A recent article in The Atlantic monthly by two Harvard historians proposed the establishment by the President of the United States of a Council of Historical Advisors. The reason is obvious: as the truism puts it, those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. This truism applies to the issue of water. Mid 20th-century California history is full of instruction for the present generation in its search for solutions to the West’s recurrent droughts and water insecurity. It brings to light a fact of enormous import for policy discussions on water conservation, the Salton Sea, and water security; namely, there is no shortage of water on Planet Earth.
The truth of the matter is that the earth is a water generator. New water is continually being created deep down. The science actually goes back more than a hundred years. The first modern paper on the subject was published in 1896, and in the 1950s in California a man named Stephan Riess corroborated the fact by drilling hundreds of wells based on the updated knowledge he acquired from his work in mining. Since the 1990s, dozens of research papers have been published on various aspects of the science.
It is understandable why most people involved in water resources do not know about this. Because of Riess’s activities, the issue was widely reported and debated in the 1950s. The U.S. Senate even held hearings in Los Angeles in 1959 to give Riess a platform from which to speak. But his contribution was rejected by an Establishment mobilized to protect the status quo, so that knowledge of the reality of another source of water faded away. And while some graduate-level students are being taught about the deep-earth water cycle and earth-generated water (or primary water, as it is also called), the subject has not yet found its way into high school and college textbooks.
Consider the possibilities the reality of abundant water opens up. Every community in the arid West could become an oasis. The eastern side of the Sierras could be “greened.” Every locality could have water security with back-up earth-generated water wells. California’s contentious Delta tunnels project could be scrapped and billions saved for other purposes. The Salton Sea could be refilled by drilling wells: A California case study already exists—the saving of Lake Elsinore, celebrated by Governor Pat Brown in 1965. Places like Flint, Michigan, where the groundwater has been contaminated could drill for new water. Looking beyond the U.S., Northern Africa could become a breadbasket like it was in Antiquity. And so on!
Citizens, activists, and public officials cannot rely on the mass media to do their homework for them. The topic is too hot; the vested interests are too deep and of too long standing to let go of the status quo without prodding from the grassroots. They will only yield to the evidence when it is impossible for them not to.
Quite simply, a shift in thinking from a paradigm of scarcity to one of abundance needs to come about. In order to envision a better future sometimes it is essential to revisit the past.
This is just an excerpt from Culture Wars Magazine, not the full article. To continue reading, purchase the March, 2019 edition of Culture Wars Magazine.
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