Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Urban thirst:

I went to a talk today by Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

He was talking about their outreach program, which you have probably seen if you have travelled through Denver International lately. Just before the TSA clearance area, there is an exhibit covering the fossils that were dug up while DIA was being built - this is one of the paintings there by artist Jan Vriesen:

Kirk had an interesting point about Denver - most of the water for the city is brought there by tunnel from the West side of the continental divide, since Denver is in the rain shadow. However, most of the new developments are not fed by this system, and are drawing up groundwater from fossil aquifers like the Arapahoe.

The development pictured here, Highlands Ranch, is the largest development in the United States. It draws water from the Arapahoe, which it is lowering by 20 feet a year. There are about 600 feet of water in the aquifer. As Kirk put it, 'about one mortgage's worth.' Great long-range planning, eh? This will be a ghost town within our lifetimes.

Kirk has been able to establish nature trails in many of these developments because they are fossil rich - even having large specimens like Triceratops, which make for nice educational walks. As you might imagine, the developers have constantly vetoed any mention of water.

Colorado has been very wet in its past - much of Kirk and Jan's work together has been to produce a set of paintings that depict the Denver area through time. Here it is about 300 million years ago, during the (eerie) Pennsylvanian:

And here it is 85 million years ago, during the Cretaceous, when it was part of a vast inland sea:

You can see more of Jan's work at the Ancient Colorado exhibit at the Colorado Convention Center. These slides are up for a brief period as Mac Slides - if you have a .Mac subscription, you can view them as a screen saver if you subscribe to my public slide show.

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At 11:06 AM, Blogger Blair said...

Living in the desert myself, I am shocked, I mean shocked, at how water is regarded... Wallace Stegner wrote a great essay on the west and water... it is what opened my eyes to the issue, I think it should be required reading for high school students.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Interesting - I just came across Stegner in another context, and I went off and read his Wilderness Letter. Nice style (therefore the Pulitzer, etc.), but I can see how he does (did) not get through to the more hard-headed folk... it's all a bit, well, ...mystical.


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