Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary
Culture/Borrowed Water


This page was designed with CSS, and looks best in a CSS-aware browser—which, unfortunately, yours is not. However, the document should still be readable, though not presented in the most sophisticated manner.

We've all heard about living on borrowed time--but how many people in the Chihuahuan Desert realize that many of us are living on borrowed water? Much of the Chihuahuan Desert consists of mountain blocks separated by deep basins nearly filled with sediments. It is water trapped in the fill of these bolsons that supplies much of the demands of many desert settlements, including such large cities as Juárez and El Paso.

But why are we saying it's borrowed? Simple! In our present arid climate, only a fraction of the water we withdraw is replaced. We are mining a non-renewable resource left over from the Ice Ages, when low summer temperatures allowed water to sink into the earth instead of evaporating into the air. Even worse, much of this water has picked up salts from the sediments to the point that it is undrinkable without expensive treatment. Water, as always in the desert, shapes the future as amounts dwindle and costs increase. Conservation, though vital, is not the final solution. That, at least for now, remains a mystery.
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Richter, B. C., A. R. Dutton, and C. W. Kreitler. 1990. Identification of Sources and Mechanisms of Salt-Water Pollution Affecting Ground-Water Quality: A Case Study, West Texas. Report of Investigations, Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin, RIO191, 43 pp.

Web Resources

New Mexico Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources. Go to the second entry in the road log (153.2 miles from Carlsbad).