Staff Pick
With every drop of the Colorado River allocated—or, more truthfully, over-allocated—the wild force that carved out the Grand Canyon is really more of a tightly-managed “fourteen-hundred mile long canal.” Running from the Rocky Mountains to a formerly lush, and now dry, river delta between Baja and Sonora, the Colorado is the faucet that waters the towns, cities, parks, mines, vineyards, and fields of seven states and parts of Mexico. Owen tours many of these communities, farms, and RV campsites, showing the diverse and often competing uses of the water. He also charts the Law of the River, a Byzantine set of rules and laws that apportions more “paper water” than there is “wet water” to cover. The situation has always been bad and is getting worse, but probably not in the ways you might think. Green-minded Denver, for instance, is more sprawling than Los Angeles. Las Vegas isn’t the ecological folly it’s often accused of being, nor is farming in a desert necessarily illogical. Overturning assumptions, and revealing little known facts about the hellish conditions for workers on the Hoover Dam or 1960s experiments with a kind of nuclear fracking, Owen covers a lot of fascinating physical, historical, legal, and cultural ground. But his main point is that “water issues are never only about water.” Even if we’re conscious of our “water footprint”—and few of us are in any meaningful way—it’s the overall “resource footprint” we have to consider, a fiercely complicated proposition.
Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594633775
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Riverhead Books - April 11th, 2017

Staff Pick

Like the Great Lakes themselves, Egan’s book is capacious and mesmerizing. He tells us that these five lakes are “essentially one giant, slow-motion river,” where what happens to one part affects the rest. He also reminds us that the infamous Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, which spurred the Clean Water Act, was only the last of a string of such fires—the first occurred in 1869. An unnatural as well as a natural history, Egan’s story is a sad and maddening chronicle of folly as we’ve tried to bend this magnificent natural resource to our own purposes. The St. Lawrence Seaway, for instance, built to make the region a world trade hub, opened the Lakes to invasive species when ships emptied their ballast water. From fish to mollusks to algae, the Great Lakes now host some 186 species they were never meant to; especially pernicious are the Asian carp, zebra and quagga mussels “metastasizing” the Lakes. Egan’s explanations of the science at work in this complex eco-system are clear and fascinating. The consequences are unpredictable and ominous: native species die off, water is poisoned, food chains are ravaged. While these problems have been expensive to remedy, so far they haven’t seriously affected ordinary human life. But the Great Lakes hold 20% of the world’s freshwater and constitute more than 80% of North America’s surface supply of freshwater. Right now, they seem infinite and indestructible, but as Egan shows so well, they have vulnerabilities and limits that we need to respect, or we face a very thirsty future.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393246438
Availability: Out of Print in This Format
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - March 7th, 2017

Staff Pick

If the very term Urban Forests (Viking, $32) seems an oxymoron, Jill Jonnes’s fascinating cultural history of trees in America will be a revelation. From Jefferson’s assessment of seeds as a “public treasure” to the first observance of Arbor Day in 1872 to the planting of a “survivor tree” on the site of the Oklahoma City Murrah building, trees have occupied the emotional and physical center of major events. They’ve also sometimes been the event, and Jonnes chronicles the long and heartbreaking battles against Dutch elm disease, the emerald ash borer, and the blight that wiped out the American chestnut. Today, trees are one of the most important features of livable, sustainable cities. Hard-working urban citizens, trees cool streets and buildings, help control rainwater runoff, and sequester carbon. In addition to these green services, trees also affect a neighborhood’s commerce, crime rate, property values, and general well-being. If the last is hard to quantify, the others are readily measurable, and Jonnes traces the increasingly sophisticated science of urban forestry, showing that thinking about trees as canopy cover rather than as board feet of lumber translates energy savings into dollars and cents (planted on the west side of a building trees save three times what they do if placed on the south side). This perspective also illuminates certain social issues: in 2006, prosperous Bel Air had 53% canopy cover, while lower-income south Los Angeles had just 7%. Trees have a lot to teach us about cities, not least our own, and Jonnes devotes several chapters to the District, recounting how “bleak, inhospitable” mud became the tree-lined National Mall, how Eliza Scidmore, the first woman member of the National Geographic Society, worked for over 25 years to get cherry trees in Potomac Park, and how Casey Trees has re-greened the District, with the help of scores of volunteer urban foresters.

Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape Cover Image
ISBN: 9780670015665
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Viking - September 27th, 2016

Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143110446
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - September 5th, 2017