Children’s Reflections about a Lubbock Water Museum

Regarding Chuck Michelson’s “Letter to my niece- A Reflection about a Water Symposium in Lubbock

*see below

Olivia
Age 7 
Overall impression: “I learned that water originally came from space and that a baby buffalo is called a cinnamon baby and I liked when he talked about drinking from the TAP and talking about saving water” 
Here’s a question to think about: I’m curious if you went to a museum about water, what sorts of things would you like to see and touch and experience? 
“A water fountain to swim in, and a pool and something to do with ice and a fountain that you can drink from”

Eve  
Age 9
Overall impression: “I liked the letter, especially the last part about the water exhibit with the running water and drinking from the tap.”
Here’s a question to think about: I’m curious if you went to a museum about water, what sorts of things would you like to see and touch and experience? 
“Stories about water and the relationship of water to plants”

Travis
Age 11
Overall impression: “Well, I mean it was a good summary. A lot of useful information. I liked the idea that water came from space, the #notmyriver campaign in Tucson was cool”
Here’s a question to think about: I’m curious if you went to a museum about water, what sorts of things would you like to see and touch and experience? 
“Well probably explaining about water from different eras and the history of where it came from, and it would also be cool to show how people can have a negative effect on it but if we do things right we can have a positive effect.”

Levi

Age 12

Overall impression: “It made me think about the amount of water that is being used by humanity and the solutions that we can use to stop the issue of the impending water crisis”

Here’s a question to think about: I’m curious if you went to a museum about water, what sorts of things would you like to see and touch and experience?

“I would like to see an area with water percolation that could be observed through glass, to identify the impermeability and porosity of certain substances depending on the variability of the substances that can easily be found in nature. For example- dirt, clay, sand, pebbles, and other examples of what makes up the soils of West Texas.

To my niece- A Reflection about a Water Symposium in Lubbock

by Chuck Michelson, Ph.D., Director of Symposium Outcomes

April 26, 2022

Dearest Niece,

A few weeks ago I went to West Texas – a place where not long ago the buffalo once roamed – to learn about water. It was a great experience and I want to tell you about some interesting things I learned.

Do you know what it’s like in West Texas? It’s dry (I got a nosebleed while I was there). Sometimes when the wind was blowing I could feel dust on my face. Where you’re from, it rains about 120 days per year. In West Texas it only rains half that many days.

There are a lot of farmers in West Texas. They farm cotton, corn, and sorghum.

You might be wondering: How do they farm so much without hardly any water? I was wondering the same thing! I would like to tell you the story I learned.

First, I learned that water comes from outer space. Yes, that’s right, outer space. All the water we have on earth came from inside asteroids that bombarded the earth a long time ago. So even though water follows a cycle (like evaporation and rain) the total amount of water we have on earth stays the same.

When the Rocky Mountains were forming, rocks were pushed east and piled up onto each other. It formed the “high plains” where I was. (Btw we took a hike through a canyon, and you can see how the land was formed just by looking at the layers of rock on the walls of the canyon!)

There were dinosaurs in this area! Later there were huge strange mammals, like rhinos that acted like hippos, and 12 foot tall camels that looked like giraffes. Knowing what animals were present helps scientists figure out how the land and water formations came to be.

Tens of thousands of years ago, people came to this region, and have lived here ever since. These people are just like you and I, but they have a different culture from us. Some of the people who have lived here include the Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes, among others.

People in these cultures learned ways to live in the region even though it doesn’t have much water. They became water experts. They dug wells to reach down into the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground body of water that reaches from West Texas all the way up to South Dakota – underneath the entire great plans. It’s one of the world’s largest aquifers. The people’s way of living meant they could thrive in the area for many thousands of years.

Then about 500 years ago, Europeans started coming to the region to look for gold and silver. They wanted the land for themselves, so they stole it from the tribes. They also lied and played tricks, and then promised to give some land back but didn’t follow through on that promise.

These westerners, whose culture you and I share, started to manage water in a different way. The Europeans farmed the land differently, such as planting just one type of crop in a field instead of many types of crops. To get water they, too, dug wells and pumped water from the aquifer. But in comparison to the indigenous people, the westerners used water more quickly.

The population grew and even more people needed water for farming and drinking and bathing and watering lawns and all the other things water can be used for. They started pumping out the underground water even faster, and dug wells that reached deeper into the ground.

In the past, the rainfall was enough to recharge (replenish) the underground water. But nowadays, we’re using water too fast for it to be replenished, so the amount of underground water in the region is diminishing. If it runs out, it will hurt a lot of people who could lose their livelihoods, way of life, or might even have to move away altogether.

The difference in culture matters a lot.

I heard of similar problems in Tucson, Arizona. They also have diminishing water, and also diminishing water quality – there is pollution in the river. Some plants and animals have died around the rivers. A minnow (Gila topminnow) was really struggling.

The water situation is really important to people, as I’m sure you can understand. People write about it, talk about it, make art about it, and sing about it. I even heard a musician say that some songs are collectively autobiographical (which means that he’s singing about a lot of people’s experiences with a single voice).

If this sounds like a sad story, well, it is a sad story – at least up until now.

What lifted my spirits was hearing about how things can get better. The people I was with care a lot about the problem and really want to help find solutions. I heard a lot of different people talk about the solutions: indigenous activists, historians, farmers, lawyers, artists, writers, literature professors, anthropologists, biologists, chemical engineers, eco-feminists, and even astrobiologists. So many people care!

One of the solutions I heard is to acknowledge the difference in the cultures, and to accept that the modern way of using water in this region is not sustainable. When I was with all these caring people, a woman got up to the microphone and made a land acknowledgment. What this means is that she said out loud that the land was stolen, and who it was stolen from, so that we can remember what happened, and perhaps understand where some problems started.

Another part of the solution is to make changes in how we use water. For example, we could make laws in cities to require people to conserve water. To limit the size of our lawns and golf courses. One idea is to pay farmers to take a year off! Others suggested that we can use water more efficiently on farms such as using drip irrigation or modified crops that can withstand the dry conditions. Thoughtful city planning. Designing with biomimicry. I heard people say that we need to rethink how scientists can collaborate on these solutions, but without relying on science to fix the whole problem. So many people can be part of the solution, and to me, that’s exciting!

And it’s working! In Tucson, they created a #notinmyriver project – people clean up trash around the river. Long lines of people in fact! And they started Dragonfly Day, and they send out a newsletter to people in the community, called the Living River report (in English and Spanish). People are starting to understand and help. The minnows are coming back!!

And a theme I heard everyday, which kept returning over and over, is that a key part of the solution is education. Helping more people learn about how water works and the current situation with the Ogallala aquifer. Everyone there said how important it is to teach the next generation about water – which is why I’m writing you this letter! I wanted to share my experience with you, and also learn from you. I’m curious if you went to a museum about water, what sorts of things would you like to see and touch and experience?

I’ll finish my letter with a short story. It’s about a piece of art that I saw on a farmer’s land. The piece of art was called the TAP. When we pulled up on the dirt road to the farmer’s land that afternoon, they greeted us for a few minutes, and then invited us into a short silo. There was only one thing inside the room: a tap. The tap for a water well. It was a thin vertical pipe about 3 feet high, with a very fancy handle made of an antler. About 12 people stood around the room, in a perfect circle against the walls of the silo. The artists spoke about the piece, how it was made, what it means to them. The farmer spoke about the importance of water to his multigenerational farming family. He told us that this would be the last water well he will tap on this land.

There was a small wooden shelf hanging from the wall of the silo, near the door. On it were small drinking glasses meant for tasting things.

The farmer reached into the center of the room and pulled the antler up. The water fell in a silent thread, until it reached the floor where it percolated through a bed of pebbles. The farmer began talking again. After a few moments, people started to become uncomfortable – the precious water was flowing and nobody was using it for any purpose – drinking or bathing or irrigating. The farmer explained that the feeling of discomfort we get wasting water is meant to be part of the experience. As we were feeling uncomfortable, he went on to quote numbers and statistics about how much water we are wasting right here and now, and compared it to the unthinkably large amount of water that we are here to protect.

He then passed out glasses to each member of the experience. One by one, we held our glasses under the stream, and we drank it reverently. People went for seconds and thirds. We were drinking water right from the ground, water that hasn’t seen the light of day for millions of years.

It was a very profound experience for me, and I think for others as well. It made me realize that I was part of a community of people who care. And that’s awesome.

Love,

Uncle Chuck

PS – A baby buffalo is called a cinnamon baby