In our research for the Water year, we came across something called “fossil water”. The phrase suggests a lost past: ancient swamplands with long-necked dinosaurs or water pterodactyl skimming the surface of polished lakes. These lakes and swamps went underground thousands, even millions of years ago. The water moved away from the surface of the earth, became black and silent, encased in rock thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. Also known as “paleo-water”, it is completely locked inside the earth, untouched by precipitation or tributary, making each paleo-aquifer an unreplenishable vessel of pure water.
These repositories were the earth’s own secret until they were discovered by mechanical drills in search of oil. Now, fossil water is a valuable commodity, on a par with fossil fuel. It is being drilled in various places around the world, dry places typically, where, in the past, the deep water and the surface desert shared latitude and longitude but existed in separate geologic time zones. Now parched middle eastern nations are entirely dependent on the ancient water. They and others are pumping them dry. Yemen’s fossil water will soon be gone completely. Saudi Arabia’s too, emptied in a single generation. (Meanwhile, charlatans peddle “Paleo Water” as a weight loss aid.)
As with so many water-related issues, we should worry — and we do. The world grows thirstier and our methods of conserving and reusing water are not yet able to keep up. Resources are diminishing. Yet we can’t let people starve or dry up. This is one of the most pressing issues of our time and we must debate and weigh and decide and act.
But let’s leave that aside for a moment. To just contemplate the dark water, still as the deepest sleep, harboring minerals and molecules from pre-Paleolithic times like a distant memory. Behind all the debate, capitalization, research and need, lies this pure substance, resistant, ‘til now, to time and corruption; calm and indifferent, cloistered away for the life of the planet. Let’s allow ourselves a moment of reverence, untouched by clamor and controversy, for these waters and their hidden spaces.- TP