Cliff Dwelling Conservationists

By Pam Lazos

Frijoles Creek located in Frijoles Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, is about a 45-minute drive from Santa Fe, N.M. The Ancestral Pueblo people made their home near Frijoles Creek, a year-round flowing stream that provided water for drinking, cooking, bathing and agriculture.

The Ancestral Puebloans were drawn to Frijoles Canyon by its wealth of resources. Wildlife attracted to a water source within easy reach made for good hunting and the abundant plant life allowed for a diverse diet.

Without the tools and other structures which are the hallmark of the 21st century (indoor plumbing!), prehistoric dwellers depended on their immediate surroundings to meet their needs. The availability of water was imperative to the quality of ancient life, and Frijoles Creek, a permanent stream — in EPA’s regulatory parlance a “relatively permanent water” — in the arid Southwest was a gold mine of a find. The Ancient Puebloans recognized this and thanked their gods daily for its blessings.

Our bodies are composed of 70 percent water, which means we need it to survive. The average family of four uses about 400 gallons of water every day, approximately 70 percent of that indoors and most in the bathroom. A bathroom faucet puts out two gallons of water per minute, about 200 gallons a month if you brush with a wide-open tap. In industrialized nations, freshwater withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years to keep up with our demand for food, goods, services, and hot showers. Compare the water usage of an industrialized nation to that of an ancient tribe and even accounting for population growth you have two entirely different scenarios.

The ancients knew the value of water conservation practices. The first inhabitants of Bandelier didn’t have dams or reservoirs, but they had Frijoles Creek. They conserved water by growing staples such as squash, beans, and corn in shallow basins or sloped terraces which minimized runoff, evaporation and subsurface drainage and maximized water efficiency.

Industrialized society has forgotten how to do this. The ease by which we acquire water has blinded us to its value. Out of necessity, the Ancestral Puebloans developed water conservation methods. Out of reverence for that which gives life to this planet, we would be wise to do the same.

About the Author: Pam Lazos works in Region 3’s Office of Regional Counsel chasing water scofflaws and enforcing the Clean Water Act. In her free time, when her family allows, she writes both fact and fiction, but mostly she likes to laugh.