To the northwest of Guam in the southern part of eastern Siberia in Russia is one of the natural wonders of the world, Lake Baykal: 400 miles long, 35 miles wide, one mile deep, and contains 20 percent of the earth's fresh water. As the crow flies, we are closer to it than we are to the State of Hawaii in our own Pacific Ocean.
In 1986, I was a member of a U. S. Congressional Delegation on a fact-finding trip to the Soviet Union. As part of our official itinerary, we were taken on a trip to the Lake by the Soviets who took great pride in their premier environmental showpiece. To minimize pollution on the Lake, we crossed it on a hydroplane. Upon reaching the middle of the Lake, the captain leaned over the side and filled a pitcher with water, which one of the interpreters referred to as, designer water from the heavens. The head of the U. S. Delegation, Congressman Mo Udall was served the first drink.
It was a very impressive demonstration and everyone was excited over the fact that the water in the largest lake in the world was safe enough to drink even though it was being fed by about 325 rivers and tributaries. Drinking fresh water directly from its natural source was a new experience for virtually everyone in the delegation. Watching them joyfully drinking the water reminded me of the days when we drank water right out of Lonfit River in Ordot Village in Guam when I was a youngster.
Water, water, water. Indeed, the heavens know we get lots and lots of it. Probing the jungle in south central Guam, we followed the streams and rivers that feed one of the major reservoirs on Guam. It was truly an uplifting experience seeing Guam's natural beauty, reminiscent of the way it was throughout most of our island not so many years ago.
As we were making our way out of the jungle, we ran into areas that indicated that they were settlements there at one time. The intoxicatingly fragrant blossoms of the ilang-ilang tree drew our attention to one particular site where we saw something strange, a tall coconut tree covered with ivy, as reported by a member of our group. But the parasite plant was not ivy, it was pupulu, the leaf that is chewed along with the betel nut, which we call pugua in Chamorro. Now, how was I able to identify pupulu from other leaves that look like it in the jungle? Because as a youngster, one of my additional duties was to gather pupulu and pugua for my elders to chew. I would dare say that being able to identify the good variety of these two plants was my first notable area of expertise!
We emerged from the jungle and found our way to this magnificent reservoir at the Naval Reservation at Fena. This is a source of millions of gallons of water that run through our pipelines every single day. When the Fena Reservoir was constructed by the U. S. Navy about forty-five years ago, it was an engineering marvel then. It is an engineering marvel today and the Navy has kept the falls and the rivers which provide the water in pristine condition. A variety of fish species now populate the reservoir and limited fishing is permitted.
When the Naval Reservation was established, chain-link fences were installed to provide tight security for bullets, very small and very large, held in storage to serve the needs of the Department of Defense in our half of the globe. But these fences and the patrols on the perimeter did a lot more than guard ammunition to meet periodic needs in time of war. Of more immediate significance to us who live on Guam is that these fences protect the reservoir, the source of much of the water that we consume daily, in time of war and peace.
When the fences were built, they inadvertently sheltered another natural resource on Guam, the beloved carabao, without whose enormous strength pulling plows and carts for us during the occupation would have made life more miserable than it was. Although these marvelous animals have been living unimpeded in virtually a natural habitat for decades, they have remained non-hostile but very protective of their calves which they surround when anyone gets near them.
During the waning days of the Japanese occupation, we released our livestock when we, the native Chamorros, were herded to the concentration camps. Apparently, the stray carabaos joined with those from other farms and pastures and became the nucleus of the herd as it is today. Over the years, the herd has been a source of young calves for zoos in the U. S. and, on occasion, for local farmers who still use them as work animals. Today, it is estimated that about 350 of these beautiful animals graze around the compound and keep the grass short but they also leave behind huge deposits of natural fertilizer to complete the cycle. Mother nature at her finest again!
The continuing challenge for all of us on Guam with respect to the water needs of a burgeoning population and flourishing economy is to minimize water shortages through waste after the water leaves the reservoirs, especially during the dry season. While the Ancient Mariner was referring to sea water in that rhyme we had to learn in High School, one verse is particularly fitting as a precaution: Water,water, everywhere and all the boards did shrink. Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink..
And, finally, speaking of drinking water, there is still an abundance of water in our bountiful island pure enough to drink as it flows from its source. Besides, it tastes so much better than the water in Lake Baykal in the Russian Siberia.