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

James Lawrence Powell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 5, 2009
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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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

For some, “dead pool” is a betting game involving the death of celebrities. What Powell is referring to is the emptying of the arid West’s precious reservoirs, prime among them Lake Powell, which was created when the Colorado River was dammed in 1963, submerging Glen Canyon, one of the planet’s most spectacular places. The reservoir was a recreational haven until 2005, when it fell to one-third of its capacity. Given the enormous water needs of our desert metropolises—Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix—this is a catastrophe in the making. Powell presents a scientifically grounded inquiry into the grievous failure of the West’s megadams, which for all their colossal expense and engineering marvels wreak environmental havoc now exacerbated by global warming. For all its detail, this is an involving exposé as Powell vividly portrays a motley cast of characters, from hydrologists to power brokers; wryly parses the disastrous mix of Bureau of Reclamation politics and water policy; dramatically chronicles the pitched battles between dug-in government officials and improvising environmentalists; and offers lucid analysis of the difficult choices ahead. --Donna Seaman


“A historically important, well-timed, and memorable addition to the growing library of books about water and the West.”
(Wilson Quarterly 2009-01-01)

“A solid primer on the history of use of Colorado River water and the science of climate change.”
(Science (AAAS) 2009-01-23)

“A suspense thriller, a history . . . and an informed warning. . . . Deserves to be read now, before we make even more mistakes.”
(High Country News 2009-05-18)

“A must read for Colorado River buffs, as well as anyone who wants a glimpse of what lies ahead for water.”
(Earth Magazine 2009-05-12)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (January 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520254775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520254770
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #950,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive Great Read May 31, 2009
It's been 20 years now since Marc Reisner wrote Cadillac Desert. If you enjoyed it as much as I did, Dead Pool is a must read. With all that has changed regarding western water issues since 1989, Dr. Powell does an excellent job of updating the topic and adding historical perspective to those go-go years of dam building by the Bureau of Reclamation during the 50's and 60s. While Reisner could not have imagined the effects of climate change on the overused waters of the Colorado River, Dead Pool also provides eye-opening documentation on how global warming may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back. With Lake Mead at historic lows and Lake Powell little more than half full, Dead Pool is mandatory reading for anyone concerned about the future of the West.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead Pool or Mirror Pool? January 13, 2009
The apocalyptic book Dead Pool tells us that there is a 50% chance of Lake Powell and the whole Colorado River dam system ending up as a "dead pool" by 2017 to 2021, OR SOONER, due to global warming (p. 184). Dead pool is defined as a permanent condition when the water level behind a dam is too low to spill water or generate hydroelectric power.

Powell extols early Colorado River explorer and anti-urban founder of the U.S. Geological Survey, John Wesley Powell, which Lake Powell is named after. But author James Powell never tells us if he is related.
Powell is a master story teller and educator. His book will teach the average reader much about the water system in the Southwest. He starts his book with an apocalyptic story of near dam collapse of the Glen Canyon Dam due to too much water in 1983; and ends his book with the story of how civilization in the Southwestern U.S., like the Indians in Chaco Canyon in the 12th century, will end soon due to too little water due to global warming resulting in dead and over-silted dams.

For proof positive Powell has a graphic photo on the cover of his book showing the present-day bathtub ring on Lake Powell; way, way above the water line. How could he be wrong? Look at the picture. Run the numbers and look at the data as Powell has done.
But the gnawing question after reading Powell's apocalyptic book remains: is he right; and if so, how right?

One of the centerpieces of Powell's argument is a bar graph on page 164 which shows the 10-Year Average Annual Flow at the northerly point of the Colorado River dam system from 1896 to 2007 measured in acre feet (an acre foot of water is one foot high of water spread over an acre of land; able to support about two urban families for a year).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't need to read both this AND Cadillac Desert June 13, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you read Cadillac Desert, and have a grasp of global warming, this book doesn't really offer much new. That said, this book is better for those with interest in the subject if you haven't read either one of these. It adequately covers most of the high points with a few minor added issues.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Should have been better July 18, 2011
This is an important subject that deserves a better examination. The book gets off to an interesting start with an aborbing account of the 1983 flood and its effect on Glen Canyon dam. The middle section is an overly long recount of the dreary history of pork barrel water projects in the West.

The final section looks to the future with predictions of water shortages, mainly due to global warming. This where the book falls short, not necessarily
on the global warming subject, but on what happens next. And the author doesn't really address that. He only gives a sentence or two to the obvious outcome, and that is the cities buying out the farmers' water interest. With something like 70% of the water going to mostly low value farm crops, when shortages get severe the economic and political power of the cities will re-direct the water from crops to people. And an examination of practical water
conservation is also omitted. These are the untold stories that are missing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read Cadillac Desert (C.D.) about 20 years ago. I had loaned my copy to someone and never got it back, so when I wanted to revisit the issues surrounding water policy in the west I decided to read Dead Pool instead of an updated C.D. I am glad I did for several reasons. Dead Pool seems to focus a little tighter on the Bureau of Reclamation and their decision-making process than C.D. I have worked for several bureaucracies and actually enjoy the description of the justification and cost-benefit analysis backing up the various dams. When you create an agency to build dams, you should not be surprised when they do. This is the part of the book that is strongest, and should appeal to those who study bureaucratic policy-making. However, this book is less forceful in making an overall case for complete re-thinking of western water/agriculture/dams. This may be because Dead Pool is an academic publication rather than a popular press one as was C.D. This book goes for the knock-down, but never lands the knock-out punch.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent follow-up to "Cadillac Desert" January 30, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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 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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Book condition was fine. I must have made a mistake, I meant to order a hardcover.
Published 1 month ago by enm39
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it and weep!
This book is very interesting, especially if you love the canyon country of SE Utah. Although Lake Powell is a beautiful place I have always been sad at the loss of Glen Canyon and... Read more
Published 2 months ago by starstruck
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Outdated but interesting.
Published 6 months ago by Harry E. Bawcom
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for anyone concerned about the southwest's water...
If you care about the future of the southwest, you should read this book. Phoenix and Las Vegas are looking doom in the face if the water fails, and the author makes a compelling... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Edward Sterling
5.0 out of 5 stars The Folly of Man
Clearly, the end of the Southwest, as we know it, is at hand. Greed and bureaucracy partnered to pull the wagon of folly to it's ultimate conclusion - the near future abandonment... Read more
Published on February 5, 2013 by Percy Dovetonsils
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
This is good writing and good reading,too. Alas it seems that anyone who can read the tea leaves as well as the scientific evidence of the looming droughts must have some liberal,... Read more
Published on January 26, 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy (and scary) update to Cadillac Desert
I consider James Lawrence Powell's book to be a worthy successor to Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert. (See several posts on the book over at Waterwired. Read more
Published on August 3, 2010 by David Zetland
3.0 out of 5 stars Problematic history for promoting a vision of apocalypse
The book is a well written and a very interesting view of the western water wars that hatched the Bureau of Reclamation. Read more
Published on January 13, 2010 by John H. Peck
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