Dry Beds: Big Bend's Changing Climates
by Kate Keenan
Photos by Tony Drewry
Graphs by Jenny Schooler
Darren Wallis, Photo by Tony Drewry
I am in an adobe home created from ruins and built by the boatmen of a day and age perhaps now past. Family heirlooms and sentimental trinkets abound alongside baskets of fruit, textiles, and eclectic decor. The gracious and loquacious host, Darren Wallis, has ushered me in with a bird call remniscent of those used while playing spy games as a kid. “I’m over here, ready for the secret mission. Rally on the front porch!” I come prepared with a couple Lonestars in an upcycled thermal bag with a reusable ice pack. Wallis comments on it, saying he also appreciates reusing items.
Inevitably, in 2020 widespread drought depriving both the United States and Mexico of water needed to serve a high population and the Mexican mega-agricultural industry spurred by NAFTA in 1994, resulted in disputes between our two countries.
Unable to pay the five-year quota of water to the U.S., Mexico found itself in a domestic and international mess. With pressure from United States Secretary of State Pompeo via President Trump and prompted by Governor Abbott of Texas, Mexico’s President Obrador felt extreme pressure to release water owed or otherwise face unknown international consequences with Mexico’s main trading partner, the United States. In response, Obrador declared Mexico’s intentions to honor the debt, triggering outraged Chihuahuan farmers to seize la Boquilla Reservoir. After employing military action against protestors, leaving one young female activist dead, Obrador agreed to release waters from Mexico’s already depleted Falcon and Amistad Reservoirs, far further down the river near Del Rio. Without the flow of allocated water from the Boquilla Reservoir and with further stoppage from New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir, our region continues to suffer a lack of water flow, though some Chihuahuan farmers have been assuaged. Still, the culprit remains drought, not just in Texas and Mexico, but across the West.
1941-1942: Exceptionally wet
Storm drainage 60 minute, 100 year return
Weather Extremes: Dry Years
1917: Driest year in Texas
Though the lack of water is concerning, especially to those who depend on a livelihood as a river guide, household use water and Terlingua/Study Butte aquifer water is predicted to be less of a concern. In a statement released in the Terlingua Moon June 28, 2022, the Study Butte Water Supply Company stated, “At the present rate of usage, if we get not one more drop of rain, we have known supplies to last for approximately 6 years and possibly much longer.”
Philip Lowe, Willow Keenan, Kate Keenan, Mandy Jorgenson
Photo by Tony Drewry
I asked Wallis, “Is it ethical to live here?” after discussing the lack of resources and water. His answer was in sum — The world changes. Life changes. Community changes. The need is the same: Togetherness. Evolution through adaptation. Indelibility which carries through the thread of generational life, whether that is a winding river trickle and wish for more or the interwoven love of Big Bend people and their capacity to listen, remember, value — carry history, carving canyons of legend for posterity, knowing that without the past we cannot have the future. So, with faith, I call to you, reader, to sing a rain dance once sung by innocent girl scouts, now remembered by a faithful devotee of the human race and nature alike, with the pure faith of a man who could write the book on Big Bend. Sing with me and Darren Wallis, a rain dance for all the world:
Kate Keenan is a writer whose work has been published in Noise City Zine, The Ductile Anchor, Live at the Coffin Shop, The Bullard Bulletin, Pond Trade Magazine, MacroMicroCosm, and campfire stories for her four children, among others. Kate holds a Master Arts in English from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her residence straddles the worlds between her birthplace in the lush green of East Texas and the dazzling desert landscape of Big Bend. She’s usually sweaty from the Texas heat and is currently watching a rainstorm over the Chisos Mountains while typing at an ancient folding card table, coffee by her side. She is the founder and managing editor of Big Bend Literary Magazine. Kate is a proofreader, copywriter, social media marketer, and web designer. Find her at https://katekeenanmarketing.com.
After life as a Master Plumber turned expert beer consultant, Tony Drewry has spent the better part of the last ten years exploring in great depth the wild backcountry of Texas, Mexico, and the American Southwest, before landing in the Big Bend region of Far West Texas and Northern Mexico for an extended period. In this time, he's honed his photography while capturing some of the most beautiful scenery and nature that this world has to offer. While the adventures continue, he has begun to share visually some of his favorite captures across multiple mediums, and orally through spoken word and song. He's said that the Big Bend stole his heart at its first chance, but that was the beginning of much more. So stay tuned. His website is tonydrewry.myportfolio.com/.