I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aquifers.
As we know, this culture is drawing down aquifers around the world. Aquifers are underground rivers, lakes, seeps – it’s underground water and they can be anywhere from just six inches below the surface down to about 10,000 feet and they are being drawn down around the world.
We’ve heard of the Ogallala aquifer – it’s is an absolutely huge aquifer that has been used for irrigation for the last hundred years – it’s being drawn down terribly. Aquifers can recharge but it’s very slow. The other thing that’s happening to aquifers around the world is that they’re being poisoned – sometimes unintentionally as people pollute the ground and it leaches down into the groundwater and sometimes intentionally as in fracking or fracking for geothermal. The latter are “green”; where they put chemicals down and then explode the rocks into a billion pieces so they can frack out the oil or they can then allow the heated water to escape to the surface which they use to generate electricity. When you poison an aquifer – if recharging an aquifer takes a long, long, long, long, long time – detoxifying an aquifer takes that same amount of time, longer. I don’t even know how long it takes before an aquifer would become detoxified. It’s all a very, very, very stupid idea.
I’ve said many times that my environmentalism – I love the natural world, I love bears, I love salmon and I love trees – but my environmentalism also emerges from a fundamental conservatism, that I think it’s really, really, stupid to create a mess that you can’t fix. You know, if you drive salmon extinct that’s a mess you can’t fix because you can’t bring them back, and if you toxify an aquifer you’ve created a mess that you can’t fix. This is something I learned very young from my mom. If you make a mess you clean it up and if you cannot clean up that mess you don’t make it in the first place.
None of that is the point on why I want to bring this up. There are a lot of studies that have been done about who lives in these aquifers. They make up about 40% of the microbial habitat on the planet and account for I think 20% of the microbial population on the planet – viruses, archaea, bacteria and also fungi down to maybe a hundred feet; fungi don’t go much lower in the aquifer. Without bacteria we would all die almost instantly. Bacteria do the real work of life on this planet.
There have been a fair number of studies done on who lives down there;
and I have seen a fair number of people express concern over the drawdown of aquifers; and this concern is always expressed in terms of if “we keep drawing it down we can’t draw down more”. “If we empty the Ogallala aquifer how are we going to irrigate?” It’s always self-centered. The same with toxification; “if we toxify this water then when we put in a well our water is going to catch on fire or we won’t be able to drink the water.”
They may exist but I have yet to see one person, one person, in the entire world express concern for the aquifer communities as communities themselves. That person may exist but I’ve never heard of them and if that person does care about those communities as communities, as biomes – I mean there are people who say “gosh I love the grasslands” and “I wish the grasslands were there because I love buffalo and I love buffalo for their own sake”; “I love beavers for their own sake”; “I love old growth forests for their own sake.” I’ve never heard anybody say the Ogallala aquifer should not be drained because it is a biome, a community, of its own and has the right to exist for its own sake without us drawing it down and without us toxifying it. If anybody does care about them and works on these issues, I would love to interview you; but this is not an ad for that. I want to raise the issue.
It took me years of thinking about aquifers before it occurred to me that they’re their own communities
and now I’m the only person I know who thinks about this – that when they’re drawn out that’s harming those communities. I want for that to start to become part of the public conversation about aquifers – that not only do aquifers provide water for us and for everybody else; not only do aquifers provide hugely – here’s one thing, when an aquifer collapses the soil subsides above it and I just read an article a few days ago about how that that causes tremendous harm to infrastructure; it’s like and..? AND..? And how about the ecological infrastructure? How about the communities who live down there? How about the surface native communities? I want to make it part of the public conversation that aquifers exist for their own sake. They have their own beingness and their own communities and those communities are just as important to them as your community is to you and my community is to me.