Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Want to learn more about prior appropriation?

Hopefully you were able to stick it out to the end of my last blog post.  If you were, and if water rights and prior appropriation are new to you, I bet you want to learn more.  Some historians have done an exception job delving into the history of the West to explain why we divide water the way we do and the impacts of prior appropriation.  I highly recommend the books below, but be prepared for some heartburn. 
Glen Canyon Dam: I had to visit this after reading Cadillac Desert. You can get a tour down inside the dam, which is straight up amazing. 
The best water rights books to date:

  • Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water - Marc Reisner - 1993.  This book covers the characters and the lasting structures and agencies they built that are still powerful forces on the landscape. Even better, there's a Cadillac Desert documentary with powerful interviews from David Brower, Floyd Dominy, and bad ass goddess of the desert Katie Lee (you may cry, it's ok).  
  • Secret Knowledge of Water: The Essence of the American Desert - Craig Childs - 2000.  More of a naturalist's book than strict history, Childs takes you across the desert, explaining how to find water and the amazing ways that water has shaped the landscape.  There's a chapter about flash floods that is seared into my brain.  
  • Where the Water Flows: Life and Death Along the Colorado River - David Owens - 2017.  A story about the most interesting river in the world - the Colorado River.  You get to go on a journey from the start of the river in the Colorado Rockies to the end.  Each chapter along the way dives into a piece of the complexity surrounding the Colorado, which has been called the American Nile (because it's that's important).  I really like the chapter on water conservation because it explains all the ways people and the environment have adapted to prior appropriation, then shows the cascading consequences of making changes that seem good.  
  • Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness - Edward Abbey - 1968.  OK, not about water per se, but a story about living in the desert.  While you're familiarizing yourself with the desert we live in, this is a must read. 

The Bear River is my second favorite river (after the Colorado). I spent 3 years studying how all the water users, especially the wetland water users, are linked to one another through sharing the river. 
If you'd like a slightly drier, academic approach focused on a local watershed and wetlands, you can check out some of my publications. 

  • Keeping wetlands wet in the Western United States: adaptations to drought in human-natural systems.  Yeah, I jumped on the subtitle bandwagon. Everything needs water rights in the West, even ecosystems.  Wetland managers in the Bear River watershed have figured out ways to get water rights and then use that water in a way that meets the requirements of prior appropriation and maintains habitat for migratory birds.  The cool part about it (other than the birds) is that each of the three refuges we looked at chose a slightly different way of obtaining water rights and water shares that was most appropriate for where they are located.  Blog post about it here.  
  • Adaptive management in an uncertain and changing environment.  We took a deep dive into water rights, water management, and the people behind Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.  Water is constantly on the brains of wetland managers here: how much water is available this month, what new proposals are threatening that water, where on the 70,000 acre refuge is that water most needed?

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