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Book Review: Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River

Posted on the 23 February 2011 by Kungfujedi @Kungfujedi
Book Review: Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River
As global climate change continues to change our planet in ways that we are still struggling to understand, one of the things that has become clear is that our conservation and usage of water is going to play a big role in our long term survival. Weather patterns are clearly changing, and as they do, once reliable sources of water are now struggling to keep up with the demands that we put on them. It seems that man has an unquenchable thirst for water and not just for drinking. We use it to irrigate our farms, water our lawns, clean ourselves and our possessions, and oh so much more. What effect is our usage, and climate change, having on our water supply? And what does it mean for our future?
That is the overriding theme of the book Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River by Jonathan Waterman. The book follows Waterman has he makes a spectacular 1450-mile journey along the length of the Colorado River, spending five months exploring those waters, while examining the effects of prolonged drought, climate change, and over usage by man on the river. What he found was an environmental catastrophe just waiting to happen, as the flow of the river is shrinking dramatically, leaving the lands surrounding it in desperate need of moisture.
Despite the fact that this is a book about water, it starts out awfully dry. Waterman spends the first chapter filling us in on the history of man's use of the river and explaining some of the complex issues that are facing how that usage is governed. It can be a bit of a slow way to start a book, but it pays off later when the actual adventure begins, as having that deep background helps us to understand and relate to what the author encounters once he starts his epic paddling journey.
That journey does become the core of the book however, and when Waterman begins to share his aquatic adventure with us, the story picks up quickly. Running a massive river like the Colorado is no small accomplishment, but he manages to do it and share tales of the people he met along the way and the things he saw in his weeks upon the river. Where Waterman excels in his writing is weaving those tales so deftly with the history and law of water rights management in the Western United States. He gives you just enough of both to keep you knowledgable about the important issues at hand while still enjoying a grand kayaking adventure at the same time.
Ultimately however this isn't an adventure book, but a call to action for those who live along the Colorado and beyond. The river is being altered dramatically, and in some ways irrevocably, and this book hammers that message home in some important ways. While the author remains hopeful that we can save the river, and there by save ourselves, the message is one of urgency, as precious time, and water, is slipping away.
Running Dry is an excellent read for environmentalists and paddlers alike. It is also an eye opener for those of us who were unaware of how several factors (climate change, drought, over usage) were conspiring to destroy one of the great natural wonders of the American West. Read it for the adventure but never lose sight of the overall message. You'll be glad you did on both accounts.

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