Where the Water Goes
September 20, 2019 8:33 PM - by David Owen - Subscribe

The Colorado River is an essential resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.–Mexico border where the river runs dry. Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill all the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on. The story Owen tells in Where the Water Goes is crucial to our future: how a patchwork of engineering marvels, byzantine legal agreements, aging infrastructure, and neighborly cooperation enables life to flourish in the desert —and the disastrous consequences we face when any part of this tenuous system fails.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (2 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Reality is complicated. Any solution to a modern problem is usually going to be complicated too, with a few exceptions. If there's one thing that gets my goat sometimes it's when someone proposes a really simple solution to a really complicated problem and then just sits back and watches people fight over it like the troll they are. Sadly quite a few polemics on the water wars of the past and future can fall victim to this, usually written by authors who have no idea what a water table is or why runoff is more complicated and issue then "just stop doing that". I'm happy to say this is not one of those books. This is a well researched look into the past, present and maybe future of the Colorado river and all it's beneficiaries and dependents. And it looks at how the issue of water and water rights is really really complicated. For instance, more efficient irrigation might counter-intuitively deplete groundwater further rather then save it, because the runoff from inefficient irrigation ditches gets returned to the water cycle. It's not a downer of a book, the author highlights where people get things right too, but it's a hard look at a hard river with hard choices and I recommend this book.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:38 PM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow! This sounds like a terrific read! Thanks for the recommendation.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 7:07 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

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