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Reclaiming freshwater sustainability in the Cadillac Desert

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009734108

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Abstract

Increasing human appropriation of freshwater resources presents a tangible limit to the sustainability of cities, agriculture, and ecosystems in the western United States. Marc Reisner tackles this theme in his 1986 classic Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. Reisner's analysis paints a portrait of region-wide hydrologic dysfunction in the western United States, suggesting that the storage capacity of reservoirs will be impaired by sediment infilling, croplands will be rendered infertile by salt, and water scarcity will pit growing desert cities against agribusiness in the face of dwindling water resources. Here we evaluate these claims using the best available data and scientific tools. Our analysis provides strong scientific support for many of Reisner's claims, except the notion that reservoir storage is imminently threatened by sediment. More broadly, we estimate that the equivalent of nearly 76% of streamflow in the Cadillac Desert region is currently appropriated by humans, and this figure could rise to nearly 86% under a doubling of the region's population. Thus, Reisner's incisive journalism led him to the same conclusions as those rendered by copious data, modern scientific tools, and the application of a more genuine scientific method. We close with a prospectus for reclaiming freshwater sustainability in the Cadillac Desert, including a suite of recommendations for reducing region-wide human appropriation of streamflow to a target level of 60%.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Reclaiming freshwater sustainability in the Cadillac Desert
Series title:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1009734108
Volume
107
Issue:
50
Year Published:
2010
Language:
English
Publisher:
National Academy of Sciences
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
Southeast Ecological Science Center, Branch of Regional Research-Western Region
Description:
7 p.
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
First page:
21263
Last page:
21269
Country:
United States