How water has shaped our lives

December 27, 2011
Nestled in one of the few apricot orchards left in Santa Clara Valley, the Los Altos History Museum pays tribute to the transformation of the area from farmland to high tech capitol of the world.

In a new exhibit, the museum is taking on a topic it considers just as important to Silicon Valley – water. As any Californian knows, water is an epic matter. The Los Altos Museum puts a local spin on a critical statewide resource.

“The museum has been thinking of different ways to tell the local history. So, we thought of telling it through water and how it shaped us over the years,” says Linda Gass, curator and manager of the exhibition committee.

Shaped by Water takes visitors from the past to the future of water use in the area. An indoor native landscape and shelter installation document how Native Americans hundreds of years ago depended on water for everyday needs.

Display panels and an interactive model of a groundwater artesian well show how Spanish expeditions, Mexican ranchos, and Gold Rush workers made further use of water resources with detrimental effect on the environment.
The past seamlessly unfolds into the present with art work, text, pictures and interactive features highlighting water contamination and waste. They all combine together to depict the issues at the heart of contemporary water problems.

“We wanted to reach out to people in multiple ways—visual, interactive and textual because while some people like to read, others are touched by art,” Gass said.
Among the more impressive displays is an art installation made from washed up plastic collected on Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes by artist Judith Selby and Richard Lang. A “hidden water scale” sits on a table showing the amount of water needed to produce different foods with a push of a button. And an outdoor display of 153 one-gallon water bottles show how many gallons of water are used on average per person per day in the Santa Clara Valley.

The exhibition outlines future challenges and offers ideas on how to reduce water consumption and reuse it by showcasing a residential green roof, an old-fashioned hand pump in a display of permeable concrete, and a washing machine that uses greywater, which directly empties into adjacent wetlands.

“The display definitely showcases the problem but it also leaves things on a hopeful note because it gives solutions and shows how we can better use and reuse our water,” Gass said.

In all, the exhibit touches upon some of the most poignant issues concerning water and reminds visitors of their inevitable relationship with this essential resource and offers ideas for making thoughtful choices in their everyday lives.
About the Author

Anuja Seith is a Bay Nature editorial volunteer.