One Strange Day

On November 2, 2010, I overnighted in Moab, UT.  I got up the next morning and headed to a gasoline station.  There I met an old acquiantence.  He had once worked for the USDA as their Navajo coordinator.  He “quit” NRCS to serve jail time for a crime I really don’t want to discuss.  Our conversation was easier than I might have expected, but still awkward.  He said he had just been to Hawaii with his wife and was now doing consulting work.  I keep asking myself if there is atonement or forgiveness for all sins?  He is still very respected on the Navajo Nation for the work he did there when employed by Agriculture.

I then traveled the 54 miles from Moab south to Monticello, UT.  At the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) office there, I wanted to check my emails.  (I have too many irons in the fire.)  Nobody was in the office, so I sat down at one of their computers and went to work.  Eventually the office head came in, and he was accompanied by Tony Beals, a NRCS employee out of Price UT.  Tony had done two one-year stints in western Afghanistan working with the locals to try and rehabilitate their agricultural infrastructure.  Tony indicated he wanted to go back to Afghanistan one more time.

When I asked him about qanats (they are called karezes in Afghanistan), and explosion of information was forecoming:

Karez are basically hand dug horizontal wells.  The karez follow the ground water back to the toe slopes of the hills or mountains and then lead the water out where it eventually daylights into a ditch which is ued to irrigate crops, water animals, and for human use.

He indicated that when, and if he returns to Afghanistan, he would like to look at making improvements to some of the existing karezes.

I next made a short stop in Blanding to discuss the rehabilitation of the home of a Navajo elder who lives near Aneth.  Volunteers are headed to the area in 8 days and I needed to coordinate work on the house.  His daughter, who works in Blanding, and she is our point of contact.

I then made the short trip to WestWater, just west of Blanding.  WestWater is a Navajo community (land owned by the tribe) that was populated with squaters.  Living condition were bad:  old mobile homes, no water, no power, only wood-burning stoves, etc.  In the last year, things had started to look up; the residents are no longer squaters and eight new homes had been constructed.

One of the eight homes was constructed for a 90+-year-old elder, Jesse HerderBoy.  She had been living in a small shack and was having difficulties making the transition to her new home.  When I stopped in to borrow the key to her new home, she was still living in her shack.  She feels confortable the way things are.  There was no evidence that she even used the bathroom in her new home.  Adjusting to new conditions is frequently difficult for Navajo elders.  The fact that there is a language barrier is also a problem.

My next stop was Aneth UT.  I wanted to talk with a friend, Loren Crank, who works for NRCS.  Luckily, Loren was in his office.  I needed to further coordinate the work of the volunteers, and he wanted to talk about maintenance on the Aneth Chapter’s construction and farm equipment (most it is either in bad condition or broken down).  We talked with Nelson, the equipment mechanic and operator, and briefly inventoried the equipment.  It is easier to get money for the purchase of equipment than it is for maintenance, and therein lies the problem.  The equipment department needs a business plan.

I then took the back roads from Aneth to Towoac, Colorado.  The first half of the journey is through desert, the second is through the lush farms of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.  This operation is mega-farming (agribusiness), and the fields are very impressive.  This operation sits in sharp contrast to the nearby Navajo subsistence grazing.

I stayed the night at the Ute Mountain Casino/Hotel/Resort.  My room was very nice and clean.  Before having dinner, I played Black Jack (21) for an hour.  The casino has a non-smoking area, but it has no table games.  So I played in the smoking area, and it was difficult.  The casino needs a better ventilation system.  Anyway, I would estimate that 90 percent of the customers in the casino (which was fairly packed) were Native Americans.  Granted, its the off season, but what good is a casino if you are just recirculating your own money?  It would be interesting to see the numbers.  After a small snack, I headed back to room and soon fell asleep.  

On November 2, 2010, I visited the twilight zone.

This entry was posted in absurdism, Engineers Without Borders, Navajoland, Technology, Water History. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to One Strange Day

  1. roger hansen says:

    This is a write-up about qanats (karez) that the above mentionned NRCS employee provided:

    Karez in Afghanistan
    By Tony Beals NRCS
    Former PRT Ag Advisor Farah Afghanistan

    Karez are basically hand dug horizontal wells. The karez follow the ground water back into the toe slopes of the hills or mountains and then lead the water out where it eventually daylights into a ditch which is used to irrigate crops, water animals, and for human use. In Farah Province in western Afghanistan all the karez I visited were dug through valley alluvium towards the toe slopes of mountains and in some cases more or less up intermittent stream beds. I have been told by some of my friends who were ag advisors in the eastern part of Afghanistan that the karez there (some or all I don’t know) are in limestone where water has dissolved it and the local people have gone in and enlarged and enhanced the tunnel to lead the water out. Karez can be many kilometers long. There are vertical clean out holes every so often. In some cases they use a tripod type of affair and bucket the debris out and in other cases the debris is shoveled up in several lifts by hand. Seen from the air the clean out holes look like giant ant hills in a straight line. The karez can be susceptible to getting plugged by cave-ins, flash floods washing debris down into the karez through the clean-out holes and blowing sand where there are active dunes. In Farah Province we had areas of active dunes and high wind erosion which also filled open canals and ditches. Watershed conditions are generally very poor. So between the long term drought that I was able to determine from interviewing the older farmers and poor watershed conditions the ground water recharge to the karez has really been hurt. In one area where there used to be 6 karez running water there are now only 2. The Farah River used to be perennial now it quits flowing in May. In another area of the Farah Province called the Bakwa District there was never any perennial stream but there were into the hundreds of karez. None of these are flowing now. This is a combination of drought and unregulated irrigation well drilling. The groundwater level is dropping rapidly in the area.

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