The 500-Year-Old Mystery of Dowsing
By Christopher Bird
The art of searching for water, oil, minerals, and other natural resources or anything lost, missing or badly need.
An excellent book on the existence of water in rock, and of springs that emerge above the water table, near mountain tops. It supposes that water is captured in rock, during its formation, and is liberated into cracks within the rock as it cools.
This copy was downloaded as a .doc file from www.christopherbird.org. a site maintained by Shabari Bird including purchase details, about the works of Christopher Bird, co-author of the book “The Secret Life of Plants”. Excerpts of the latter are given in the “Organic Gardening” section of “Booklights”. The downloaded copy includes a table of quality of waters to be found in different soil types and captions for photos which are only present in the book itself.
Chapter 8: Icebergs or “Waters of the Earth”?
Hydrologic Doctrine vs. Primary Water
“In October 1977, 110 scientists and engineers gathered in landlocked Iowa to discuss a bizarre notion: Could an iceberg one mile long, 1,000 feet wide and 900 feet thick, weighing 100 million tons and containing 20 billion gallons of water, be transported from Antarctica to the Northern Hemisphere and parked next to the coast of a desert country to serve as a mammoth water reservoir?
The proposal to solve a shortage of water by moving icebergs halfway around the world was only the most recent in a long history of similar water-transport schemes that date back to the beginning of recorded history, among which canals dug into the earth, or aqueducts set above it, and the construction of ever more costly dams have been favorite choices.
By the time the conference began, a feasibility study for displacing a mountain of ice was already in the works. Commissioned by Prince Muhammad al Faisal, nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid and sponsor of the Iowa meeting, it enjoined Cicero, a French engineering firm, to solve the problem of towing a gargantuan ice cube 7,500 miles to the Saudis’ Red Sea port of Jidda. Some observers at the First International Conference on Iceberg Utilization estimated that tugs towing the berg, able to move no faster than a nautical snail’s pace of half a mile per hour, would take nearly eight months to reach the Bab el Mandeb Strait at the entrance to the Red Sea.
Then there was the melting problem. Wilford Weeks of the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research Laboratory protested that anyone who tried to drag an unprotected iceberg from the coldest to the hottest place on earth would end up with “nothing but a tow-line.” Not disagreeing, Egyptian nuclear engineer Abdo Husseiny nevertheless waxed optimistic that, if a strong enough version of a plastic bag could be devised to retain their melt, icebergs up to five by ten miles in size could make the voyage. UNESCO hydrologists suggested that plants for the desalinization of sea water made better economic sense.
No one at the conference was aware of the fact that over eighty years ago a Stockholm professor of mineralogy and arctic explorer, Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, had written a paper, “About Drilling for Water in Primary Rocks” which concluded that one could sink wells capable of producing water the year round along the northern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean, and in the whole of Asia Minor, or exactly in those areas of the world from which conference delegates most concerned about water supply problems hailed.
Nordenskiold, whose essay won him a nomination for the Nobel Prize in physics (he died before full consideration was given to the candidates), spent years drilling in rocky promontories and islands off the Swedish coast to bring water for pilotage stations forced to capture rain or import water. His impetus came from his father, Nils, Chief of Mining in Finland, who told him with some wonderment that while salt water never penetrated iron mines on the Finnish coast even when they were below sea level, fresh water was always present on the rocky floors of the same mines. The Swedish scientist’s extensive subsequent bores convinced him that water, produced by some process deep within the earth for which he could not account, could be contacted in hard rock.
Nordenskiold’s theory completely contradicted hydrological doctrine of his, and our own, time which insists that most of the fresh water available to living things on earth first rises as vapor from lakes and oceans to form clouds. These in turn deliver the same water, condensed by cool air currents into rain, hail, or snow, back to the earth’s surface. The bulk of this precipitation trickles into rivulets, brooks, streams, and rivers to run back to the sea. Part of it is absorbed by the earth’s crust, where it is tapped by countless trillions of plants to be reliberated by transpiration, or seeps downward as “ground water” to collect in subterranean channels called “aquifers” Ñ Latin for “water-carriers” Ñ from which it can be recovered from natural springs or man-made wells. The whole circulatory process is called the “hydrologic cycle.”
The Swede’s new concept was to lie dormant until it was revived by a Bavarian-born mining engineer, Stephan Riess, who immigrated to the United States in 1923. Though he has never held a dowsing rod in his hands, Riess has developed a geologic theory about the origin of water which, proved by fifty years of practice, meshes well with dowsers’ own deductions.
Eager to discover what California mining had to offer, he traveled to Lassen County near the Oregon border and began working his way down the Sierra Nevada range. For one mining operation with over 100,000 tons of unprocessed ore lying aboveground, Riess solved the processing problem chemically with a special catalyst known, then as now, only to himself. “News of the money those fellows made raced like a grass fire through the hills,” Riess recalls, “and I had me plenty of consulting work right away.”
Riess’s ability to recover metal from ores attracted the attention of then ex-President Herbert Hoover, who owned large mining holdings. Hoover invited the German immigrant to join a metallurgical processing firm, in which he worked together with the former President’s two sons, Allan and Herbert, Jr.
One day a load of dynamite was set off in the bottom of a deep mine at high elevation to break up ore-rich rock. After the explosion Riess was amazed to see water come gushing out of nowhere in such quantities that pumps installed to remove it at a rate of 25,000 gallons a minute could not make a dent in it. Looking down into the valley below, Riess asked himself how water that had trickled into the earth as rain could rise through hard rock into the shafts and tunnels of a mine nearly at the top of a mountain range.
The temperature and the purity of the water’s chemical analysis suggested to Riess that the water must be of a completely different origin than ordinary ground water. Since none of the textbooks he had studies referred to what seemed to be a completely anomalous phenomenon, he decided to look into it.
On trips back to Europe, Riess became aware that many historic castles were built on high rocky promontories such as those in the Rhineland, some of them constructed by Charlemagne’s descendants. At the center of their courtyards were high wells, often as much as eight feet in diameter with steps going into the ground two hundred meters or more, that had supplied water for centuries.
Similar wells can be found in all parts of the world. Typical is the fortress built on rocky Inner Farne islet in the mouth of Scotland’s Tweed River where St. Cuthbert isolated himself from 676-687 A.D. When he visited the site in 1952, the National Geographic’s John E.M. Nolan nearly plunged into “a huge stone cistern filled with ice-cold water” that had supplied the saint and his fellow monks. Even more awesome is a well at La Ferriere, the stone fortress built by Emperor Christopher two thousand feet above the north Haitian plain in the early 1800s and described as “deep and clear and freezing cold, and fed by an inexhaustible spring.”
In the North American West an important clue to the mystery disclosed by Riess came when, working late at night in a mine shaft, he heard a peculiar hissing sound, similar to that produced by a leaky air tank, accompanied by trickling water. He traced the unfamiliar noise down to the ball mill, an enormous cylinder that rotates and pulverizes ore to mud by the tumbling action of steel balls and water contained within it. The water trickling out of the ball mill should normally have been found above the mud in the motionless cylinder but, to his amazement, Riess saw that it lay under a newly formed arch of mud through which hissing bubbles of gas kept rising.
Holding a match over one of the bubbles, he caused a mini-explosion. What he was observing, he believed, was virgin water being liberated from ore-bearing rock by crystallization processes within the rocks themselves. He surmised that these processes had been triggered by the presence of some catalyzing agent among the chemicals introduced into the ball mill for recovering refractory gold and silver.
Riess duplicated the water-producing process in a laboratory, then turned to perfecting methods of rock analysis. He finally came to the conclusion that, in various rock strata, deep in the earth, water was continually manufactured under proper conditions of temperature and pressure and forced up in rock fissures where it could be tapped if drilled.
Classical authors, Riess discovered, tended to support his view. As far back as 500 B.C. Anaxagoras maintained that oceans were created both from rivers flowing into them and from what he called “waters of the earth,” upon which the self-same rivers depended for their own existence. Both Plato and Aristotle also supported the idea that water was formed within the earth as well as in its atmosphere.
In pre-Christian Roman times, Vitruvius, whose Ten Books on Architecture appeared between 27 and 17 B.C., was the first to state that water was best found, not in sands, gravels, and soil but in rocks.
In the first century of the Christian era Seneca referred to great underground rivers flowing in the planet, while his contemporary, Pliny the Elder, championing the idea that water flowed in veins, wrote that they “pervaded the whole earth within and ran in all directions bursting out even on the highest ridges.”
Like the Chinese before him, Leonardo da Vinci, in his long unpublished essay, “Treatise on Water,” compared the earth to a living human body. Wrote the Renaissance genius:
The same cause which moves the humours in every species of animate bodies against the natural law of gravity also propels the water through the veins of the earth wherein it enclosed and distributes it through small passages. And as the blood rises from below and pours out thorough the broken veins of the forehead, as the water rises from the lowest part of the vine to the branches that are cut, so from the lowest depth of the sea the water rises to the summits of mountains, where, finding the veins broken, it pours out and returns to the bottom of the sea.
This idea did not prevent Leonardo from also opting for an early version of the modern hydrologic cycle and stating that a lot of the earth’s water was the result of rainfall from clouds. As Asit K. Biswas notes in his recent History of Hydrology: “Characteristically, Leonardo reported an occasional doubt about certain aspects of both theories, but nothing has been found so far which would indicate that he had at any time discarded the basic concepts of either of them. In fact, the chances seem good that he believed both systems operated concurrently.”
No less impressive to Riess were accounts of travelers in various parts of the Mediterranean littoral and the Near East about sources of water that laid the basis for ancient civilizations. At Cyrene in northeastern Liby the famous Fountain of Apollo still gushes from a tunnel hewn into rock just as it has done since long before the birth of Christ. In his book, Digging for Lost African Gods, archaeologist and explorer Byron Kuhn de Prorok described the enormous spring at Zaghuan, forty-eight miles from the site of the ancient city of Carthage near modern-day Tunis, which flows through a still-standing Roman temple on the slopes of the Atlas Mountains. Denying the usual claim that North Africa became a desert because of severe climatic change, de Prorok believed that if sources such as Zaghuan were tapped anew and ancient Roman waterways to channel their abundance restored, “Algeria and Tunisia could become the granary of Europe, as they were for 300 years under Roman rule.”
In the Fertile Crescent Nelson Glueck describes the easternmost source of the River Jordan as a full-formed stream bursting forth from the base of an earthquake-battered cave in a great iron-reddened limestone cliff, while its westernmost sources originate in one spring at the foot of a buttress of Mount Hermon and in another which “pours from the cliffs in waterfalls.”
In the National Geographic magazine for December 1951, an article entitled “The Ghosts of Jericho” recounts that even in the recent past thousands of Arab refugees were getting their water from the same spring that supplied the site in neolithic times. Called Ain-es-Sultan or “The Sultan’s Spring” in Arabic, it is identical to that “healed” by Elisha as reported in II Kings 2, 19-25.
The Ain Figeh Spring, a remarkable source of water, today supplies the entire population (1.3 million people) of Damascus, Syria, and is also the principal source of the Barada River. A report on it by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development reads: “The principal emergence of the spring, which has been enclosed in a structure since Roman times, resembles an underground river several meters across which flows up and out of the limestone formation of the mountain. The total flow has averaged 8.63 cubic meters per second (about 132,000 gpm). The water quality is very good, its temperature and pH are relatively constant (near 14 degrees Centigrade and 7.9 respectively), its taste and color are excellent, and bacteriological contamination at the source is practically nonexistent.”
Riess’s first opportunity to prove that water could be located in crystalline rock came in 1934, at Nelson, in the southwest tip of Nevada, where a mine could be made profitable only if a source of water could be found to mill millions of dollars of gold and silver-bearing ore heaped up near its shafts. The idea of drilling into a mountainside for water appeared so outlandish to his associates that Riess, fearing to make them the laughingstock of the mining industry by bringing in a conspicuous drill rig, ordered a 4 X 8 foot shaft drilled with air-compressed jack hammers.
“No geologist would dare recommend drilling for water in places like that today,” says Riess. “That’s why the Hoovers were so skeptical. But as we drove down and went through the upper, softer alluvium into the hard rock below, I began to get encouraged. We worked for several weeks and then, when we got down to 182 feet, boy, we hit it! The water rose so fast in that big shaft that the workers barely had time to get out of there with their jack hammer before they drowned. It came in under a lot of pressure and surged to within six feet from the surface.”
Riess installed a pump in the shaft and, in his words, “pumped the smithereens out of her, on and off for three weeks, half a day, or a whole day at a time. The water ran down the canyon in a brook. There was no drawdown. She maintained her level at six feet from the surface.” The new water renewed the mine’s profitability and 4 million dollars’ worth of bullion was shipped to the San Francisco Mint before World War II exigencies closed down operations. When mining was resumed in 1977, the local press reported that Nelson Joint Ventures was pumping water from a good well drilled on leased land. The good well was none other than that drilled forty-five years previously by Stephan Riess.
Morad Eghbal, an American-trained Iranian graduate student in geology asked Riess to elaborate on his methodology. Eghbal was keenly aware that the mining engineer’s ideas did not fit into any of a series of models which geology, perhaps the most speculative of the natural sciences, has developed over decades to explain what may be happening in the unseen world below ground.
“When you consider,” said Riess, “that so many of the productive mines in the world have been washed out before they could be worked out and a lot of working mines are pumping out thousands of gallons of water, you’ve got to ask yourself where the water comes from. I’m speaking of really big operations like the Comstock and the Tombstone.”
Historians bear Riess out. Of the famous Comstock silver lode at Virginia City, Nevada, Grant M. Smith writes:
The Combination shaft intersected the Comstock Lode at the depth of 3,000 feet and entered a body of low-grade quartz on the 3,200 foot level, which proved of no value. The shaft was then sunk to the 3,250-foot point. The double line of Cornish pumps was unable to handle the water when the shaft began to make connections with adjoining mines, and Superintendent Regan installed a hydraulic pump to assist, using water furnished by the Water Company as a plunger. Later, two additional hydraulic pumps were installed. The pumps were then lifting 5,200,000 gallons every twenty-four hours to the Sutro Tunnel level, or 3,600 gallons a minute. This quantity lifted 3,200 feet would require about 3,000 horsepower theoretically, or with pipe friction and modern pumps and motors about a 4,000 horsepower continuous load.
On October 16, 1886, the Combination pumps ceased to operate. Within 36 hours after the hydraulic pumps were stopped the water had risen to the 2,400-foot level, filling the entire lower workings of the Chollar, Potosi, Hale & Nureruss, and Savage mines, including several miles of crosscuts.
No less impressive is Otis E. Young’s description of the demise of the huge silver mine at Tombstone, Arizona:
While dewatering was going on, the related Tombstone Consolidated Mining Company attended to reopening the mines as fast as they were dried out. By 1905 the project had proved a qualified success. At the eight-hundred-foot level the pumps were raising 2.3 million gallons of water daily, while the output of the reopened mines went to the refineries at El Paso in the form of two or three carloads of bulk concentrates a day. Profits were helped along by scavenging both low-grade ore and the waste dumps of the earlier period. With a rise in world silver prices that occurred at the same time, the operation showed a profit for four years. In 1909 it was given out that boiler breakdown had shut down the drainage system and that before repairs could be effected the entire complex had been drowned beyond redemption.
Riess told Eghbal that he mainly looked for “restricted faults” or breaks in the earth’s crust which rarely reach to the earth’s surface. Where these vertical pipes or fissures or fumaroles did reach the surface, great natural springs of primary water occurred. “You take the creek up in Kings Canyon National Park,” he elaborated, “why, it flows at several thousand gallons a minute and it is above all drainage in any direction. Moose Lake, in the same area, also has no visible watershed and that, too, flows at several thousand gallons a minute. Even in dry summer months on mount Whitney at about 13,000 feet there is a sheer granite wall with a protrusion on its face that cups a small lake. If that lake water is rain or snow, then all we have to do is hang tanks on the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower and expect a constant flow of water.”
“At no time is water static,” Riess went on. “It is constantly changing form. It is either a liquid or gas, or it is bound up in crystalline form in rocks and minerals. The cycle of gas to liquid to crystal is repeated over and over. Oxygen and hydrogen combine under the electrochemical forces of the earth to form liquid water. Not only is water being constantly formed within the earth, but also rocks, minerals, and oil. What I seek is water in its liquid state.”
During a ten-day field trip to look at various water wells developed by Riess over the last thirty years, all of which are producing as copiously as when they were first bored. Eghbal learned that the mining engineer uses a twofold approach in locating sources of water. First comes a detailed study of surface structure, the main targets of which are the identification of contacts, or places where two kinds of rock strata adjoin to create natural fissures. Such a contact zone can be found between overlying layers of sedimentary rock laid down over millennia by erosion and deposition, and underlying basalt, a hard, dense igneous rock formed, like granite and other varieties, by crystallization of molten material that comes upward from deep within the earth.
“Just like igneous rock,” Riess further explained, “the water I get has to be coming from great depth because it is free of leach minerals found in water flowing through sediments. It comes up through the basalt in fissures, some from 5 to 10 and up to 20 to 30 feet wide, that go down into the earth to provide vertical aqueducts.”
To demonstrate to Eghbal the kind of thing he looks for in surface structure, Riess indicated a dyke, a miles-long thin protrusion of igneous rock slicing through adjacent sedimentary structures. To visualize this, one need only posit an extended strip of metal sheeting forced vertically into beach sand to create a barrier within it.
“This dyke,” Riess told Eghbal, “is made up of gabbro. It has risen up through sandstone and cuts very plainly through this geology. You can see where it actually surfaces in some places from which its direction, or ‘strike’ as geologists have it, can be traced across country. On this gabbro contact, a seam of water is flowing down below in a big fissure maybe five or six feet wide. The dykes, penetrating as they do into the lithosphere, the rocky crust of the earth, go down to where the rock becomes fluid. The contacts on gabbro can run thousands of feet. The dykes are mostly vertical or with a very slight dip, never much less than 70 degrees.”
“Do you always drill next to a dyke?” asked Eghbal.
“No,” replied Riess, “if it’s a displacement, I don’t. You have to figure that out. You can get misled a hundred times over if you don’t know your business.”
“So in essence you want to know if there are any displacement faults that might have moved the area you’re going to be drilling on?” Eghbal asked, hitting on the essence of the problem.
“Yes, it might have moved as much as 500 yards, and then you’ll be off it,” Riess both agreed and warned.
Riess further explained to the Iranian that if the water came up to, say, 150 feet from the surface and struck a lateral channel, it could travel horizontally for one hundred miles or more. “I couldn’t give you an accurate prediction on that without first-class instrumentation and a time-consuming study of the region’s geology and possibly by sinking some core holes miles apart which would give me a picture of the strata below ground,” he made clear. “This would give me an idea of whether the bedrock lay high or low. The dip and strike of the bedding plane would be revealed very clearly in the cores.”
Eghbal broke in: “What would happen if the water ran twenty miles in a lateral displacement and then hit another vertical fissure. Would it come up?”
“Yes,” replied Riess, “if it’s blocked. If it hits any kind of restriction it has to rise just as if it were coming up behind a dam and spilling over it. You could find water at one spot only 500 feet down and, maybe three miles away, it might be down at 5,000 feet. It depends where the basement, the bedrock, is.”
Side by side with his evaluation of structure, Riess focuses a lot of attention on the composition of rocks. Says Eghbal: “What he’s looking for is which association of minerals, including water, they might contain. Think of a cocktail or a dinner party. If you know some people will be present, they you might deduce that others will also be in attendance. This is where his petrography and crystallography come in. He doesnÕt care about the size of the crystals in the rocks as much as their relative quantity, which gives him an idea of how the rocks have altered, or metamorphosed, over long periods of time and allows him to trace the deposition to the time of its origin.
“I also asked him if the age of a given rocky formation made any difference and he replied that, if the structure of the formation permitted an upflow of water, he didn’t give a damn if it were Precambrian, or only half a million years old. It’s mainly a vertical, rather than a lateral, opening between two distinctly differentiated formations that he’s looking for. It’s always on a contact between two walls with a space, he says. The space can be filled with impervious material, sort of like a long cork which you have to drill through to get down underneath it. He’s drilled as much as 1,000 feet but when he finally broke through, he got a good well.”
Eghbal inquired of Riess whether he could predict water veins through seismology, the study of subterranean structures by use of sound waves. “Very likely,” was the reply, “because then I’d have a lot of stratographic information. But still I have to depend on past experience which has taken years to collect. I have to know what to look for. You can’t learn these techniques in a few weeks or even a few months.”
After listening to Riess’s exposition and looking at his well sites, Eghbal began to wonder why in his geology classes he had never been taught some of the ideas the mining engineer was expounding. “Riess’s work brought into focus some of the very problems that I tried to address to my professors,” explained Eghbal, “but they always shield away from them and I could never get any straight answers.”
L’Eau des Roches”
Is primary water produced in rock and available for tapping there? Nordenskiyld and Riess are not the only ones to provide an affirmative answer to this question. Professor C. Louis Kervran, a biologist and engineer who before his retirement was a French government expert on nuclear radiation hazards, asserts that most of the wells in his native Brittany are dug into solid granite.
“Certain ‘purists’ declare this impossible,” wrote Kervran in a 1977 essay on the origin of water found in crystalline rock. “They hold that water can only come from a permeable layer impregnated with it. A sponge, as it were, I needed, they say. This is entirely false and everybody knows it except overspecialized theorists who, even when confronted with facts, will not admit to anything that falls outside the subject matter they absorbed in school.”
During his professional career, Kervran knew of so many cases in which tunneling operations in mountain rock were suddenly flooded with water that he did not even bother to collect data on them. “The incidents were,” he noted, “so banally collect data on them.” The incidents were,” he noted, “so banally commonplace as to be known to thousands.” The floods, which in many cases literally “drowned the construction sites,” says Kervran, were generally attributed by geologists to what they called “contained” or “perched” water.
Brittany’s granite Ñ termed by Kervran “primary, impermeable terrain” Ñ has supplied water for all farm animals and humans as long as anyone can remember. Like Livingston’s wells in the granite under the high Sierras, the wells in Brittany rarely run dry, even during extended droughts such as the one which struck the peninsula in 1976. So widespread is the knowledge of wells in granite among the Breton peasantry that the expression “L’eau des roches” or “rock water” has long existed in their vernacular. Labeling it “constituent water,” or that forming part of a whole, Kervran notes that anyone can find out how much of it any rock contains by weighing the rock before and after heating. In his view constituent water was formed at the same time as the rock itself, a lot of it hundreds of millions of years ago, by penetrating the metamorphosing rock as steam and becoming imprisoned when the rock was a precrystalline viscous paste heated to temperature of an order of 800 degrees Centigrade at enormous pressures of 2-3 kilobars. Cooling, the rock shrank and cracked, opening up fractures leading in all directions.
On this account Kervran holds that it is difficult to find a rock even ten meters thick without such a crack or fissure, many of which intercommunicate, meeting at various angles and forming huge crevices or voids. The voids fill with water for which the myriad fissures are pathways or what Kervran terms “drainage pipes.” He has even seen water protruding from such channels where they are laid bare on the faces of cliffs.
During his years as a construction foreman building Interstate Highway 88 through the Sierra Nevada, Livingston, too, noticed similar openings oozing water, especially after heavy equipment had made cuts through rocks. Echoing Livingston’s idea that the water in rock is “living water,” Kervran avers that this water is generally in motion and that where the flow is more than minimal, it can be easily detected by dowsers. This explains why dowsers are, in his words, “habitually used in rocky regions in Brittany to pinpoint the exact location where one must dig to contact flowing water. The locations are detected by the dowsers with great precision.” During the 1976 drought in Brittany, the French Geological and Mining Bureau lent its drilling equipment, used to prospect for minerals in the Amoricain Mountains, to a crash program to find new water wells. In 1977, Ouest France, the newspaper with the highest circulation in the French Republic, reporting on the Bureau’s work, emphasized in italic print that its wells in Brittany were “drilled into crystalline and metamorphic terrain which has too long been erroneously reputed not to be water-bearing.” “Why can’t geologists submit to the evidence?” asks Kervran. “It is easily possible to find water in so-called impermeable rock. If books on geology do not mention this, it is because all the widely known observations of this phenomenon have never yet been assembled. No synthesis has ever been made of the data, and what a shame.”
To gather data on water from rock in Brittany, Kervran traveled in 1977 to the village of Lizio near Plormel where a local industry, Katell Roc, was bottling 300 million liters of particularly pure, almost mineral-free, water that is distributed all over Brittany and has recently become popular with “health-food” stores burgeoning in the region of Paris. Greeting Kervran at the Katell Roc site in a sparsely inhabited countryside were three installations that might have been taken for secret underground laboratories. Surrounded by high barbed-wire fencing, each appeared to be a dome of cement some thirty-five meters in diameter, rising above the ground to a height of about four meters. Out of the domes protruded huge ventilation shafts suggesting underground activity. When the door of one of these installations was unlocked, the Katell Roc president led Kervran down underground beneath the dome. To his surprise, Kervran found himself standing on a kind of catwalk and looking into an enormous round well thirty meters across and nine meters deep. That the well itself had been dug into solid granite was clearly revealed by the side walls all the way around its circumference.
The Katell Roc president told Kervran that the well was fed by a threadlike fissure only 5-6 millimeters wide, which had been detected by a dowser. The huge cisternlike tank had been dug into the rock to serve as reservoir which is pumped off during the day and recovers each night, even overflowing to fill an additional tank of 700 cubic meter capacity.
“Where does water of such purity come from?” asked Kervran.
“I don’t know,” replied the Katell Roc executive. “Geologists claim it comes from rain falling on Brittany’s central mountain range more than fifty miles from here.”
“Then water in the wells all around Lizio should be of the same composition as yours,” reasoned Kervran.
“Yes, it should,” the other man agreed, “but it isn’t. It’s of a totally different composition. The geologists have always told me that our water is rain water. Now I wonder if they are right.”
“For a century it has been known that, under certain conditions, some rocks yield hydrogen and oxygen gases which subsequently combine to form new water. In connection with the mining and recovery of gold, a natural coincidence led me to suspect, many years ago, that such a laboratory reaction might proceed within the earth. My discovery was then put to a field test by locating drilling many water wells. The record to date is 70 producing wells out of 72 attempts, all drilled in hard rock, all located in distress areas generally considered unproductive.” Stephan Riess, 1954.”
EARTH-GENERATED WATER: A POTENTIAL SOLUTION
“Waters divided… “1 or “well[s] of living waters” and “living fountains of waters”?2
Morad EghbalThe Middle East is not the only place where water crises and disputes arise and continue, but it is the region in which the potential for conflict over water is perhaps most extreme. A long history of hostilities and border disputes, plus the presence of oil, make the need for binding international agreement most pressing, though history gives us little confidence that international law can avert wars there.
Though the region is generally referred to as a whole—the Middle East—it is full of contradictory values, ranging from those of the desert, shaped predominantly by nomads, to the ideas of shepherds of the plains, and to the expectations of farmers and urban population of the few areas rich in water resources. These regional and local rules, no matter how contemporary they might seem, were founded on values that grew out of religious and social customs— often more rigid than the harshest of state-made laws.
We will embark on a journey in three parts.
Part One, about our “water planet,” sets the stage for water use, water rights, and regional security in the Middle East.
Part Two briefly surveys the paradigm-breaking scientific work of Stephan Riess, with its relevance to providing much-needed additional supplies of potable fresh water, particularly in the Middle East. One hopes this new paradigm could guide present dialogue in a different and long-ignored direction. Perhaps this could further the evolution of more cooperative, less adversarial approaches. In
Part Three we will address the interface between water resources and water rights in the Middle East, considering two river systems of particular interest: the Euphrates and Tigris river system and the Jordan Valley.
The Water Planet
Every living thing on this unique planet has a water connection. Our bodies are approximately 60% water, which lubricates our internal systems, keeps them free from waste, and maintains normal body temperature. Beyond these confines, trees, which are considered the “lungs” of the Earth, are 70% water and rely for the most part on a steady and reliable supply of fresh water. Every living cell is water-dependent and therefore vitally affected by the quality and quantity of fresh water available.
One of the circulatory systems which provides this vital resource is known as thehydrologic cycle, which is both simple to describe and complex in its application. Circulatory means recycling, a word that has increasingly permeated the consciousness of the public. In nature, recycling is a built-in part of the ecosystem and is the way water in changing form and function is used and re-used.
Water descends upon the face of the Earth as precipitation of one kind or another. It penetrates the surface and migrates along aquifers, a word whose Latin origin connotes the leading of water collected along a particular stratum, toward a point where it will resurface once again, to run off in creeks streams, and rivers—ultimately collecting in the lowest points, from where it again rises by evaporating and condensing into clouds, to descend again as precipitation.
This evapo-transpiration system is run by the energy of the Sun, which causes liquid water to turn into vapor, a change which is under way constantly over all bodies of water and on wet surfaces. We could say that we live in a state of constant net-deficit of this vital resource. Forests act as natural water reservoirs and are an important part of the Earth’s hydrological system.
The leaves and branches of trees catch a great amount of rainfall that would otherwise run off into streams. They shed this moisture on the surface of the ground, some of it to be held in the thick Layer of duff that forms the mulch covering forest floors. Trees and plants also absorb water through their root systems. The moisture that is not used up by trees or plants rises through osmotic pressure and evaporates to the atmosphere. Remarkably, water from the hydrologic cycle is not the only source of fresh water, as we shall see!
If so much of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, why are so many areas of the world, especially the Middle East, experiencing shortages and competing for fresh water? It is simply that fresh water resources, at least obviouslv accessible ones, are not evenly distributed either within national boundaries or globally.
The planet’s rapidly expanding human population also places a severe strain on the supply of this vital resource. This is not so much because supplies are low in an absolute sense, but because an ever-increasing population places ever larger demands on locally available reliable sources of fresh water.
As a result of this population increase, every country today is not only confronted with a growing demand for water, it must also come to terms with accompanying legal problems. If we add the additional concern of increased levels of industrialization, one can readily see how complicated the equation becomes and why non-industrialized countries also have the highest demand for this resource. They lack technological advance, being dependent mainly on agriculture, perhaps the most water-intensive industry in the world.
If so much of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, why are so many areas of the world, especially the Middle East, experiencing shortages and competing for fresh water?
Turning now to the second part of our journey we discover possible alternatives to these persistent problems. For at least twenty-five years a global water shortage has been the focus of increasingly dire predictions in the national and world press.3
First, there is over-pumping of groundwater from fairly shallow aquifers—for example, the Ogallalla that underlies the High Plains states in the United States from the Dakotas to the Texas Panhandle. Replenishment of this water by precipitation has not kept pace with an over-greedy use of this water. Should the tapping of such aquifers continue at present rates, the question arises whether that portion of the High Plains overlying the Ogallalla Aquifer will once again become the “Great American Desert.” It was so labeled on maps in the middle of the past century, long before the water below it was used for irrigation.
Then there is the increasing pollution of groundwater sources in many areas due to the influx of chemicals and toxins. Typical is the nine million gallons of chemicals that hav poured into Price’s Pit, the municipal dump at Atlantic City, New Jersey, which caused water in ten of fourteen city wells to become unpotable in the early 1980s.4
The solutions to this problem advanced by policy-makers are basically of two kinds.5 Solution one: Building very expensive “long-distance plumbing” in the form of pipelines, canals, and other conduits to channel water from rivers or from impoundments behind dams. This approach has been in favor since the days of the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who built an extensive system of irrigation canals in his Near Eastern domain.
It also flourished in the vast network of aqueducts that were constructed throughout the Roman empire. The second solution: Conserve existing supplies through voluntary limitation of use, i.e. rationing, or perhaps more effectively, through a steep rise in the price of water. Neither the “conservationists” nor the “long-distance plumbing advocates” seem to be aware of a third solution to water shortage problems. With the exception of a few stalwarts who have <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>advocated its potential for more than a century, this solution has remained dormant, thanks to outworn dogma.
Dogma insists that all the water available to humankind derives exclusively from the hydrologic cycle, which we have described above. Even as recent a publication as “Water for the Future: The West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan” by the National Science Foundation6 overlooked this potentially highly promising alternative. Advocates take exception to the well-entrenched notion that the Earth’s water can only be of “meteoric” origin. (Editor’s Note: The author means weatherborne water, not extraterrestrial water—as in the controversy over the influx of “small comets.”—EFM) They have affirmed that the Earth itself generates massive amounts of water from deep within, which has no connection with the water of the hydrologic cycle. They maintain that if this water were to be tapped by drilling, it would constitute a copious—for all intents and purposes an inexhaustible—supply of pure, unpolluted water.
Leonardo da Vinci, in his famous Treatise on Water, championed the idea that water comes both from precipitation and from internally generated sources. In his History of Hydrology, Asit K. Biswas notes that the Renaissance genius characteristically reported an occasional doubt about certain aspects of both theories, but nothing has been found which would indicate that he at any time had discarded the basic concepts of either of them. In fact, the chances seem good, that he believed both systems to operate concurrently.7
<!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>In 1896, Adolf Erik Nordenskjold, a Stockholm professor of mineralogy and Arctic explorer, published an essay, “About Drilling for Water in Primary Rocks,”8 which was to win him a nomination for the Nobel Prize in physics, though he died before the prize was actually awarded. Nordenskjold had spent years on rocky promontories on and islands off the Swedish coast, organizing the drilling of wells for pilotage stations that were forced to import water or capture rain. The impetus for his effort came from his father, Nils, who was Chief of Mining in Finland. He had told his son, with some awe, that while salt water never penetrated iron mines on the Finnish coast, even when they were below sea level, fresh water was always present on the rocky floors of the same mines!
From his work, Nordenskjold concluded that a new type of water, independent of the hydrologic cycle, and generated by the Earth itself, was available. He called this water “primary,” due to its association with so-called “primary rocks,” which geologists term magmatic, or those, such as granites, basalts, and rhyolites, which derive from the molten magma deep within the Earth and later cool to crystallize into igneous rocks. He also affirmed that one could sink wells capable of producing such “primary water” year-round along the northern and southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and in the whole of Asia Minor— precisely the best known part of the world afflicted with aridity.
Shortly after the appearance of Nordenskjold’s essay, his speculations about water newly formed in the Earth were echoed by a German geologist, Edward Suess, who coined the term “juvenile” or youthful, to characterize this water. Speaking with special reference to the thermal springs at Carlsbad (now Karolvy Vary in the former Czechoslovakia), he advanced persuasive arguments to show that waters of this class “see the light of day for the first time.” That is, they issue from deep within the Earth, from the fundamental magma itself, to bring up veritable additions to the hydrosphere.9
Suess’ contribution was noted by Frank Wigglesworth Clarke, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey, who, in a long memoir published in 1924, wrote that one of the most important questions for geology was whether it is possible to discriminate between waters of superficial origin and magmatic, or deep-seated, waters,10 for which I have coined the more <!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>descriptive term “Earth-generated” waters.
Clarke cites the work of Armand Gautier, who pointed out several criteria for discriminating between Vadose (water located in the zone of aeration in the Earth’s crust) and magmatic waters and who stated that one cubic kilometer of granite, subjected to requisite heat and pressure within the Earth, could yield from twenty-five to thirty million metric tons of water—or something in excess of eight billion gallons—which at 1,100°C would form 160 billion cubic meters of steam. A family of four uses an average of 600 gallons of water per day for their daily sustenance and personal use. Calculated accordingly, such copious supplies of water would be sufficient for the daily need of about 1.25 million households of four.
The eminent mining geologist, Josiah Edward Spurr, in his two-volume treatise published in 1923, called attention to the fact that the existence of water as an essential component of igneous magmas had long been recognized. The existence was clearly shown by the vast clouds of water droplets that condense from the emitted vapor during volcanic eruptions. The fundamental idea that there is a thermodynamic cycle within the Earth that both produces and is fueled by water was still of concern at least up to 1942, when Oscar Meinzer, formerly head of the Groundwater Division of the U.S. Geological Survey in his book Hydrology (published in 1942), espoused the view that waters of internal origin are tangible additions to the Earth’s water supply.
Fifteen years before the publication of his book, Meinzer in a long essay referred to huge springs in the United States that yield 5,000 gallons or more per minute. This phenomenon is not confined to the United States. One incredibly productive water source flowing out of limestone is the Ain Figeh spring that alone supplies water for the over one million residents of Damascus, Syria, and is also the principal source for the Barada River. A report on this spring by the World Bank reads:
The principal emergence for the spring which has been enclosed in a structure since Roman Times resembles an underground river several meters across which flows up and out of the limestone formation of the mountain. The total flow has averaged about 132,000 gallons per minute. The quality is very good, its temperature and pH are relatively constant (14 degrees centigrade and 7.9, respectively), its taste and color are excellent, and bacterial contamination at the source is practically non-existent.11
(The same report is equivocal about the origin of the massive amount of water that has been flowing from this spring for millennia.)
Engineers digging tunnels have also frequently been faced with an outrush of water from what had to be considered an anomalous or mysterious source, given the depth at which it was contacted. Typical was the Tecolote tunnel in the United States, which runs 6.4 miles through the Santa Ynez Mountains to transport water from the Cachuma Reservoir to Santa Barbara, California. In the drilling process, the work was impeded by subterranean water flows of 9,000 gallons per minute, some of which was cool and fresh, some hot and mineralized. What the city of Santa Barbara could have saved by now in water supply expenses by drilling to tap such water (at a cost orders of magnitude less expensive than the 1957 completion price of the tunnel, $40 million) is a matter for conjecture. This issue is at the core of financial considerations in development schemes generally.12
Another anomalous episode, one of the strangest to occur in the annals of construction engineering, took place in Manhattan in 1955. An engineering firm had begun excavating for the addition to the Harlem Hospital at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 136th Street. On St. Valentine’s
Day, while removing a layer of hard rock only twelve feet below ground, workers were suddenly confronted with an enormous out-pouring of water, which rapidly began to fill the vast excavation. Pumps hurried to the site labored day and night at a rate of 2,000 gallons per minute to keep the working area free of water.
Particularly puzzling to engineers was that during the cold winter months the water maintained a constant temperature of 68°F and was so pure that hospital chemists who analyzed it certified it could be drunk without chlorination or other chemical treatment! A billion and a quarter gallons were pumped out of the hole until twelve stories of structural steel had been erected and several lower floors were decked with concrete slabs, which provided enough weight to hold down the foundation of the new building against hydrostatic pressure from this mysterious water.
Despite the fact that New York City has repeatedly been faced with serious water shortages over the past decades, no effort has been made to utilize the more than three million gallons a day that came out of the granite of Gotham’s body near the Harlem Hospital, or to drill for more such sources.
Trying to explain this over thirty years ago, Michael Salzman, then a professor at the University of California’s School of Commerce, who had served as an engineer with the U.S. Navy’s Hydrographic Office, pointedly wrote: “There can be but one reason why this water, despite its purity and constant flow, is not used, and that lies in the many fears associated with it, since its existence cannot be explained by conventional hydrologic practice.”
Salzman dedicated his book to Stephan Riess with an inscription, which said:
To Stephan Riess, for demonstrating his firm belief in democracy, individual initiative, free enterprise, and the need for open minds to the end that all men [humans] may truly be free to think and solve the great problems of their times.
Riess (1898-1985) was a Bavarian-born mining engineer and geologist who emigrated to the United States in 1923. While working in a deep mine at high elevation in the 1930s, after a load of dynamite had been set off in the bottom of it, Riess was amazed to see water come gushing out in such quantities that pumps installed to remove it at the rate of 25,000 gallons per minute could not make a dent in the flow. Staring forth into the valley below, Riess asked himself how water that supposedly had trickled into the Earth as rain could rise through hard rock into the shafts and tunnels of a mine nearly at the top of a mountain range.
The temperature and purity of the water suggested to Riess it must have a completely different origin than ordinary groundwater. Since none of the textbooks he had studied had referred to what seemed to confront him as an entirely anomalous phenomenon, he decided to look into it further. In 1957, after Riess had been working on the problem nearly two decades, Encyclopedia Britannica’s Book of the Year ran the following statement: Stephan Riess of California formulated a theory that “new water” which never existed before, is constantly being formed within the earth by the combination of elemental hydrogen and oxygen and that this water finds its way to the surface, and can be located and tapped, to constitute a steady and unfailing new supply.
This is not the place to document the incredible success Riess had over fifty years of practice drilling water wells at sites where professional hydrologists and geologists flatly predicted that not a drop of water could be found.13 But the central questions that arise are: How far have scientists actually gone to determine the nature and amount of deepseated, Earth-generated water, and in what way is society capable of accommodating the developments which would inevitably accompany the acceptance of this discovery and paradigm shift?
In his foreword to Salzman’s book, the English philosopher and writer Aldous Huxley comments poignantly: “It remains to be seen whether those who are now regarded as experts in the field of hydrology and the politicians whom they advise will also agree that a good case has been made and that large-scale experimentation is in order.” Since Huxley penned that sentence more than a quarter century ago, there has been no such experimentation, large or small, funded by hydrologic officials, state or federal, in the United States, or elsewhere in the world. Only private investors and entrepreneurs with foresightful initiative have dared to carry the research forward.
By 1958, Riess’ exploits came to the attention of the Israeli government, which invited the mining engineer and geologist for an official visit to find water for the then-new city of Eilat on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. After a flight to Tel Aviv, he met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his advisors, who urged him to go ahead with his search as soon as possible. Less enthusiastic were a group of leading Israeli geologists, who, like their American counterparts, vigorously opposed Riess’ theory and methodology of water development. “Only after a protracted session during which I explained it,” Riess would later . relate, “did they agree that my proposal had merit.”
This was confirmed by Israel’s chief water geologist at the time, Arie Issarof, who in a letter, wrote: “As a geologist who is occupied with water research in arid zones, I am fully aware of the limitations of our orthodox methods, in geohydrological possibilities which may be opening up before us while applying these methods. I decided, encouraged by my superiors, to cooperate with Mr. Riess’ research for primary waters in our arid zones.” High in the mountainous country along the Israel-Jordan border, Riess located the first of several wells about a mile and a half from Eilat itself. As Meir Ben-Dov wrote in the Jerusalem Post:
The site chosen is where a fivemeter- wide cleft, running vertically through the mountain, is crossed at right angles by a similar cleft, hardly twenty centimeters across. The bowels of the earth in erupting have filled these clefts with an igneous intrusion of a sort, soapy-feeling, mottled brown rock called gabbro. The drill slowly worked its way downward, alternately in igneous intrusion and again in granite as the cleft in the rock snaked its way downward.
During the work, problems linked to cave-ins and the jamming of drill pieces beyond the Israeli drilling team’s experience were finally solved when Riess’ associate, Jim Scott, who had worked with him on many wells over the vears, was sent to Israel to supervise operations.
On May 29, 1959, the Jerusalem Post published an estimate that the amount of water struck in the Riess located wells was enough to supply a city of more than 100,000 persons including industry, air-conditioning, parks, gardens, and a dozen outlying villages. Analysis of the water, stated the newspaper, revealed that the Eilatis, used to drinking water with 3,000 parts per million of dissolved mineral salts (TDS), now had a supply with only 1/6 that amount of TDS. For his work in Israel, Ben-Gurion presented Riess with a medal and his wife with a sterling silverbound copy of the Talmud in English.
The astounding find was not lost on Arab leaders, neighbors of Israel. Invited to Cairo by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Riess became the only exception to a rigid years-long stricture prohibiting Americans who had visited Israel from setting foot in Arab lands. Along the Nile, Riess located several water wells on rocky promontories for well-known Egyptians before flying on to the Sudan at the invitation of the Mahdi, where a revolution disrupted his planned geological exploration for water. This prompted his return home.
In fact, Riess’ exploits in drilling for fresh water were not quite as unusual as it might have seemed then, because his was perhaps the most recent of a number of accomplishments in this area by others, such as Leo Picard, a contemporary and fellow German who had been born into a Jewish family in 1900 in the city of Wangen near Konstanz, Germany. From 1924 to the present, Picard devoted his life to geology and groundwater exploration in what was then Palestine and is now Israel, following completion of his academic training in geology at the University of Freiburg, Germany. His accomplishments are in addition to and related to those of Riess, ones that we will not have an opportunity to revisit in this short space.
Nor is it possible now to delve into the life and work of Fritz Josef Heidecker, another contemporary of Stephan Riess, who was born in 1912 in Georgensgmuend in Mittelfranken, Germany as the third son of an old, established Jewish family, whose documented lineage goes back to 1650. Fritz Josef Heidecker was another builder in the Middle East who devoted much time and energy to building wells during the infancy of the State of Israel.
By analogy, the concept of plate tectonics developed first by the eminent German geologist, Karl Wegener, nearly a century ago, was probably as difficult for geologists to tolerate then as the concept of “Earth-generated water” is for hydrologists now. Few of them are aware that the profession as a whole lags behind the times. In 1960, one of hydrological science’s critics, William C. Ackerman (then-vice-president of the American Geophysical Union, AGU, and chief of the Illinois Water Survey Division) tried to shake up his colleagues at a regional meeting at Moscow, Idaho.
He expressed his disappointment that for years many revolutionary papers on hydrology submitted to the AGU’s Transactions had been refused publication. Ackerman concluded that the heart of the problem was that hydrology had been resting for too long on the laurels of its greatest figures, whose work had been performed prior to World War n. He said that nothing of consequence had been contributed to the subject since then.14
Water Rights and Water Use in the Middle East
In the ancient Middle East, water was perhaps the single most important factor that influenced the settlement patterns, life, and culture of its inhabitants. Since vast areas of the ancient Middle East were comprised of deserts, settlements and cultures developed for the most part in a region (often referred to as the Fertile Crescent) where fertile soil and a major source of water were located. Thus, we find in the history of antiquity the evolution of villages and towns along the Nile River in Egypt and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in ancient Mesopotamia. In Palestine and Syria some communities evolved near rivers, while others originated near springs, such as Jericho—perhaps the oldest known city in that region of the world.
Notwithstanding the location of such water resources throughout the Middle East, the accessibility of water was often a problem. In some areas water resources were present yearround, but the transport of water for irrigation and domestic needs was still difficult. So a variety of water systems developed throughout the ancient Middle East—irrigation systems, storage, and methods to transport water from one locale to another. You may recognize the following scene:
A lone figure dressed all in black, tall and of proud bearing, materializes out of the mirage caused by the blistering heat, where the glare of the dry sky meets the hostile floor of the desert. As he slowly moves forward, his attitude becomes tense, and his eyes blaze with disdain as he reaches the well, where a stranger plunges his head into the water to slake his thirst. He looks up in sudden terror. With a single stroke of his sword, the man in black slashes off the wet head of a man taking more than his due. “He was sullying my well,” explains the executioner.
The scene is from the film “Lawrence of Arabia,” based on a passing reference in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Though it is a mythic event, it is a good image for the harsh reality of the desert—a clear warning that water in the arid environment of the Middle East is a matter of life and death. The tableau shows too the uncompromising rigidity of the laws and rules surrounding water that grew out of the customs of the desert.
A thirsty man may drink from another man’s well, but only in the manner prescribed. He may lower a container, and the water in the container will become his property, without any compensation due; but he must not dive into the water or immerse himself, which would pollute the well.
For centuries, the history of the desert lands of the Middle East centered on the wells and water courses as tribes followed the vegetation with their herds and traders traveled from well to well as they opened up the great caravan routes. In this century, Turks and Arabs—with the occasional involvement (some might call it interference) of British, German, French, and American forces—fought for control of the wells along desert routes to determine the outcome of the First World War in the dry and hostile wastes of the Arabian peninsula.
Eighty years later these old adversaries are still fighting over scarce and rapidly diminishing water resources. But now they have more destructive weapons, thanks to the willingness of external powers to provide them. Everyone wants to secure the riches provided by oil, a resource for which water is key, both in the exploration for oil and in its refining. The cinematic scene at the well demonstrates yet another truth in the Middle East: water cannot be owned.
All that can be controlled is the means by which it is transported or distributed. Only in case of disputes does water itself become a strategic commodity, to be denied to an enemy or even contaminated in a way no desertdweller would normally consider. At times, a whole civilization can be wiped out by the destruction of an irrigation system, as the Moguls did to the Persians, or the Iraqi government has attempted to do with Marsh Arabs in the lower parts of the Mesopotamian delta in more recent times. In times of peace (or “non-war,” for that is the reality in the Middle East today), there are other rules.
There is a slowly evolving set of basic criteria to complement the customs that for decades generally succeeded in organizing the sharing of water resources. The map of the Middle East has changed. Tribes acquired flags and national boundaries; customs and rules that were once effective in governing water-sharing between cousins and tribes related by blood no longer work when the cousins have become sovereign nations.
In the West Bank, Israeli military occupation forces are selective in applying Ottoman or Jordanian law, or the new military order, which tends to add to the burden of occupation and deepens the sense of alienation of the local population. Elsewhere, without water-sharing agreements, one state might limit water flow to others, as Turkey did to Syria and Iraq in January 1990.
Turkey stopped the flow of the Euphrates to fill the Ataturk Dam, a part of Eastern Anatolia Development Project. At the same time, Cairo received reports that Israel was helping Ethiopia to erect dams on the Blue Nile, threatening to lower Egypt’s already low water levels. In both cases, international law and diplomacy took over and the situation was resolved peacefully, but the potential for conflict was there and has not disappeared. (VN: as we pointed out, that is why Israel helped to precipitate the rebellion and then controlled who the new leader was to be, now the Egyptians are under assault again since nothing has changed except Mubaraks head of torture is now the new Mubarak)
Apart from minimizing the danger of conflict and the potential for the outbreak of war, there is another compelling reason now for trying to codify the use of water resources in the Middle East. Environmental issues, expected to become even more urgent as the area works its way toward a level of peaceful co-existence, demonstrate an urgent need to balance optimum use of water resources with a well-founded understanding and concern for the quality of the environment.
The most elaborate (even by modern day standards) irrigation systems in the ancient world were developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Evidence of more limited and less-elaborate systems have been found in ancient Palestine and elsewhere. The systems of Mesopotamia consisted of a series of canals, cut from rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates, into the fertile regions between the rivers.
The feeder canals were then tapped by individuals who used smaller channels to bring water to private plots. The important societal role these systems played in the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia is demonstrated by references to them and information about their construction and maintenance in ancient records, e.g. the Mari tablets, as well as inscriptions from Assyrian kings such as Sennacherib and others.
While irrigation systems of Mesopotamia were designed primarily to transport vast amounts of water, the Egyptian systems were constructed to distribute “mud-water” (water with rich deposits of silt) from collecting pools or basins to agricultural plots in the Nile River valley. Irrigation systems were also applied in ancient Palestine, where evidence of sluice gates, channels, and catchment basins designed to capture run-off water from the Jordan River or streams in the Transjordan provide lasting testimony of those practices.
One of the most important sources of water, however, was the natural spring, such as the Gihon spring at Jerusalem and the spring at Jericho. The location of many of Palestine’s earliest settlements was determined by springs of this type. Irrigation systems associated with springs have been found at Jericho, where water was diverted to fields or plots, and in Jerusalem where water was channeled from the Gihon spring along the east side of the Ophel ridge to provide water distribution for the Kidron valley.
Wells were constructed in semiarid regions used by pastoral nomads and village herdsmen, as well as in some ancient towns. Since southern Palestine was semiarid, wells such as those located at Beersheba15 and Gerar16 constituted the major water supply for herds and flocks. Even in ancient times, the wells were frequently a source of contention between the local herdsmen and the more nomadic pastoral nomads.17 Large storage units, including reservoirs and pools hewn out of solid bedrock formations below the surface of the ground, were designed to capture the water that came during the rainy season.
Excavations at Ai, Raddana, Qumran, and other locales have uncovered a series of such reservoirs or collecting vats that provided water for the ancient community. Though the water supply depended on rainwater, i.e. the hydrologic cycle, it was being channeled through a network of canals or watercourses from the surrounding hills to the collecting pools in the community. Generally, the systems were designed for one of two reasons: 1) to provide safe passage to the water supply; and 2) to bring the water to a more convenient location.
Warren’s Shaft, named after Charles Warren who discovered it in Jerusalem in 1867, was designed and engineered by the pre- Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Jebusites. It was a water system located beneath the surface on the east side of the old city of Jerusalem, also known as the Ophel ridge, just above Gihon spring. It was designed to provide safe access to the spring during times of warfare, and consisted of an entrance on the side of the hill, a tunnel of approximately 130 feet length, a shaft about forty-two feet deep at the lower end of the tunnel, and a horizontal channel which brought water from the Gihon spring back under the ridge to the base of the shaft. This shaft was the means by which David captured the city and made it his capital.18
In another instance, two major water systems have been discovered at Gibeon, home of the Gibeonites who served the Israelites as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”19 The earliest of the systems, perhaps built about the twelfth century B.C., consisted of a large cylindrical pool, approximately 37 feet in diameter and 35 feet deep, carved into solid bedrock. The pool had a spiral staircase which led to a tunnel that descended to a kidney-shaped water room.
Ancient Megiddo had a water system that was constructed in three different stages, with each replacing or improving the earlier. The earliest phase, from prior to the time of Solomon, consisted of a short stepped passage through the city wall that was connected to a covered stairway leading to the spring chamber near the base of the mound. The Solomonic system was replaced by an extremely large system constructed in the ninth century B.C., with steps and a tunnel that led from the base of the shaft of the spring near the base of the mound. At a
They have affirmed that the Earth itself generates massive amounts of water from deep within … it has no connection with the water of the hydrologic cycle.
later time, the tunnel was deepened in order to allow the water to flow to the base of the vertical shaft. The ancient city of Hazor had a shaft and tunnel system similar to the one at Megiddo; however, the Hazor shaft was approximately twice as large as the Megiddo shaft with steps wide enough that pack animals could be used to carry the water up and out. The shaft-and-tunnel method was also used for the design of the water system at Gezer, which consisted of a rectangular shaft, and a tunnel that led to a large cave filled with spring water.
It is noteworthy that historical sources from antiquity, though filled with examples of different regimes governing the extraction and use of water, are generally silent about instances in which the rules actually denied the ruled access and use of this vital resource. Limited though it may have been, ancient rulers from pre-Solomonic times to the Middle Ages appear to have recognized that a persistent denial of access to and use of water would only invite a state of permanent conflict with the population— anathema to the rule of law and order. Even though water may have been used strategically in times of war to achieve victory, once the conflict was over, the victors typically would return in practice and policy to the sharing of water.
In present times, the apparent lack of clear interpretation of an international or regional legal regime in the water flashpoints of the Middle East will only help to aggravate the already tense situation and perpetuate existing imbalances in the exploitation of water—often based on certain states being militarily and politically dominant powers. Strong downstream countries use their military might to take more than their fair share of available waters, and regularly imply that they might take action that would threaten the stability of upstream countries if they attempted to develop hydrological projects on the shared watercourse. Thus we have Israel against Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and West Bank Palestinians; Egypt against Ethiopia and Sudan.
Countries not in a position to force a powerful neighbor to reach a fair settlement on the use of water might start a war that would put Western interests at risk, thus requiring intervention. Since they could not win a war single-handedly against the neighbor who threatens their water supplies, they would create an unstable situation leading to a general regional conflict. Weaker states would hope to achieve two aims: 1) to secure allies against a powerful neighbor and 2) to precipitate a war invoking the international community, which would lead to water issues being put on the agenda of general settlement. Neither scenario is acceptable, of course, both being fraught with serious danger.
Mark Twain’s witty comment, “Whiskey is for drinkin’, water is for fightin’,” describes the situation in the Middle East, where fresh-water resources are replacing oil as the probable cause for the next international armed conflict. While Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda are staking out claims in the Nile River basin, and Iraq, Syria, and Turkey eye one another over the Tigris-Euphrates river system, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria are competing with Israel over water rights in the Jordan Valley.
The Ottoman Empire used the sharia as the basis for its water law in the civil code known as Al majalla othomaniyah, in which eighty-two articles deal with water. Those articles became an important source for the codification of Islamic law in the Levant, and they remain the residual legislation for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine-Israel.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, there was a transformation of the Levant under Ottoman rule, with the rules of the sharia and the body of precedents being codified into legislation that was also affected by the influence of the French colonists. This helped establish a more comprehensive approach to water sharing in the Levant and other countries under both Ottoman and French influence.
The Ottoman majalla redrafted the original laws after incorporating the French legislation, and these were still the rules governing water use in places such as Mauritania (1921), Lebanon (1926), and Tunisia and Algeria (as late as the 1970s). Countries that came under the British influence—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and most Gulf countries, Jordan, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen—had a different approach based on customary usage, sharia, and other rules. Egypt, however, was an interesting case: it had been in the heart of the Ottoman Empire, came under strong French influence, and was occupied by the British in 1882. From that time, it was the British who influenced the irrigation, educational systems, and army, right up to 1956. Yet Egypt never implemented the sharia, any of the Ottoman laws, or the French Code, but kept the ancient traditional ways related to the Nile. This showed, once again, how the state and the river together make the national identity of that which is Egypt.
As in other parts of the world, population growth is of concern in the Middle East, too, where Israel’s population has increased dramatically, and its national average use of water per person per day is at least five times as much as in neighboring countries. Israel is at present using 95% of its available water resources. In 2000 or soon thereafter, it may be short by one-third of its needs, as one million immigrants are awaiting re-settlement from abroad in that troubled country’s borders. Since 1948, Israel has multiplied sixfold the acres dependent on irrigation for cultivation. Although Israeli farmers are admittedly among the most water-efficient in the world, the government may soon have to choose between water-intensive crops, such as cotton, and critical domestic and industrial needs.
The questions of a reliable source of water, whether potable or not, are closely connected to the far deeper, implicit questions of what development is, might be, and how it can be implemented. Is it not conceivable and appropriate now to anchor a lasting peace in the troubled Middle East in a Regional Water Authority with cross-boundary jurisdiction? It could be created collaboratively, staffed, financed, and operated cooperatively by all the nations in that region, friend and foe alike, who depend on this life-giving resource?
The legal, technical, and political issues surrounding water and its many-faceted uses transcend a human lifetime. They are certainly not confined neatly to national boundaries, and are perhaps among the great problems of our times. Perhaps the paradigm of “Earth-generated water,” given increased attention and application, will lead to enduring solutions.
For now, let us bring our journey to a close with a quote from Aharon David Gordon (1856-1922), a pioneer in Galilee, whom Arthur Koestler quotes in his book Diebe in der Nacht (Thieves in the Night; 1983). Gordon:
We shall shake off the old life, which has become rancid for us and shall begin anew. We do not want any changes or modifications and we do not want any improvements. We simply want to begin anew.
1. Exodus 14:21.1967. The New Scofield Reference Bible, 88.
2. Ibid., Song 4:15, p. 708 and Rev. 7:17, p. 1359.
3. For instance, “Water Warning Being Prepared by City Officials,” New York Times, January 15, 1983; and “Tucson Streets are in Trouble, but Without Water It Won’t Matter,” Washington Post, November 23, 1982.
4. Grundy, Denise. 1982. “Trouble in Atlantic City,” Discover, March.
5. “Water for the Future: The West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan,” Committee on Sustainable Water Supplies for the Middle East, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1999; see also, Summer 1982 issue of California magazine (cover story).
7. Biswas, Asit K. History of Hydrology, North Holland Publishing.
8. Nordenskjold, Adolf E. “Om Borningar Efter Vatten in Uberget.”
9. Suess, Edward. 1902. “Ueber Heisse Quellen,” Leipzig, Gesellschaft deutscher Naturforscher und Aerzte Vehandlung, translated in part by D. H. Newland, Engineering and Mining Journal, 1903, p. 76, July 11.
10. Clarke, Frank Wigglesworth. 1924. The Data of Geochemistry, U.S. Geological Society, Bulletin 770, Washington, DC.
11. For a photo of this spring see Bird, Christopher. 1979. The Divining Hand, E.P. Dutton, 153.
12. Salzman, Michael. 1960. New Water for a Thirsty World, Science Foundation Press, Los Angeles, CA.
13. For a more detailed treatment of the work of Stephan Riess see Bird, Christopher, The Divining Hand, E.P. Dutton, Chapters 8 and 9.
14. Ackerman, William C. 1961. “Needed: Three Wise Men,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 42,1, March.
15. Ibid., The New Scofield Reference Bible, Genesis 21:30, p. 31.
16 Ibid., Genesis 26:18, p. 39.
17. Ibid., Genesis 21:25, p. 31; Genesis 26:15, p. 38-39; and Genesis 26:19-22, p. 39.
18. Ibid., 2 Sam 5:6-10, p. 363.
19. Ibid., Josh 9:23, p. 269.