As part of The Colorado Sun’s literature section — SunLit — we’re featuring staff picks from book stores across the state. >> Click here for more SunLit

This week’s bookstore: Out West Books, 533 Main St., Grand Junction | @outwestbooks on TwitterInstagram

Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West

By Heather Hansman
University of Chicago Press


January 2022

>> Purchase: Contact

From the publisher:     Fights over the Green River’s water, and what’s going to happen to it in the future, are longstanding, intractable, and only getting worse as the West gets hotter and drier and more people depend on the river with each passing year. As a former raft guide and an environmental reporter, Heather Hansman felt driven to see  from a different perspective—from the river itself. So she set out on a journey, in a one-person inflatable pack raft, to paddle the river from source to confluence and see what the experience might teach her. “Downriver” is the story of that journey, a foray into the present—and future—of water in the West.

From Marya at Out West Books:  As a former National Park Ranger in Dinosaur National Monument and an avid river runner, I’ve always been fond of the Green River.  Before I read this book, I hadn’t given much thought to what happens to the water.  It was just, you know, always there for some great river trips. 

Heather Hansman’s time as a rafting guide piqued her interest and her journey on the river, along 730 miles of water from Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. It is so wonderfully written you’ll forget you’re reading non-fiction.  The more time she spent on the river, the more she came to realize that her prejudices about dams being bad and environmentally ruinous were “naive and unsubtle.”

 There is no hard and fast resolution to water problems in the West, no one answer that serves people, the environment and the river. Hansman’s book straddles the water controversies and now, more than ever, our water and rivers are at risk.

>> Purchase: Contact

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River

By David Owen
Penguin Random House

April 10, 2018

>> Purchase

From the publisher:  The Colorado River is an essential resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.–Mexico border where the river runs dry.

From Marya at Out West Books:  David Owen’s account of what happens to our Colorado River water is eye opening and a must-read for each and every one of us in the West.   Like Hansman, Owens follows a river, in this case the Colorado, from its source in a snowbank in Rocky Mountain National Park, to the spot along the U.S.-Mexico border where the river runs dry.

Owens’ book, too,  informs us that there is no easy way to solve our water problems. You can’t just turn off all the fountains in Las Vegas and let all the golf courses in Phoenix dry up (or could you?….hmmm).   Many people on the Front Range, especially with the influx of new residents, don’t realize where their water originates.  Much of it comes from the Western Slope and the Colorado River.

As I see people watering their lawns in the middle of the day in July, I think they cannot understand conservation and have probably moved here from places where water was plentiful.  “Where the Water Goes” wends its way beautifully through crazy old water policies, aging dams, disputing farmers and ranchers and urban corridors so that the river can allow us to live in this dry environment.  Water is more crucial now than ever and this book is an excellent introductory read.  It should be required reading to become a resident.

>> Purchase

As Precious as Blood: The Western Slope in Colorado’s Water Wars, 1900-1970

By Steven C. Schulte
University of Colorado Press
Jan. 15, 2020

>> Purchase

From the publisher: The diversion of water from Colorado’s Western Slope to meet the needs of the rest of the state has been a contentious issue throughout Colorado’s history.  The source of Colorado’s water is in the snow that accumulates west of the Continental Divide, but the ever-growing population on the Front Range continues to require more municipal water.  In “As Precious as Blood,” Steven C. Schulte examines the water wars between these two regions and how the western part of the state fits into Colorado’s overall water story.

From Marya at Out West Books: Beginning with John Wesley Powell, who predicted that “All of the great values in this territory have ultimately to be measured in acre-feet,”  Schulte’s account of water politics and policies in the West is truly a detailed, but highly readable, history on how we’ve arrived at today’s water laws.  Lawmakers such as Delphus Carpenter and Edward Taylor in the late 1800s and early 1900s, while resolving localized water disputes, realized that they might have to defend Colorado’s water against federal encroachment. 

As a result, Colorado’s water laws have influenced those of most western states. Schulte includes in detail the reasoning and rationale that prompted lawmakers to build multimillion dollar dams and reclamation projects that divert much needed water to the Front Range and elsewhere. The contentiousness of water in the West is clearly spelled out in this book.

>> Purchase

Kevin Simpson is a co-founder of The Colorado Sun and a general assignment writer and editor. He also oversees the Sun’s literary feature, SunLit, and the site’s cartoonists. A St. Louis native and graduate of the University of Missouri’s...