Project team looks for water on tribal land in Mexico

A recent article in National Geographic discusses an Indian tribe called the Tarahumara who are located in the Sierra Tarahumara Mountains, near Copper Canyon in northern Mexico, and a plan that some private investors have to build a resort over a section of the tribal land. The main concern is that this resort would soak up more water in one day than the Tarahumara people would use in a year.

While the Tarahumara fight for their land against big businesses, UVU recently visited the area to fight the elements to look for large amounts of clean water for the tribe.

The university’s Department of Earth Science took a team of eight people, three faculty members and five students, to the area to conduct an analysis of water resources in the Sierra Tarahumara Mountains.

“We were trying to find where the water is at,” said Joel Bradford, team member and assistant professor of earth science. “If we do, then it increases chances of them finding water, so they can drill.”

The Tarahumara are famous for living very traditional lifestyles with little influence from the outside world. Nearly all the water for the villages comes from wells. Many of the wells that are drilled, however, fail to yield adequate water, forcing the Tarahumara to devote more of their limited resources to drilling additional wells.

The team studied the geology, hydrology and water chemistry of the area. Their work included studying the types of rock in the area, which includes the locations and characteristics of fractures in the rock, since most of the groundwater flow is likely to take place within fracture zones.

They also analyzed the performance of existing wells in order to identify any correlations between well performance and geologic conditions and groundwater chemistry to see if chemical trends yielded clues to flow paths and to ensure that the water is safe to drink. Then they mapped the water table to determine groundwater flow paths.

“The team collected a huge amount of data, which will be analyzed by the students and faculty over the next few months,” said Daniel Horns, department chair of Earth Science. “The work should provide guidance for well drillers in time for a follow-up visit next fall.”

Although the tribe must wait until students and faculty examine the data, there is no shortage of hope that a conclusion is on its way.

Similar missions such as this have been completed by the Earth Science Department all over central Mexico, beginning in 1999. Most trips deal with the issue of surface water as opposed to ground water and include anywhere from eight to 20 volunteers. This particular mission, being specific in nature, was limited to students from an introduction to hydrology class. The UVU faculty members included Joel Bradford, Steve Emerman and Mike Bunds.

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