I had today's post all figured out, but after reading Emily Green's review of Stephen Grace's book before welcoming the Sandman last night I shifted gears and decided her review to precedence. Till her High Country News piece I was unfamiliar with Grace and his book. No longer.
Here is the blurb from the inside flap:
During the frenzied days of early emigration and expansion in the West, running out of water was rarely a concern, and the dam-building fever that transformed the map of the region in the twentieth century filled empty spaces with cities and farms. Today, metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver are desperate with thirst. These cities are growing explosively, but water supplies are dwindling. Scientists agree that the region is heating up and drying out, leading to future water shortages that will expose the startling fragility of civilization in the western United States.Dam Nation looks first to the past, to the stories of explorers venturing into a forbidding wilderness, gold miners and farmers devising arcane laws to govern water use, and pioneers struggling to settle the "Great American Desert." Next, it delves into an era of technological mastery that fulfilled the nation's dream of taming wild rivers, and finally it tackles the on-going legal and moral battles over water in the West. Author Stephen Grace weaves the facts into a compelling narrative that informs, entertains, and tells an important story.
Emily is a friend and one of the several longtime water/environmental journalists (John Fleck and Cynthia Barnett are two of the others) whom I always look forward to reading. Here is her review; well worth your time.
To snatch a moment from the wild and capture it in words that pulse with life is quite a feat. Stephen Grace, author of the 2004 novel Under Cottonwoods, makes it seem effortless. When he describes sandhill cranes rising from the wetlands of the Blackfoot Valley, the reader can almost hear the thunderous applause of their wings.
It takes an entirely different kind of gift to comprehend and then explain the tortured sophistry of the policies that are destroying those cranes for the sake of alfalfa farms, feedlots, casinos, suburban lawns and swimming pools. But Grace can do that, too. In his most recent book, Dam Nation: How Water Shaped the West and Will Determine its Future, Grace acts as both poet of Western wilderness and a knowledgeable translator of water policy.
Emily notes that unlike Marc Reisner, Grace is not jaded, but:
Like Reisner, Grace is stubbornly lucid. He sugars few pills as he describes how 19th century mining law governs 21st century water sharing, illustrates how pork-barrel politics corrupt decision-making, provides a primer in groundwater mining and takes short but appalling looks at the challenges posed by pollution and climate change.
Check out today's quote, taken from her review. Love it! Nothing like calling a spade a spade!
It is a wonderful review and becuase of it I suspect I will dispense with my self-imposed water book hiatus (now reading Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy's Resilience) and read Dam Nation, perhaps before I start teaching my US water management course in a few weeks.
"Developing a system that manages groundwater in the West in a sustainable manner is as easy as standing blindfolded on a greased bowling ball while removing a straitjacket and solving differential equations. But it is something we must summon the will to do." - Stephen Grace, Dam Nation: How Water Shaped the West and Will Determine its Future (thanks to Emily Green in High Country News)