ISBN: 0140178244 Global Overview for this book
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Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
by Marc Reisner
The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecologic and economic disaster. In Cadillac Desert Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the competition to transform the West.
Based on more than a decade of research, Cadillac Desert is a stunning expose and a dramatic, intriguing history of the creation of an Eden—an Eden that may be only a mirage.
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This book was recommended to me by a friend from Colorado during a conversation we had about water issues in the West. More recently, the Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast is sponsoring a winter retreat discussing this book and the importance of water in Western politics. All of which intrigues this boy from the East, where water is plentiful and generally taken for granted. I'm looking forward to learning more about how water scarcity influences life in the West.
As someone who was born and raised in the East, and who has only visited the Western half of the country for short vacations, the magnitude of the issues involving water is simply astounding. But the "solutions" to the water issues implemented over the decades often strike me as abhorrent. We have forever altered the natural ecosystem of huge areas of the country in pursuit of water to supply the burgeoning population centers that have sprung up throughout the region, where natural water supplies are, as best, scarce.
While many of these water projects are, indeed, marvels of engineering, many others are badly conceived or designed, sometimes catastrophically so. Much of this book focuses on the hubris of assuming that we know how to "tame" or "control" nature. But I think my biggest take away from this book is that there would never have been any "water issue" had settlement of the West not been so strongly encouraged. There is only a "water issue" because we built cities in places where the environment does not provide sufficient resources for them to exist. But build them we did, and there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle, so we are left to figure out how to best supply the needs of these populations, while minimizing any further damage we might do to the natural environment.
While this copy of the book is "Revised and Updated", this update was published in the early 1990s, so that the information, even as updated, is already a quarter century old. Since then Las Vegas has been one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, which certainly hasn't simplified any of the problems discussed in this book. It would be interesting to see what, if anything, has changed in the last 25 years.
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