The Desert Knows that “Water is Life”

For years I had listened to a friend express deep love of the Desert Southwest. His words evoked vivid images that beckoned me towards what sounded like an imaginary place. In my mind deserts were desolate, dry, flat land with sagebrush and dust clouds whirling around. That’s mostly what I’d seen on drives through parts of West Texas and in old western movies. On a recent road trip through the Southwest and Colorado, I discovered a universe of brilliant colors, sand dunes and tall grasses, mesquite trees, flowers and cacti, mountains and gushing rivers, dried up river beds and fast moving clouds that were sometimes ominous, always beautiful.

 A few days ago, while looking through photos from the trip, lyrics to a forgotten tune came to mind, “A Horse with No Name.” Dewey Bunnell was probably thinking about Southwestern spaces in Arizona and New Mexico when he wrote these words:  “And after three days in the desert sun — I was looking at a riverbed —  And the story it told of a river that flowed — Made me sad to think it was dead.”

Was Dewey upset and provoked by what happened to the Santa Cruz River, once the lifeline in Tucson for indigenous tribes and later, settlers, but nearly destroyed by overuse and bad management. Fortunately, wise city leaders and residents decided to take matters in hand and change the course. They are slowly restoring life to the river; it takes time to undo the immense damage.

This is a good story for Tucson, yet there are many rivers that still need care. Take a moment and look at where you live, or where you grew up. Are the rivers and streams still there? Can you swim in them, fish in them, raft in them? Or is the water polluted and unsafe to drink or stick your foot in? Has overuse and bad management emptied the streams and rivers or has overpopulation made access to these places impossible? Has unhinged building/expansion without proper infrastructure pre-planning nearly depleted the aquifers and lakes that supply the water? Will other cities follow Phoenix and put a hold on more building? Serious questions that need serious answers, like yesterday.  Water is life.

Some rivers still flow, like the Arkansas River below.

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