WASHINGTON (May 12, 2010)—Award-winning author, filmmaker and adventurer Jonathan Waterman chronicles his five-month, 1,450-mile journey down the Colorado River — a vital natural resource on the brink of ecological calamity — in a new book from National Geographic, RUNNING DRY: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River (National Geographic Books; ISBN: 978-1-4262-0505-7; May 18, 2010; $26 hardcover). The book includes a removable National Geographic wall map of the Colorado River Basin that traces Waterman’s journey and provides a complete portrait of the challenges facing the river.
The Colorado River is one of the American West’s most awe-inspiring and precious natural treasures. Its waters slake the thirst of the millions of people who live there, irrigate countless acres of farmland and fuel an ever growing need for electricity. It’s a home for wildlife and a source of recreation and spiritual refuge. But the demands made on the overtaxed river have placed it in peril. Facing threats from prolonged drought, pollution, climate change, river-based industries and pressures from population growth, the river is running dry. Siphoned, tunneled, forced into countless canals and harnessed for hydro-electric power, the river is so dammed up that more water evaporates from its reservoirs each year than is found in most major U.S. rivers. Today, only in the wettest of years does the Colorado ever reach the Pacific Ocean.
The river’s very future is at risk, and Waterman, a Colorado state resident, is on a quest to save it. In 2008, with support from the National Geographic Society, he embarked on the unprecedented and never-before-completed 1,450-mile journey, paddling in his kayak and hiking by foot, from the river’s source in the Rocky Mountains to its parched Mexican delta to see firsthand the current state of the river.
“After half a lifetime of far-off adventures on northern ice, I wanted to explore my arid backyard. I took my pack raft and kayak and then went to look for answers. I wanted to let the water carry me from source to sea so that I could understand the extent of the crisis, get to know the river, rethink my family’s water use, and see what might be left for the future,” Waterman writes in his introduction to RUNNING DRY.
Along the way he engaged with the myriad, diverse people whose lives are touched by the river: ranchers and farmers, boatmen and rangers, scientists and politicians, vacationers and activists — all of whom have a stake in the waters that flow in one of the most diverted, most legislated and most litigated rivers in the world.
“There were burly engineers devoted to reclaiming water and a belligerent rancher who tried to kick me off the river as it flowed past his land. I spoke with a Las Vegas water manager who could spout out acre-feet figures as quickly as a blackjack dealer slings cards. I rode with boatmen who lectured adroitly on geology, bird identification, and photography — all in the midst of navigating rapids. I saw the devastating effects of the drying river on a Native American community. I met a water-conserving farmer installing underground drip irrigation. And I enjoyed food, shelter, and hospitality all along the way — from boaters on Lake Powell to Mexicans living along the dying delta.
“Unlike other ‘us-versus-them’ environmental issues, I found that the shrinking Colorado River is different. We’re all in a similar boat trying to keep it flowing and understand what’s at stake,” he writes.
Waterman’s journey revealed just how complex the issues facing the Colorado are. He learned what has already been damaged and what might potentially be lost if proper solutions and conservation measures are not put in place. In this stirring account, he brings readers face to face with the power, beauty and fragility of the mighty river in the hopes that he can inspire the actions necessary to preserve it.
About the author
Jonathan Waterman is the author of 10 books, including “Where Mountains Are Nameless,” “Arctic Crossing,” “Kayaking the Vermilion Sea” and “In the Shadow of Denali.” His writing awards include a Literary Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, two “Best Adventure” titles from the Banff International Book Festival and the American Alpine Club Literary Award. He lives with his family in Carbondale, Colo.