The Colorado River and Its Unnatural World

The core conundrum of the Colorado in Owen’s view is efficiency, which happens to be the subject of his last book. Using less water to flood fields or lawns means more water to build suburbs in desert cities. And water is not just water, it’s electricity — both generation at dams but also massive coal-burning to power pumps — as well as food. Without Colorado River water, much of America could not enjoy salad greens in winter, for example.

There is a brand of upbeat defeatism in Owen’s exploration of this efficiency paradox: There is nothing I can do as an individual to solve this problem so perhaps I might as well not bother trying and just go golfing. Yet it is a host of individual actions and amendments in thinking that add up to a necessary society-level change, like the way oil pipelines have become a subject of protest rather than a matter of course, or the exile of smoking from American life. Like the individual snowflakes that add up to the snowpack that gives the Colorado River its force, seemingly small shifts can feed a flood of change. The “Water Buffaloes” of Arizona may waste and store Colorado River water today just so California can’t claim it, but that is not an immutable fact. There is precedent for hopeful change, including the hilariously understated, patiently negotiated bureaucratic codicil known as Minute 319, where every Colorado River state and nation, from Mexico to the native peoples of what is now the Western United States, got something, including nature — a one-time “pulse” flow of water in 2014 to see what might happen if the Colorado reached the sea anew.

John Wesley Powell, who led the first American expedition to navigate the Colorado River, issued a prophecy later in his life: “There is not sufficient water to supply these lands.” It is a prophecy that has echoed down through the decades in a host of books and laws and rulings, and yet the water is still…

Article Source…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *