-fire will be short-lived.

I don’t know about you, but Nichols’ novel, for all its satiric bite and sass, really has got me thinking more about the history of water use and access not only in my part of the High Plains but in my own back yard.  Most what I’m thinking about is how shockingly uneducated I am about this.  Should I be doing a better job of conserving water? What are some of the battle lines over water in our region?

If you are thinking and wondering along these same lines, you might be as eager as I am for conversations about the next book in HPPR Radio Readers Spring 2017 series: William Ashworth’s Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains. Ashworth, an environmentalist and expert in natural history, has stories to share about our aquifer, about its use over time, in our present, and predictions for its future.  Since the book, Ogallalah Blue, was published over a decade ago, we might discover we’ve changed attitudes, practices and beliefs about water – what Ashworth calls “life, each drop a benediction.  He says,

It is hard to overestimate the impact that this bounty of buried water has had on American life. If you snack on popcorn or peanuts, you are probably eating Ogallala water; if you dress in cotton clothing, you are probably wearing it….The fourteen million acres of crops spread across its flat surface account for at least one-fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. ... If the aquifer went dry, more than 20 billion dollars worth of food and fiber would disappear immediately from the world's markets.

Groundwater mining, says Ashsworth is not an accident.  It is a way of life. And of death.

Most of our scheduled commentaries about Ashworth’s book – non-fiction, social history, by the way—will come from our own regional experts on water and drought in our region.  But If you’re interested – whether you too are an expert or deepening your awareness—I hope you will share your insights, perspective, and experiences, by posting bookbytes.  For information, go to Radio Readers Book Club under the features menu at HPPR.org. 

For HPPR Radio Readers, I’m Jane Holwerda, from Dodge City, Kansas.