on September 29, 2005
This book is a real downer.
Even the cover is.
Even the title! The Colorado River's not a river anymore? It's true. Can you turn a river on and off? Can you control how fast a river flows? (That sounds more like...a DITCH!)
The Colorado is the most regulated river in America. Over forty dams control its water, and with a word from the right people, its flow can be stopped just like that.
The river starts in the mountains north of Grand Junction, Colorado, gets drained right away into various canals, and what's left runs from there into a couple of small reservoirs and into Utah. It runs past the over two thousand natural arches of Arches National Park, and on to Moab.
The river rushes past the mouth of the Green River, heads on through Canyonlands National Park, and eventually, stops in Lake Powell. It goes on, though. Alive, but less alive: hidden underneath Lake Powell, then through the dam, then coursing blue and green and silt-free, like it never was, down past Lees Ferry and through the Grand Canyon, with never a flood to wash out the tamarisk, and temperatures too cold for any native fish to live in. So cold and so different that four of the Grand Canyon's eight native species of fish are now extinct. Gone forever.
Then the river's under Lake Mead, and then it's squeezing through another dam. After that it's trying to keep Nevada and California from Arizona, and it's going through three more reservoirs, and even more dams. Dam. Dam. Dam.
What'd the fish say when it hit a wall?
Then, it's the Rio Colorado: same thing, but in Spanish, and less of it. It runs the Baja-Sonora state line in Mexico, trickles through some dying wetlands, and sometimes, in rare flood years, makes it to the Gulf of California. The ocean.
...But it almost never makes it that far anymore.
The river is now very, very useful to people...but is it still a river? And is what we've done right?
This book is a good examination of that question, of the river's sad tributaries, and of the state of the river itself. It's very factual, open in its biases, only occasionally slow and meandering, and it is dense with valuable (though sometimes out-of-date) information.
Read this and learn. Read this and be enlightened. Read this and be depressed and angered out of your skull...but read it.