Review: Killing the Hidden Waters

Water use, misuse and culture are interlinked and must be approached as symptoms of the same disease."

ISBN 0-292-74306-8
It is a pleasure indeed to have this fine, achingly restrained and sad masterpiece on water consumption in the West back in print. If only the grim news within were less urgent a quarter of a century after its first publication.

Bowden is a reluctant prophet about water and culture; he offers in his new introduction, "When I wrote this book I stated that the reality of resources being finite and expensive to acquire is a handwriting that has always been on the wall. This is still true. But now this message is being written in increasingly larger letters as our global population zooms toward ten billion and as third world economies become increasingly industrial and compete for the dwindling supplies offered by water wells and oil wells and forests and coal beds and fisheries."

Bowden details the lives and water use practices of the O'odham and Pima Indian cultures who have traditionally lived in the Sonoran Desert and whose lives have been centered on their relationship—mythically, spiritually, materially, agriculturally—with the reality of scarce groundwater. Bowden explains, "Water is energy, and in arid lands it rearranges humans and human ways and human appetites around its flow." Europeans brought the idea of "mining" the ice-age aquifers through wells and windmills and living beyond their means in a constant state of "water debt." Bowden is clear that it is our cultural insistence on living as if our debts will never come due that has created the timebomb of water issues—not weather patterns, ill-conceived dams or low-flow toilets.

Water use, misuse and culture are interlinked and must be approached as symptoms of the same disease, writes Bowden: ".... resource problems are cultural, and...the only real answers must come from within cultures, not simply from finding more resources. Cheap and abundant resources can't solve our problems—they simply allow us to devour things ... and then the original problem returns with larger dimensions thanks to increased human numbers."

Bowden is as adamant as a physician telling a suffering patient they must cease taking poison when he writes that "Giving some new source of water to a city in the American West, for example, is akin to sending a case of whisky to an alcoholic. It does not solve a problem—it simply puts it off." Highly recommended reading.

~ Nancy Fay

To purchase this book, please consider your local independent bookstore:

In Santa Fe:

Collected Works Bookstore
208B West San Francisco
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel: (505) 988-4226
Fax: (505) 988-2208
Toll Free: (877) 988-4226

In Taos:

Moby Dickens Bookshop
124A Bent Street
#6 Dunn House
Taos, NM 87571
505.758.9391 fax
888.442.9980 toll free