The Worth of Water

The Worth of Water

David Hume III

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, life’s rhythm was dictated by the weather. The

school year ended, but the summer storm clouds didn’t appear. The sky became a dull, hazy

color and the soft evening breezes abandoned us. Initially, most people said that it would

just be a matter of time; the rain would arrive a little later in the year. It didn’t. Summer

changed into autumn and still there was no rain.


As children, we didn’t understand the causes of this phenomenon, but were aware of

its effects. At first, we saw this as a great adventure. Some of the ponds used to water cattle

began to dry up. The mud was cool, soft and thick and fun to play in. We caught catfish and

perch with our bare hands. Dust devils, swirling clouds of dust resembling mini-tornados,

became more frequent. Some of the older people said this was a bad omen, but we were not

impressed by their superstitions.


Soon, the soft mud became hard, caked dirt and the ponds changed from recreation

areas to dry, warped puzzle pieces of cracked earth. Some school children became sick.

Cattle, calves, pigs, lambs, goats and horses began to die. And the drought persisted.

When Christmas arrived, so did the dust storms. We learned a few new words:

brucellosis, bacteria and stagnant. Everyone began to detest the cloudless blue sky. The

heat radiated daily from the parched land, creating mirages that made the village appear to

be an island in the middle of a large lake. It was only a cruel joke. There was no lake, there

there was no water, and the people were losing hope. It seemed as if our situation could not get

worse, but it did. The two wells, providing water for our village since the 1700s, dried up.

The solution appeared a week later when two mobile petroleum exploration rigs arrived to

drill for water, not oil.


By dusk, lengths of steel pipe were hoisted into the prefabricated tower after the

the first drill bit entered the ground. At night, the men used flood lights to illuminate the work

area, and the villagers kept them fed with relays of sandwiches and hot coffee. Amidst all

the excitement, no one could sleep.


At a depth of almost 300 feet, the men stopped drilling and gathered around large

seismic maps that showed something our shallow, hand dug well could not have reached:

artesian water. It was a massive pool of pure water under positive pressure. As the men

returned to the drilling tower, we heard shouts. A geyser of water shot into the air from the

drilling platform. It was glorious and the village children ran to its source, frolicking in its

coolness before the men capped it.


The sign appeared after the drilling rigs departed, written in flowing cursive letters:

“When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water – Benjamin Franklin.” None of us

ever forgot that phrase. Instead of running inside during the warm summer rains, we looked

up to the heavens, smiling and remembering the worth of water.