The topic of water, scarcity, abundance, conservation, and consumption has been on my mind ever since returning to the U.S.A. from Mexico, landing in the San Francisco Bay area last Saturday night. I am here in Santa Cruz, California, now for a week to visit my 97-year-0ld mother. Almost fully recovered after breaking a hip, I am grateful that she is mobile, fully aware and for our time together. I am also grateful that I can climb into a hot shower at my sister’s house and not worry (too much) about using more than a half-bucket of water, which is the case in Oaxaca.
In reality, I am aware of the water coming freely from the shower head and faucets. I am aware that I can ingest this water, keep my eyes and mouth open and my nostrils uplifted. If some gets down my throat, so what! This awareness is heightened by my experience living in Oaxaca, where it is dry, dry, dry and water is scarce, scarce, scarce, and ingesting plumbed water is verboten.
On the return flight north, our routing is over the Sea of Cortes aka Gulf of California. The wide Colorado River mouth is at the notch where Baja California meets northern Mexico. It is dry, dry, dry. From the air I can see the salt and silt and the curve of the riverbed undulating like a snake. It reminds me that water, precious water, is diverted upstream in U.S. territory to sustain plants and animals. I think of Mexico and the paucity of water, the rough terrain, the few fertile areas for cultivation of food, the high mountain ranges that make up most of the country. Is there hope for the Colorado River delta? Perhaps, according to this New York Times article.
Water costs money in Oaxaca. I can tell when the holding tank on the roof of the house where I live is low because the water pressure drops to a trickle. If I do a laundry — even on low water level and gentle cycle — I will use about almost half of the holding tank! Now I know why local women soak their family’s laundry in buckets before putting them through a rinse cycle. This way they will conserve at least fifty-percent of the water usage.
Marianne Kinzer, in the Winter 2013 issues of ReVista, a David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University publication, writes, “The story of water in Oaxaca, Mexico, a picturesque place that draws international tourism, illustrates Mexican, Central American and worldwide water problems.”
For me, the issue is local. I have learned to collect water. There is a bucket in the two shower stalls and in the kitchen sink. I use this gray water to wash floors and water plants and trees. The dry season lasts for months and these plants are thirsty. My Oaxaca world is small and focused on the details of daily living — water, food, transportation. When I run out of water, I call Dany Hernandez who comes to deliver for 100 pesos. This fills up the tank and life goes on until the next week, when I can safely predict I will run out again (depending on how many loads of laundry I do). Doing a hand wash has become more of a routine, with the exception of bed linens. I am constantly conscious of water scarcity, cost and consumption.
For the last few months, as I walk along the dirt road to the casita, I cross what the locals call the Rio Grande. This is a stream bed that can be a trickle or a rushing torrent during the rainy season that only lasts a few months. When it is wet, I have to find another route. Usually it is parched and crackled like alligator skin, easy to cross, another reminder of water scarcity.
Someone told me this week that within twenty years the polar ice cap will melt. Climate change is not a myth. I may still be alive, based on my mother’s age and if I have her genetic load. What will the melted ice cap mean for coastal flooding, tides, availability of water beyond the flood? As I shower and make coffee from tap water here in Santa Cruz, I think about whether the luxury of fresh, clean water will be but a memory. I believe we are beyond the tipping point.
P.S. I ordered another camera body which arrived yesterday to replace the one I lost. Facebook iPhone photos of the Puebla adventure are posted if you are interested. Otherwise, I resume life in the U.S. until the end of June when I return to Oaxaca once more.