Book Recommendations

Books on Western Water Development

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, 1986, by Marc Reisner A complete history of water development in the West. Two takeaways: 1) when a dam was proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) on the Colorado River where it exits Grand Canyon National Park, and the BOR received pushback about the proposal, they responded, “The reservoir will only enter the Grand Canyon a little ways. It’s not like we’re going to flood the whole canyon.” Reminds me of when former Florida Gov. Rick Scott (now U.S. senator for Florida) tried to sell some of the state parks of Florida to the private sector saying, “They sure would make nice golf courses.” Governor Scott did not get traction with his proposal. 2) In the original legislation to build dams in the West, water users were supposed to pay 100% of the costs of the projects. The way it ended up being done, water users paid 2% of the cost of each project and taxpayers paid the other 98% of the costs.

Dam Nation: How Water Shaped The West And Will Determine Its Future, 2012, by Stephen Grace (he lives in Boulder). You will alternately fall out of your chair laughing at the dry humor of Mr. Grace, and feel uncomfortable at some of the tricks that were used in water development. It updates a lot of issues from Cadillac Desert. It is both, riotously funny & disturbing, in its reporting about water development in the West.

Returning The Platte To The People, 1981, by Joe Shoemaker & Leonard A. Stevens Mr. Shoemaker helped found the Greenway Foundation, which built the trail that runs alongside the South Platte River in the metro area. They also built the dam that is in downtown Denver on Cherry Creek, which, when raised, allows stewards to paddle paying guests in gondolas on the flooded Cherry Creek, just like in Venice. The dam was damaged by a flood several years ago, so it has not been used for some time.

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, 2020, by Justin Farrell (About changing land ownership in American West; not just water.) Mr.Farrell tells it like it is. These aren’t mere millionaires. They are billionaires, and change follows them wherever they build their vacation homes. In the case of southwest Montana, one fellow didn’t like riding the chair lift with strangers, so he purchased a mountain in Montana, developed a ski area, subdivided the land & invited his friends to build a home on the property and all would enjoy the private ski area. Takeaway of the book: the trick is to build your vacation home next to a protected area (national park, national forest, wilderness). That way, you will never have neighbors because the public land cannot be developed. That is what is happening in Jackson, Wyoming right now. However, it sure disrupts the extant socioeconomic community that previously existed because the billionaires are willing to pay so much money for the area, that land prices skyrocket & the people who were born & raised in these small communities cannot afford to buy a home.

Desert Solitaire: A Season In The Wilderness, 1968, by Edward Abbey. Abbey worked as a ranger in Arches National Park. This nonfiction piece has some incredible stories in it. Abbey’s work would not normally be included in an historical list like this, as I assumed that everyone who hikes or paddles in the Southwest knew of him. But I learned that a few long-time members of RMCC had never heard of him, so I decided to include him.

The Monkeywrench Gang, 1975, by Edward Abbey. A novel about guerrilla environmentalists in the Southwest. Much of the action takes place in Utah.