Aqueduct off the Colorado River flowing in California

There are certain books that are essential for any library about world sustainability issues. Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water” is a title that must be included on the library shelves.

Ever wonder why the tap water in Phoenix and Los Angeles tastes like somebody dumped a salt shaker in your glass? Or where all that water we take for granted comes from? Below are four quotes pulled from this eye-opening work about water in the American West, thanks to Colby Glass, who writes:

“I found the book seminal, eye-opening, life-changing. I recommend that you buy and read the entire book. Only by reading the entire book will you get the whole picture. The following quotes, I hope, will whet your appetite.”

  • “In the San Joaquin Valley, pumping now exceeds natural replenishment by more than half a trillion gallons a year… a mining operation that, in sheer volume, beggars the exhaustion of oil. How long it can go on, no one knows.”
  • “The Colorado… has more people, more industry, and a more significant economy dependent on it than any comparable river in the entire world. If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have two years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of Southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The river system provides over half the water of greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix; it grows much of America’s domestic production of fresh winter vegetables; it illuminates the neon city of Las Vegas, whose annual income is one-fourth the entire gross national product of Egypt — the only other place on earth where so many people are so helplessly dependent on one river’s flow. The greater portion of the Nile, however, still manages, despite many diversions, to reach its delta below the Mediterranean Sea. The Colorado is so used up on its way to the sea that only a burbling trickle reaches its dried-up delta at the head of the Gulf of California, and then only in wet years. To some conservationists, the Colorado River is the preeminent symbol of everything mankind has done wrong — a harbinger of a squalid and deserved fate. To its preeminent impounder, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, it is the perfection of an ideal.”
  • “… California’s very existence is premised on epic liberties taken with water… Most of it is used for irrigation — 85 percent of it, to be exact. That is a low percentage, by western standards. In Arizona, 90 percent of the water consumed goes to irrigation; in Colorado and New Mexico, the figure is almost as high. In Kansas, Nevada, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, Montana; even in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho — in all of those states, irrigation accounts for nearly all of the water that is consumptively used.”
  • “The vanishing groundwater in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Nebraska is all part of the Ogallala aquifer, which holds two distinctions: one of being the largest discrete aquifer in the world, the other of being the fastest-disappearing aquifer in the world… some farmer withdraw as much as five feet of water a year, while nature puts back a quarter of an inch.”

Anybody who weighs seriously what the issues of sustainability and balance demand from us should read this work and share with others.

Photos: Caveman Chuck Cokerand john yaya