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Water for the Anasazi

Forget the idea that 19th century Hispanic and Anglo settlers built the first water supply ditches and reservoirs in Colorado.

Water for the Anasazi by Kenneth Wright documents the existence of at least four reservoirs constructed by the Pueblo people of Mesa Verde beginning as early as A.D. 750.

Archeologists previously disputed whether these mounded-over sites were dance platforms or reservoirs. However, working with National Park Service and the Colorado Historical Society, Wright and his wife Ruth put together a team of experts in hydrology, soil science, geomorphology, ceramic analysis, and archeology to verify the true nature of these early public works structures.

Their research indicates that the Pueblo People at Mesa Verde constructed mesa and canyon reservoirs to supply drinking water. They were dry land corn farmers who knew extended droughts. To fend off starvation, they were known to keep up to two years of corn in nearby rock granaries. Now we know their strategy for survival also included careful water harvesting.

Wright compliments the Pueblo people's organizational capabilities and skill in mounting large public works with rudimentary tools in a harsh climate.

At the canyon reservoir sites, archeological evidence shows they had to dig out sediment, and change diversions and canals again and again to intercept shifting stream channels.

Well-written, full of charts, maps, and photographs, Water for the Anasazi documents a compelling age-old story. Water is a public resource; its careful conservation and use requires good planning and community cooperation.

Kenneth R. Wright, P.E., Water for the Anasazi, How the Ancients of Mesa Verde Engineered Public Works (2003); $15. Available for order through www.apwa.net

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