TEMPE, Ariz. In 1986, Marc Reisner published "Cadillac Desert: The American West and its disappearing water," a foundational work about the long-term environmental costs of U.S. western state's water projects and land development. It sounded an alarm about the direction of the American West and how it was using its most precious resource. Now it all appears to becoming true.
Researchers applying modern scientific tools and mapping technologies, unavailable during Reisner's time, find his conclusions for the most part to be accurate and scientifically correct. As a result, current water practices are not sustainable and many dramatic initiatives will be needed to correct the current unsustainable path the West is on.
In a paper published in the Dec. 14, 2010, Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team led by John Sabo, an Arizona State University associate professor in the School of Life Sciences, confirms Reisner's assertions of the illusion of sustainability and ongoing water scarcity in the modern day American West.
"Reclaiming freshwater sustainability in the Cadillac Desert," is one of eight papers in a special section of PNAS. The special feature explores the challenges presented by the 21st century drought compared with earlier droughts in the Southwest, and analyzes the impact of greenhouse gases on the water supply.
"Cadillac Desert was prescient, published before a comprehensive analysis like this new study was possible," said Stephanie Hampton, deputy director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "Using innovative approaches to scientific synthesis, Sabo and his colleagues provide a rich understanding of the status of Western water, and additional incentive to pursue the vision for sustainability that Cadillac Desert originally inspired in so many of us."
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Arizona State University