(2) Information regarding water retention techniques and dew collection were passed around the table during the early Moisture discussions. A group of experimental artists, (including Kahty Chenoweth, SE Barnet, Deena Capparelli, Adam Belt, Bernard Perroud, Peter Fend, Carrie Paterson and Claude Willey), came together, but there was never any pressure to play things straight. Research provided information on Native American trincheras and acequias in the Painted Desert. Further reading pointed to early settlers in the Middle East and North Africa who built chains of wells or qanats. A copy of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designer's Manual became part of our inspiration and was kept with us in the Jeep as were copies of Schwenk's Senstive Chaos and Smithson's Collected Writings.
The idea of searching for water or waiting patiently for rains that might not come is indeed foreign to us. In our experience, we need only turn on the faucet and get clean water to meet our every demand. Yet in spite of the adversities, our predecessors had an intimacy with the land that we have lost as modern desert dwellers. -- Nancy R. Laney
(3) The roots of the North African plant, Pituranthus, reach down some 500 centimeters through alluvial soil, gravel, lime encrustations, sand, and a final layer of loamy sand to reach the elusive groundwater. In the Souf region of the Algerian Sahara, a "waterless ocean" with waves of high dunes is laced with groupings of date palms planted within agricultural bowls, trees planted so their roots tap into the moisture collecting beneath the sand. In the American Southwest, knowledge of ephemeral waters has been largely forgotten, and you'll be hard-pressed to find any farmers working on unirrigated lands. In Subsaharan Africa, 90% of the region's crops depend exclusively on rainfall, and in India 75% of agriculture relies on rain support. Water harvest, an ancient technique dating 4,000 to 5,000 years back, is enjoying a revival in Western nations, due to escalating water scarcity and growing populations.
(4) The Moisture collective welcomes the opportunity to question the elemental challenge so many writers of arid lands have expanded on. Any organism wishing to survive, whether plant, animal, or human, must find a way to meet this basic precondition of life. In Australia, 88% of the rainfall is unavailable for either humans or plants due to evaporation. In most of the hot deserts of the world, only 12% of the rainfall can be utilized by plant life. Only the heartiest of species can survive in such an environment.
"Managing" rainwater is not a terribly complex art, according to most hydrologists, geomorphologists, and water engineers. Interest in micro and small scale water collection systems has increased significantly in the Western United States in recent times. An art form practiced by numerous cultures over thousands of years is quickly rising to prominence once again with the assistance of new technologies and the pressure of continued human development. Water, perhaps the most predictable of elements, even in the desert, offers little resistance to simple engineering plans mimicking natural methods. In the Mojave desert, a cursory look reveals the ancient riverbeds and ravines carved by ancient glacial waters. The aesthetics of the desert are the result of the movement of water.
(5) Water forms the outward appearance of the world. Its effects may be very different; sometimes they are of a destroying nature, sometimes they are life-supporting. Water exerts force. --Kurt Schilcher
The desert landscape with its sparse vegetation and exposed bedrock
acts as a funnel for the violent surges of yearly floodwaters. Summer
floods move quickly as desert streams shift from their static position
in the dry environs. Over the stretch of time topographic lines are altered
by the flow of sheeting water and uprooted trees.
It goes without saying that humans live not
from the desert, but in spite of it, laboriously protecting their oases
from the onslaught of the sand, or constantly moving with their hardy
animals. Here, in contrast to the forest, everything contributes toward
throwing human inhabitants back on their inner resources, which they must
draw upon or perish. Nature gives them nothing; everything they have they
must wrest from it, and this gives them great strength.
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(1) (continued) Locating our activities in the town of Hinkley, California, we did our best to put all images from Erin Brockovich out of our heads [ Context ] . Filled with more than its share of boarded up shacks, thanks to the PG&E Chromium Six scandal, this Barstow "bedroom community" served as the grounds for our water experiments. No connection was made with the locals, though the Desert Research Station had been in the hands of Center for Land Use Interpretation for about a year. One of the driest deserts on the planet, receiving less than 200mm of rainfall per year, became the focal point of this first phase of project Moisture.