Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition by Marc Reisner

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition by Marc Reisner

Author:Marc Reisner [Reisner, Marc]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Non-Fiction
ISBN: 9781440672828
Google: Akn6rUgR_eEC
Amazon: B001RTKIUA
Publisher: Viking Penguin
Published: 1987-06-01T07:00:00+00:00

Like the westbound wagons that had to jettison furniture, food, even water in order to plow through the desert sands, the Central Arizona Project was finally light enough to move. The Colorado River Basin Project Act was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson on September 30, 1968—the most expensive single authorization in history. Besides the CAP, it authorized Hooker Dam in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, the aqueduct from Lake Mead to Las Vegas, the Dixie Project in Utah, and the Uintah Unit of the Central Utah Project—the first piece of a water-diversion scheme that promised to be nearly as grandiose as the CAP. It also authorized the San Miguel, Dallas Creek, West Divide, Dolores, and Animas La Plata projects in Colorado, and it authorized a Lower Colorado Development Fund, still penniless, to build an augmentation project that hadn’t yet been defined, let alone approved. Almost unnoticed alongside everything else, the bill made deliverance of Mexico’s 1.5 million acre-feet of water—of tolerably sweet water—a national responsibility, whatever that meant. Loosely interpreted, it might mean a pipeline from Lake Superior to Mexicali.

The five Colorado projects—which could easily add a cool $1 billion to the cost of everything else—were an object lesson in the workings of the Congressional pork barrel. They were put into the bill at the insistence of Wayne Aspinall, the black-eyed former schoolteacher with a testy principal’s disposition who had climbed from a little western Colorado town to become the chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Aspinall distrusted urban, expansionist California with all the recondite loathing of a small-town mind, and he didn’t trust Arizona much more. The overallocated river ran right under the window of his expensive home on Aspinall Drive in Palisade, Colorado, and he figured that Colorado had better extract every drop of its rightful share or California and Arizona would take it and never give it back. If the CAP was to get past the chairman of the House Interior Committee, Colorado was going to be satisfied first.

The problem was that by 1968, there wasn’t a single irrigation project left on the West Slope of the Rockies that was economically feasible. The best ones—or, to put it more accurately, the least senseless ones—had already been authorized by the Colorado River Storage Project Act in 1956. If Colorado had a need for more water, and a place where a new project might actually make sense, it was on the eastern plains, where both the growing cities of the Front Range and the farms atop the Ogallala aquifer were facing water famine thirty or forty years down the road. One of the Bureau’s most successful projects, Colorado-Big Thompson, was already delivering Colorado River water across the Continental Divide through a tunnel to the East Slope; the power produced by the steep drop down the Front Range was enough to justify the expense of the tunnel, and the additional water diverted from the upper Colorado to tributaries of the Platte River was welcomed by everyone from canoeists to whooping cranes to irrigators in Colorado and Nebraska.


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