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2017 Colorado River Summer Reading and Watch List

Jul 24, 2017

Looking to add to your summer reading or watch list? Whether you’re headed to a beautiful body of water, relaxing in your backyard, or staying in on a rainy day, we’ve got a list of captivating books and documentaries about the Colorado River that recap its rich history and offer a glimpse at its possible future. These suggestions are ideal company on any summer day. Check out our brief summaries below to learn more before you read or watch:


Where the Water Goes by David Owen

Owen presents a history of the human developments on the Colorado River which have had long-term, detrimental effects on the health of the river. Having always been a vital resource for the region, the Colorado River’s history is rich and complex, yet Owen is able to distill the river’s past in a way which is easily digestible for all readers. He traces the complex evolution of engineering marvels, legal agreements, aging infrastructure, etc. to argue that though these developments may have been enough in the past, they are not enough to sustain the river in the future. If you don’t know a lot about the Colorado River’s history, or even if you do, this book will teach you something new and inspire you to join the fight to keep the river afloat.

Water is for Fighting Over by John Fleck

Fleck takes a more optimistic approach to water conservation, pushing back against what he says is the dangerously perpetuated narrative of a water crisis in the West. Though he acknowledges water levels on the Colorado River are decreasing, Fleck highlights past collaborations which successfully solved some of the region’s most dire water threats. He draws on examples of farmers, city-dwellers, environmentalists, and water managers working together to claim that conserving the Colorado River’s resources is possible in the long-term. Using this preexisting foundation for working together, he argues, is the key to ensuring that the river continues to flow. He ultimately promotes a less dire view about the future of the Colorado River while encouraging everyone to work together to protect it.

The Emerald Mile By Kevin Fedarko

In 1983, after a chain of superstorms and a huge snowmelt, the Colorado River was faced with massive flooding and potentially the most massive dam failures in history. A team of three engineers capitalized on this crisis and launched a wooden dory called the Emerald Mile into the river’s turbulent waters with the goal of making it the fastest boat ever propelled through the Grand Canyon. Fedarko enthrallingly recounts the true story of these three adventurers in their quest to leverage the rushing waters and quickly navigate the entire length of the Colorado River. Less informative but all more the more entertaining, this is an epic literary adventure for all Colorado River fans.


Leche y Miel (Milk and Honey)

A 14-minute documentary from American Rivers, well worth your time. The story follows communities in Yuma and Gadsden, Arizona which both heavily rely on the Colorado River. The film recounts the blessing that the water has brought to the area, given that Yuma provides more than 90% of the nation’s leafy vegetables during the winter growing season and is a centerpiece for these communities. It provides jobs, food, and a place for baptisms, and yet is disappearing more every year due to over-allocation. In turn, the dwindling water has threatened not only these communities and their livelihood, but also a major source of the nation’s food.


A documentary available on Netflix and narrated by Robert Redford, not only brings attention to the receding Colorado river and its support of 30 million people, but also provides inspiration for concerned citizens to help restore the river to what it once was. The documentary follows 3 Coloradans’ relationship with the River, as well as people in other states that depend on the Colorado River. With seven U.S. and two Mexican states reliant on the water supply, the documentary makes that argument that a new water ethic is vital to conservation efforts. With implementation, the film suggests hope for the river to continue to sustain the West and to finally reunite the river flow with its now arid delta in the Gulf of California.

It’s hard to settle on just one to read or watch. Tag us on Twitter (@water4colorado) and let us know which ones you choose!