Reisner’s book is a must read for all of you water nuts. The stuff about Floyd Dominy is worth the price of the book.
It seems that many of the predictions in the book are being seen today. Here’s the link to the full report. Here’s the abstract:
Increasing human appropriation of freshwater resources presents a tangible limit to the sustainability of cities, agriculture, and ecosystems in the western United States. Marc Reisner tackles this theme in his 1986 classic Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. Reisner’s analysis paints a portrait of region-wide hydrologic dysfunction in the western United States, suggesting that the storage capacity of reservoirs will be impaired by sediment infilling, croplands will be rendered infertile by salt, and water scarcity will pit growing desert cities against agribusiness in the face of dwindling water resources. Here we evaluate these claims using the best available data and scientific tools. Our analysis provides strong scientific support for many of Reisner’s claims, except the notion that reservoir storage is imminently threatened by sediment. More broadly, we estimate that the equivalent of nearly 76% of streamflow in the Cadillac Desert region is currently appropriated by humans, and this figure could rise to nearly 86% under a doubling of the region’s population. Thus, Reisner’s incisive journalism led him to the same conclusions as those rendered by copious data, modern scientific tools, and the application of a more genuine scientific method. We close with a prospectus for reclaiming freshwater sustainability in the Cadillac Desert, including a suite of recommendations for reducing region-wide human appropriation of streamflow to a target level of 60%.
Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion of European civilization in the United States during the 19th century were predicated on an adequate freshwater supply. The assumption of adequate freshwater in the western United States was justified by the prevailing view of hydroclimate, which included a theory that agriculture would stimulate rainfall, or “rain would follow the plow.” Early stewards of freshwater resources—like John Wesley Powell—warned that the American West was a desert, only a small fraction of which could be sustainably reclaimed. Notably, Powell remarked that irrigation would be required in the arid region west of the 100th meridian, to make the parcels provided by the Homesteading Act livable. Indeed, irrigation was necessary to create a sustainable society in the western United States. Today dams, irrigated agriculture, and large cities are the hallmark of western US landscapes. There are more than 75,000 dams in the United States, and the largest five reservoirs by storage capacity lie west of the 100th meridian. The storage capacity of US reservoirs increased steadily between 1950 and 1980—from 246 to 987 km3—and the beginning of these “go-go years” of dam building coincides with the US “baby boom” (roughly 1943–1964). Since that time, there has been an exodus from east to west: population of the 15 largest eastern US cities has declined by an average of 51% but increased by 32% in western cities. Similarly, although 74% of the cropland in the coterminous United States lies in the eastern United States, 68–75% of the revenue from vegetables, fruits, and nuts derives from western farms. Water—not rain—has followed the plow, exceeding the expectations of even the most zealous proponents of Manifest Destiny 150 y ago.
More coverage from Climate Central (Alyson Kenward). From the article:
Nearly 25 years later, a group of researchers has put Reisner’s assertion to the test, checking to see if there is any scientific truth behind it. Armed with modern data from across the Southwest, the group, led by ecologist John Sabo from Arizona State University, found that many of Reisner’s claims were legitimate, and still hold true today. “We asked, is it really as bad as [Reisner] said it is in the book, and are we still where we were in 1986?” explains Sabo, who assembled a group of experts to assess water, dams, fish, soil and crops across the Southwest using modern techniques. “Now we know the answer to both those questions: yes.” The findings from the new study have been published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
More education coverage here.