This is the driest area of the world, yet people have lived here for thousands of years. Water comes to this region via rivers, from far away, from the east, from the Andes Mountains. I caught myself standing in the desert watching the high rain clouds drift east, wishing they would unload some of their cargo on me. It does not happen; the moisture collected from the ocean drifts eastward and is only released in the high mountains of the Andes. A system of rivers, above ground and below ground, brings the water back to the ocean. The people here depend on this system.
Some years there is a lot of moisture being carried to the Andes and the rain water collected there comes in the form of flash floods to the towns near the coast. A lot of water can come very quickly, it all depends how much it rains in the Andes. The high mountains of the Andes are too far away so one never knows what will occur, sitting in the middle of the desert. Along the river banks, where the water over millennium has flattened the grounds, farmers eek out an existence. Yes there are rivers, or river beds. Some have permanent water; most of them are dry beds for most of the year. Even the permanent river beds are a mere trickle most of the time. Water is needed, water is needed badly. Even today, in 2010, the people get nervous when there is no visible sign of water coming. Today is February 6th and normally some water has come from the Andes by as early as December. So far, Nazca has not received any water. People keep on looking east. Every time they see dark clouds in the east they predict that water will come soon, so far nothing has happened. So far, as of today there has not been any water in the many river beds. The area is dry; the dry river beds are full of trash. Water is needed.
Yes, there is water below ground, the ancients knew this and there is enough water for drinking but not for more. 1500 years ago the ancients build a canal system, an aqueduct system that still brings water to Nazca today. A few years ago the Government of Peru tried to ‘improve’ the system but found that it is best left alone. The section they tried to ‘fix’ is now silted up and is not productive any longer. The ancients had a way to do it that worked then and still works today. We visited an aqueduct system delivering potable water, which brings the water of life to the farmers nearby. The system works. Huge ‘windows’ were added to the underwater river so that people can go down and collect water. A round access path leads down to a small collection area where the water is scooped up in buckets. This is not a well, this is an access to an underground river and it is not a canal. It is an underground river with access points. The river has been tamed in that it is made to flow faster or slower as needed but it is a river none the less. The sides of the river are lined with head sized rocks and periodically those sides or even the tunnels in between the access points have to be fixed. Yet, look today, the system is still in good condition, it works and it is amazing. Water is secured. Water, the lifeline of the dessert has been accessed and water is put to good use. The ancients knew their stuff. They did not conquer water, did not collect it in lakes which would evaporate here, they let it be where it is but created access points, the locals today call windows, to get what they need the most. Water!
Many believe water is the mystery behind the Nazca culture.