An eye-opening account of where our water comes from and where it all goes.
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.
The Colorado River, the main water source of America's desert Southwest, flows sorely vexed to the sea almost in this revealing investigation of hydroecology in extremis. New Yorker contributor Owen (The Conundrum) follows the Colorado from its Rocky Mountain headwaters to the point where it trickles out in the Mexican desert, well short of its historical outlet to the sea, visiting the massive infrastructures the mighty Hoover Dam, giant pipes, pumping stations, canals, and humble sprinklers that divert its waters for millions of uses. Along the way he encounters people whose lives entwine with the river, including lawyers wrangling endlessly over arbitrary apportionment rules existing allotments grant various users more water than actually flows in the river and utility planners trying to stretch the flow among a growing population, as well as ordinary farmers, boaters, and the quirky subculture of transient RV camps on its banks. Through his reportage, Owen teases out the contradictions of the complex issues surrounding the Colorado: water conservation efforts, he finds, can do more harm than good because allegedly "wasted" water often returns to replenish the river and aquifers. Rather than simply bemoan environmental degradation, Owen presents a deeper, more useful analysis of the subtle interplay between natural and human needs.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Mr. Owen does an extraordinary job of making one of the most complex and potentially terrifying subjects of modern life infinitely digestible. His ability to find humor in some truly desperate situations is a credit to his journalistic roots. The resource section at the end of the book supplies ample additional sources for further understanding. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to EVERYONE, because the availability of healthy water literally does effect EVERYONE!