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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Water - then and now

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
What did people do for water before windmills? This question is significant and brings to mind other questions of like nature. Beware, as the following theories are strictly "Trew."

We know beyond doubt there were millions of buffalo, deer, antelope, coyotes, mountain lions, wild turkeys, plus a long list of lesser creatures living on the Great Plains before the white man came. Each had to have water daily to survive. Add the Indians, their horses and livestock water requirements to this and it adds up to a lot of water needed each and every day. --- How many gallons? A mature buffalo weighing 900 to 1,000 pounds will drink about eight to 10 gallons of water per day. Calculate a like amount, relative to live weight of all the other prairie creatures and dwellers, and the amount of daily water required becomes astronomical.

Remember now, this was before windmills, earthen dams and lakes, pipelines and electrical-powered water systems. Where did all the water come from and where was it located?

The only logical answer is, every creek, draw or arroyo, buffalo wallow and playa lake contained water either from rain, live springs or seeps. Where did this water come from? It is not present today. What happened to make it disappear? We know the average rainfall varies from year to year, but over a long period of time still remains "average." This hasn't changed all that much.

The reason for the plentiful water at that time was the lush, heavy grass cover on the land. Remember the Conquistadores who wrote, "The grass waved in the wind like waves on the sea."

This heavy cover held the rains until they soaked into the upper aquifer, preventing it from running off down the creeks. The life-giving moisture leaked out slowly into the low places as seeps and live springs. The Plains were fed continuously from border to border by this vast reservoir.

Sadly, as the ranchers and settlers arrived, this cover was grazed off, burned by prairie fire, or plowed under to plant crops. The average rainfall came but ran off into the gullies and was prevented from soaking into the aquifer. As this underground storage reservoir dried up, wells had to be dug to supply the water needs of the populace and its creatures.

The railroads and progressive landowners were the first to drill wells and install windmills.

As the upper aquifer continued to dry up, and the windmills pumped from the lower aquifer, the water table continued to fall. It was quite a change from the time before the white man arrived.

Old-timers living in the vicinity of Running Water Draw on the South Plains recall having to swim their horses across the famous stream. Today, they say the draw is dry except immediately after rains, and the nearby landowners have to drill 100 feet deep to find water for a windmill.

Sorry for this sad tale, whether "true" or "Trew." Though I probably won't still be around, this makes me wonder exactly where our water woes will end up someday.


© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
August 1, 2006 Column

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