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Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West

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Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. At present, Lake Powell is less than half full. Bathtub rings ten stories tall e Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. At present, Lake Powell is less than half full. Bathtub rings ten stories tall encircle its blue water; boat ramps and marinas lie stranded and useless. To refill it would require surplus water—but there is no surplus: burgeoning populations and thirsty crops consume every drop of the Colorado River. Add to this picture the looming effects of global warming and drought, and the scenario becomes bleaker still. Dead Pool, featuring rarely seen historical photographs, explains why America built the dam that made Lake Powell and others like it and then allowed its citizens to become dependent on their benefits, which were always temporary. Writing for a wide audience, Powell shows us exactly why an urgent threat during the first half of the twenty-first century will come not from the rising of the seas but from the falling of the reservoirs.


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Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. At present, Lake Powell is less than half full. Bathtub rings ten stories tall e Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. At present, Lake Powell is less than half full. Bathtub rings ten stories tall encircle its blue water; boat ramps and marinas lie stranded and useless. To refill it would require surplus water—but there is no surplus: burgeoning populations and thirsty crops consume every drop of the Colorado River. Add to this picture the looming effects of global warming and drought, and the scenario becomes bleaker still. Dead Pool, featuring rarely seen historical photographs, explains why America built the dam that made Lake Powell and others like it and then allowed its citizens to become dependent on their benefits, which were always temporary. Writing for a wide audience, Powell shows us exactly why an urgent threat during the first half of the twenty-first century will come not from the rising of the seas but from the falling of the reservoirs.

30 review for Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    This is a history of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado river since the early 20th century. Allocation of Colorado river water has been a contentious issue since the mid 19th century - an issue that will become more critical as global warming leads to more drought and less snowpack, and as southwest cities continue to grow, and to use water wastefully. Here are the basic facts: despite early and accurate assessments that the Colorado would be unable to irrigate more than a very small frac This is a history of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado river since the early 20th century. Allocation of Colorado river water has been a contentious issue since the mid 19th century - an issue that will become more critical as global warming leads to more drought and less snowpack, and as southwest cities continue to grow, and to use water wastefully. Here are the basic facts: despite early and accurate assessments that the Colorado would be unable to irrigate more than a very small fraction of its basin, western landowners, developers, and the Bureau of Reclamation made false claims to Congress (a Congress that, then as now, was short-sighted and venal) in order to justify the construction of dams. The initial legislation may have been well-intentioned: the water diverted for irrigation was to be used only on farms of 160 acres, with absentee land ownership forbidden. The idea was to encourage migration, and to ensure that the greatest possible number of people would benefit. Of course, the land ownership restrictions were never enforced, and the result is what we have today: agribusiness megafarms, in the desert, using some 80% of the water extracted from the river. The remaining 20% of the extracted water is used by the large cities of the southwest (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Tucson), where about 50% is used by golf courses and other landscaping. This is clearly an unsustainable situation, and was recognized as such in the late 19th century by John Wesley Powell, as he reported to Congress. And with global warming causing ever longer and more severe droughts, there is a good likelihood that even the secondary function of the Colorado river dams, electrical power, will cease to be effective as reservoir levels drop to the 'dead pool' level, unable to spin the electrical turbines. Add to that the salinization of the irrigated land in the Imperial Valley and elsewhere, an effect that has brought down civilizations as diverse as the Sumerians and the Anasazi, and we can see that the southwest, and the nation as a whole, is facing a very difficult situation. The crisis could be entirely avoided by taking most or all of the irrigated land out of cultivation; a solution that will eventually be forced by circumstances, but which would have more salutory effects if done in a deliberate way. Naturally this won't happen, since it would require legislation and enforcement - neither of which is likely to happen in a government so beholden to industrial farming.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Just how dry can the Colorado River system get? I've often thought of the tragedy of Marc Reisner dying fairly young. I have no doubt he would have written a third edition of Cadillac Desert, had he lived long enough to have the hard science on global warming issues that we're getting today. Well, short of that, we have James Powell, no relative of John Wesley Powell, writing "Dead Pool," a worthy successor to both that and Donald Worster's "Rivers of Empire." That said, Powell goes beyond those tw Just how dry can the Colorado River system get? I've often thought of the tragedy of Marc Reisner dying fairly young. I have no doubt he would have written a third edition of Cadillac Desert, had he lived long enough to have the hard science on global warming issues that we're getting today. Well, short of that, we have James Powell, no relative of John Wesley Powell, writing "Dead Pool," a worthy successor to both that and Donald Worster's "Rivers of Empire." That said, Powell goes beyond those two books in some ways. First, he not only has the global warming science that Reisner didn't, he works with this issue more than Worster. He also addresses development issues and water-grubbing in the modern West a bit more directly than they did. And, he addresses the future of what a "dead pool" on either Lake Powell or Lake Mead will mean for city water, irrigation water, and hydropower in the Southwest. While Powell doesn't tell Las Vegas or Phoenix they should prepare for Armageddon, he pretty much details that's what's facing Phoenix ... an increasingly polluted smog, with Colorado River run-off chemicals in addition to hydrocarbons, nighttime temperatures sometimes staying in triple digits, and no more cheap electricity. Someone like Ed Abbey, or an Ed Abbey fan, would love this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gilda Felt

    A person probably wouldn’t think that a book about the history of the dams in the Southwest would be terribly interesting, but that person would be wrong. Because the damming of the Colorado River is very much the history of the Southwest. It’s also its future. Powell does an excellent job of presenting the information, bringing to life areas that were lost when Lake Powell and Mead were created, presenting the infighting that ultimately created the pact among the states who would share the water A person probably wouldn’t think that a book about the history of the dams in the Southwest would be terribly interesting, but that person would be wrong. Because the damming of the Colorado River is very much the history of the Southwest. It’s also its future. Powell does an excellent job of presenting the information, bringing to life areas that were lost when Lake Powell and Mead were created, presenting the infighting that ultimately created the pact among the states who would share the water, and vividly exposing the dangerous situation those states are now in. As someone who was born and grew up in Phoenix, water was always something that I couldn’t take for granted. There was never any water rationing (even though Arizona has been in drought for over twenty years,) but it was always obvious that we lived in the desert. And students were taught from an early age that Phoenix sat on top of a vanished civilization, a civilization whose downfall was brought about by a lack of water.

  4. 5 out of 5

    John

    DEAD POOL traces the history and the consequences of damming the Colorado River: another ecological disaster slowly unfolding from bad decisions often casually (and certainly self-servingly) made. This is another book that would be required reading in high school civics classes (if those still exist). Why anything so essential to one's education should be so gutless, mindless, and useless is one of those questions I never expect to see answered in my lifetime. Well, I know the answer. No one is DEAD POOL traces the history and the consequences of damming the Colorado River: another ecological disaster slowly unfolding from bad decisions often casually (and certainly self-servingly) made. This is another book that would be required reading in high school civics classes (if those still exist). Why anything so essential to one's education should be so gutless, mindless, and useless is one of those questions I never expect to see answered in my lifetime. Well, I know the answer. No one is going to tell you these things; education is a lifelong and devious battle. As to the book: Powell isn't the deftest of prose stylists and is given to repetition, but the story of this nation's water management is an essential one and there's a lot to learn here, even if you don't live in the Southwest. And, if you do live in the Southwest, I suggest you move first, then read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Topher Williams

    This is one many should read but won’t finish because it’s a bit dry (no pun intended)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Richard Capogrosso

    Excellent book on the history of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, as well as the state of water management in the West and what the future may or may not hold. Well worth the read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kurt

    I love Lake Powell as much as anyone. I've been boating there 5 times and am always amazed at the scenery, the recreational possibilities, and the marvel of man's engineering achievement. But over the years I've also spent a lot of time studying the science of water in the western U.S. and have come to the conclusion, along with a large number of hydrologists, that Glen Canyon Dam should never have been built. In Dead Pool the reasons for this conclusion are spelled out very clearly. It also expl I love Lake Powell as much as anyone. I've been boating there 5 times and am always amazed at the scenery, the recreational possibilities, and the marvel of man's engineering achievement. But over the years I've also spent a lot of time studying the science of water in the western U.S. and have come to the conclusion, along with a large number of hydrologists, that Glen Canyon Dam should never have been built. In Dead Pool the reasons for this conclusion are spelled out very clearly. It also explains very well how future climate change is likely to exacerbate the problems that are already keeping Lake Powell and Lake Mead only about half full. The future of Lake Powell and many of the thirsty desert communities in the west is likely to be pretty bleak even if we heed the warnings in this and other publications. This was a great read for people like me who are fascinated by water and by deserts and who wonder what the short and long-term future holds in store for us who live there.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rich Pribyl

    As a hydrologist who grew up in the American West, I found this book particularly interesting. This book takes a critical look at the Bureau of Reclamation and the "development" of the West, particularly the Colorado River. The author does a great job outlining how political agendas trumped over ideals. After delving through the Bureau's industrious past and the era of the big dam, the author takes a look at water use in the future. What lies ahead is not pretty, and although you're gut feeling t As a hydrologist who grew up in the American West, I found this book particularly interesting. This book takes a critical look at the Bureau of Reclamation and the "development" of the West, particularly the Colorado River. The author does a great job outlining how political agendas trumped over ideals. After delving through the Bureau's industrious past and the era of the big dam, the author takes a look at water use in the future. What lies ahead is not pretty, and although you're gut feeling tells you the predictions outlined are probable (or even unavoidable), you sure hope that the author is wrong. A great read that is pertinent to our daily lives, especially for anyone living in the Rocky Mountain region, that is also fresh and engaging to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Dead Pool is a must read for hydrologists and promoters of hydropower. It is a short enough read that neophytes will be able to comprehend the topics without a background in the subject areas. The book is tedious and though topically relevant the storyline has less flow than the river it is about. I have to reccomend it to people who are thinking about moving to the southwest, because the whole region will someday come to find that it is built on water that isn't there. Dead Pool is a must read for hydrologists and promoters of hydropower. It is a short enough read that neophytes will be able to comprehend the topics without a background in the subject areas. The book is tedious and though topically relevant the storyline has less flow than the river it is about. I have to reccomend it to people who are thinking about moving to the southwest, because the whole region will someday come to find that it is built on water that isn't there.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Lowen

    This is a stunningly good book, though not exactly an upper. The author teaches the reader about how dams work and why they're doomed from the day they are put in use. And he narrates a number of captivating histories of the Colorado River. And he explains why the dreams of the dam-builders were scientifically impossible to realize, and how dismantling a dam involves its own set of problems. And it's all written engagingly, so it was a surprisingly quick read. This is a stunningly good book, though not exactly an upper. The author teaches the reader about how dams work and why they're doomed from the day they are put in use. And he narrates a number of captivating histories of the Colorado River. And he explains why the dreams of the dam-builders were scientifically impossible to realize, and how dismantling a dam involves its own set of problems. And it's all written engagingly, so it was a surprisingly quick read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    As an amateur hydrologist, I really liked this book. It was a lot of doom-and-gloom but for good reason; there's just not enough water in the Colorado River to provide for everyone who takes from the river. The book was pretty fair, trying to give both sides of the argument - but in the end, all of us who own houses in Phoenix are going to be in a world of hurt when the next drought comes along. As an amateur hydrologist, I really liked this book. It was a lot of doom-and-gloom but for good reason; there's just not enough water in the Colorado River to provide for everyone who takes from the river. The book was pretty fair, trying to give both sides of the argument - but in the end, all of us who own houses in Phoenix are going to be in a world of hurt when the next drought comes along.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Fischer

    Great book on the dilemmas surrounding water and the Colorado river! Covers much more than just lake Powell, but uses the reservoirs to illustrate some really nice points about how big dams and water projects got built (politically) in the past, and what the future must look like. Really nicely written. Engrossing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Walrus Jerky

    Just for fun you should check the water surface elevation that would cause Lake Powell to be a dead pool and then go check the current water surface elevation of Lake Powell. November 2012 water surface elevation - 3619.2 feet; Dead Pool elevation - 3370 feet. Was Mr. Powell right?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Leone Davidson

    Another well written book that explains the water shortage in the United States, particularly in the west, and what we can do and SHOULD be doing to address it. I especially liked the whole history that Powell gives of the region. HIGHLY recommend.

  15. 5 out of 5

    FrankO

    It's a good book, but was due at the library and someone else had a hold on it. Also, I need something a little lighter at the moment. It's a good book, but was due at the library and someone else had a hold on it. Also, I need something a little lighter at the moment.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rivermuir

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nelag

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cory Copeland

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Mcfarland

  23. 5 out of 5

    Richard Morris

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sandylibrarian

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tommy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patty

  27. 5 out of 5

    Camille

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anastasia Glenys Eldon-Roberts

  29. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Lynch

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark Shipp

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