Fighting the Desert Sand for Water.

Rain changes the desert.

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Paradise?  Maybe: the Baja Desert after rainA long abandoned jalopy makes its slow way to the sea in a Baja arroyo near El Triunfo
Paradise?  Maybe: the Baja Desert after rain
Paradise? Maybe: the Baja Desert after rain
A long abandoned jalopy makes its slow way to the sea in a Baja arroyo near El Triunfo
A long abandoned jalopy makes its slow way to the sea in a Baja arroyo near El Triunfo

Water. The Baja Desert Fights for Every Drop!

As man continues his suicidal increase in world population, the resources he depends on decrease in lock-step. Oil is the one that occupies all our attention at the moment, but, in the last analysis we could exist without petrol and all the by-products of the glutinous, overpriced fossil fuel.

The one resource we are denuding too fast for safety is water: and nobody ever seriously suggests any life form can do without that for long.

In many places, such as Baja South in Mexico, potable water exists but well below the surface in aquifers which are refreshed by seasonal rains and the run-off from nearby hills and mountains. In the rest of the country, water is a worry, too, but in mainland Mexico there are many rivers with pipelines snaking out of them to begin the long journey to Mexico City where 25 million people need a drink ever day as well as water for a host of reasons.

Baja California has a problem that has been around since the time of the Jesuit priests who were forced into building missions around the far-flung tiny wells and streams that do exist in dubious permanency. There, they built stone places of worship, tended a small garden of vegetables and planted grape vines to supply their only luxury - the yearly wine pressing. They would put in place a clever system of drains and small aqueducts to irrigate and supply water close to their modest homes. But the Peninsula has very few rivers and natural reservoirs: in the South, there are only two towns with permanent streams - San Ignacio and Mulege, the rest of the state has to depend on any water that can be held after the rains (if there are any in a given year), or that which can be pumped from meters underground.

I used to live in one small, ex. mining town that was a microcosm of the problems all over the rural sectors of the state. There was just one source of fresh water that came from a well sunk about 30 meters into a large aquifer, two miles along the old road out of town into the hills. It normally only supplied the precious fluid once per day and then for only about three hours, all depending on the level in the aquifer. The old electric pump was enclosed in a pen of chicken wire and home to about 7 mongrel dogs who set up an unholy racket when anyone approached, hurling themselves at the wire and snarling like so many hounds of hell. Once they actually got out, they returned to tail-between-the-legs, “don’t kick me” mode, poor things. Manuel, who managed the pumping operation for the village for a small stipend, brought them odds and ends of food when there was any. (He told me they stopped the villagers stealing and selling the pumping engine!!). Anyone who has not lived with Mexico’s rural poor cannot imagine the level of deprivation (nor understand why these people seem so happy!). After living in awful, disgusting, mean-minded, rip-off Britain for 7 years, I will tell you: they are happy because less is more...go figure! (Yes, I am going back this year!!)

As I said, there is usually plenty of water at different depths under the desert all over this area. And, yes, modern geo-phys. can tell us where it is. Also, modern drilling equipment can get down there, through sand and rock - even the tough granite cap that keeps more modest and older equipment out - well, you know it, if there was oil down there the place would be a hive of dinosaur-like pumps going night and day recovering oil from thousands of feet beneath the surface, if that’s what it took! Thank the fickle finger there is none otherwise this place would be another Texas...the ‘practice hell on earth! (But, according to Hubber, Austinstar, Austin, Texas is a great place with cool people and has the brightest stars in the known universe!  So Texas ain't all bad, folks).

What is obviously missing is the money in South Baja to afford these expensive rigs and surveys. Anything less than top drilling equipment has been defeated nearly everywhere by the granite barrier; rusting and distorted drilling pipes stick out of the sand showing where this equipment gave up the ghost through the last 100 years or so: first, in the days of the successful mining here, the money was available but the technology wasn’t; in later years, the reverse has been true.

When a hurricane hits around here, or veers away, leaving the fringe clouds to do their stuff and drop several inches of precipitation in as many hours on El Triunfo and the surrounding sere hills, the heaven’s opening fills the dry arroyos and turns them into raging floods that carry all before them. Anticipating this, the villagers have tipped all their bulky rubbish into the nearest gorge: mattresses, tired and yellow, after several generations of use, old, rusted bicycles, even old cars. The torrents sweep it all away to the nearby Sea of Cortez. The larger items, such as cars, don’t make the whole trip in one year, but edge ever closer, perhaps two to five miles each year, depending on the duration and amount of the rainfall.

All the families come out and cavort in the drenching rains. How many say to themselves, “Heck, there goes enough water to keep the village for years, how can we catch it”

Again, herein lies another huge problem. Dams have been built - and rebuilt - in favourable parts of the arroyos, many, many times and they all fail. Can any clever reader guess why?

Well, if you said, “Because all these torrents of water also contain a hidden river of sand, gravel and rocks, also on the move to fresh pastures,” you would be right. As soon as a dam fills with water - in a matter of minutes rather than hours - it also fills with sand which displaces all the water over the top and away! As well as all the other detritus of nature’s most efficient cleaning system. So dams don’t work for the same reason - lack of finance. Yes, technology exists to admit the water and keep out the sand, but it would cost far more than anyone can afford. It would have to be done at hundreds of locations, one or more for every village of a few hundred souls.

Baja. Muddling on in the burning desert sun. This from some notes I made in 2002.

“Thousands of square miles of cactus, mesquite, small animals, reptiles and birds muddle on, too. They endure through the usual grim conditions, interspersed with even worse years of complete drought. The aridity guarantees constant dust, sweat and thirst often quenched with coca-cola if the pipes are dry that day.

When the rains finally arrive - as they will most years - all the suffering is forgotten as the desert bursts into riotous colour and verdant greens. As Steinbeck aptly observed, “Life is everywhere just waiting for ideal conditions to appear.”

Or does the truth for all this human forbearance lie elsewhere? As a neighbour said back then when we were discussing the lack of drinking water, “ Hey, mano, no hay problema...pinche aqua te mato, (the f-----g water will kill you), we only drink beer anyway!”

Notes. The remark by the camposino to me regarding drinking beer was only partly a joke. Due to the extensive mining for precious metals here, up to the 1950’s, the aquifers have a high percentage of cyanide and arsenic in their water, which is still leaching down into the ground water. (Any surface water around here in the old diggings is marked with the skull snd crossbones). The water actually used for drinking comes in via the army in daily tankers...drinking the ground water in El Triunfo won’t strike you dead immediately, but is definitely hazardous to your health!

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Comments 25 comments

Jefsaid profile image

Jefsaid 5 years ago from London, UK

Well written article!

That region of the world strikes me as somewhere where a large population would inevitably deplete the limited water supply. Unfortunately in this 'money talks' existence, accessing the sub-ground water supply will only ever happen if water suddenly assumed a desernable value. If it were possible to export the rain water here in England we would probably save half the world's problems.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks for interesting comment...Bob


Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

Your personal experiences with the situations you document lend an especially factual and sobering aspect to this article. The need for potable water has been ignored by too many people in too many places for far too long.

I can't help but smile and shake my head at your matter of fact descriptions of the arid climate and harsh conditions, while in the next breath you vow to return because it is so much better than the UK or USA.

And your opinion of Texas makes me grin! I'd love to send hubber Wayne Brown here just for mischief. :{)

It's always fun reading your well written work.

CP


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

What a warm and insightful comment, Chris. Yes, that is a paradox that I would want to return to those conditions. But i could have talked about the peace, the clear nightime skies where every star stood out like lamps in the firmament; the everyday kindness of the villagers; the walks through the lovely desert near my house; the freedom to do what i wanted without judgemental pricks spying on me every day (a-la-uk). I love the States, too, but I can't live there...Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

You know I love Mexico almost as much as Texas, but baja is not the best part of Mexico! The Baja 500 will surely attest to that. And you think Texas is worse than that???

I have traveled all over Mexico and I agree it's peaceful and the people are lovely. But nowhere have I found the stars to be brighter than in the Davis mountains. The people of Austin are pretty cool too.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Austinstar: can you ever forgive me? I usually put Harlow (UK) in references to Hell on Earth, Texas was a novelty for me, but, you see, they had the termerity to jail me once! I have never been to Austin, but have heard it's a great city, and will ammend my hub acordingly...Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Of course I forgive you! You mean you didn't enjoy the farms in Huntsville? I'm sorry, it's no laughing matter. I was the liaison for the journalism dept. between Sam Houston State U. and the TX DOC in Huntsville back in the early 80's. So I know that situation can give one a severe distaste for Texas. And if all your exes live in Texas, I'm sure it is hell on earth!

I'll have to look for Harlow on the map.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

No. Wynne (Farm) is a farm in name only these days. No more cotton picking there or horses trained to bite the arses of the idle. I wonder if you met - or heard of - John Indo, who served life for murder and got out about 1984. He then went on to do well as an academic locally and is a shining example of a con making good. I attended Lee Junior College while there and got a small degree (Ha!) ..Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Yes, it's surprising that they call them "farms". I remember your hub about John. But I don't think I know of him personally.

I had my portrait painted in oil by an inmate and he did some other art work for me. I knew some of the guards too. What a strange world that place is. But so is Texas in general. It should be its own country!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

I though it was! Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

When are you headed back to Mexico?


QudsiaP1 profile image

QudsiaP1 5 years ago

This is such an important topic to focus on and I love that you shed light on how no one is ever running after water considering, water is our life source.

It is sad but true on how we have become so self obsessed that we just look water as a never ending resource when the truth is far from it.

Thank you for the great read. I learned something new today.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Austinstar...Probably late September (ot earlier)...Bob


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Qudsia: You probably have plenty of water in your country. But the lack of it is a huge problem in many places....Thanks for comment...Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

As usual, we will turn to the oceans for water. Desalinization plants are getting quite good at this. The island of Cozumel and the resort at Cancun in Mexico are supplied by desalinization almost exclusively. The only water available on the Yucatan peninsula is from underground streams and cenotes. These have been less than adequate for some time to supply all of the water needs for that area. Desalinization was the only way to go and it is probably a model for what is to come.

Navy ships get water from desalinization as well. Technology will improve in this area in order to supply the world, but it will cost us just as much as the oil industry has.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

That's interesting. They may be left with a huge underground system of limestone caves if they empty the cenotes - unless the fresh water is replaced by flooding from the sea. I expect you know that whole area was the site of a huge meteor strike on Earth that was responsible for one of the great extinctions in our distant history...Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Yes, the Chicxulub crater is just off the north eastern coastline of the Yucatan. It could have been what formed the Gulf of Mexico. Some say it was a piece broken off of the moon. Who knows? Only the dinosaurs were around at the time.


QudsiaP1 profile image

QudsiaP1 5 years ago

We have quite a shortage in most places, Bob.

P.S. Part 5 of the Changing Lines is published, do let me know what you think of it.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Austinstar: Yes, and they ain't telling! Bob. Interesting to see one of the other mosters we face, Yellowstone is sill slowly rising! That'll even get Texas if it goes off. Bob. What with terrorism and all the natural threats, it's amazing how we survive at all.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

That will be a sight when Yellowstone goes off. There are some theories that say Yellowstone may have been the reason for the dinosaur extinction, so it may get us all! Yikes!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Are you insinuating I resemble a dinosaur? It's Weightwatchers tomorrow! Bob


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I need TonWatchers now. Quitting smoking was the worst thing for my waistline ever! But I guess my lungs are clean now. I should move back to Mexico just for the availability of diet pills. Then instead of dying of lung cancer or obesity I can die of an amphetamine stroke. Whatever.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Kudos on this well-written and informative hub. Leave it to man to poison this most precious resource, water, with cyanide and arsenic in an area that can least afford it. Leave no stone unturned, I guess. Sheesh! Well done and a vote up.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Yes Genna, man's pursuit of gold, silver and copper poisoned the ground water here. A few tons of precious elements soon forgotten and centuries of water problems...Bob


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 months ago from North Texas

Like your photos, Bobby. We are being steamed today. 101 degrees Fahrenheit and rising for a couple more hours yet.

Thought I would answer your question here where you are more likely to see the answer and to see it more quickly.

Go to your profile page and click on "edit profile." on the upper right side. Scroll to the bottom of the edit page where there is a question -- the second question from the bottom of the page, "Show only Featured Hubs on my profile." Click "NO." That way ALL of your hubs will appear on your profile page for people to peruse and read instead of only the 'featured" ones.

Be sure to click SAVE changes at the very bottom of the page. Then you can go back to whatever you wish to do and everyone should be able to see all of your published articles on your profile page. :)

Follow these directions carefully. :)

We have 101 F. at this moment and the temp is still rising. It never cools off at night in the summer here either. Hope you are appreciating and enjoying your cooler weather. Take care . . . xox

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