‘A perfect drought’

The "bathtub ring" around Lake Mead revealed during the last decade by the Southwest's persistent overdraft of Colorado River water. Photo: Glen MacDonald / UCLA. Source: PNAS

Sod’s law would have it rain across California as a suite of papers explaining how a “perfect drought” is gripping the American Southwest appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That disarmingly dewy reassurance from the sky (we don’t capture or store most Southern California rain) doesn’t make the central warnings in Climate Change and Water in Southwestern North America any less true, or the need of our region to reform the way it manages growth and resources any less pressing. Click here to read the PNAS special series of papers edited by UCLA geographer Glen MacDonald and including contributions from the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick and Arizona State University’s John Sabo.

How right was Reisner?

Central Arizona Project. Source: Federal Bureau of Reclamation

It’s a cliche because it’s true: there’s no drier topic than water. In 1986, Marc Reisner, a former staff writer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, published what may be the most gripping book on the subject. Cadillac Desert begins from an airplane window looking down on land so dry that there appears no way that it could sustain the booming cities of the American Southwest, much less the agriculture that the US government had in mind when it formed the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

He then built the book with a succession of  free-standing chapters that read more like magazine pieces, most but not all of which were marveling and disgusted histories of the region’s most famous (and infamous) water projects.