Dead PoolJames Lawrence Powell is Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium at the University of Southern California and is author of Grand Canyon: Solving Earth’s Grandest Puzzle, among other books. Powell’s latest book, Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West, was published by UC Press in November 2008. For more information about the author and his other published works, please visit his website.

Dead Pool

By: James Lawrence Powell

In the twenty-first century, water is the new oil. That’s the takeaway from my book, Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West. Attempting to convert the Great American Desert into an earthly paradise, America made a bet to dwarf the largest wager ever made in Las Vegas, a gamble against Nature that no civilization in history has ever won. In as unwinnable game of strip poker against an enemy with unlimited time and energy, Lake Powell will be the first big pot we lose.

As you can learn from, I am a geologist, former professor, and nonprofit executive who took up writing science-related books as a way to keep learning and ideally, educating. Grand Canyon: Solving Earth’s Grandest Puzzle, published in 2005, not only allowed me to delve into the past of the Colorado River, but also got me interested in its future. When I began Grand Canyon, I knew no more about global warming than the average scientist; yet the more I have learned, the more alarmed I have become. Every scientific study confirms that global warming will cause the amount of water in the Colorado River to decline, yet because we already use every drop, there is none to spare. To fill reservoirs takes surplus water and there is no surplus. Within a couple of decades, the Colorado River system will have too little water to maintain two large reservoirs even half full, requiring us to sacrifice Lake Powell in favor of Lake Mead. But don’t expect to hear it from the US Bureau of Reclamation: it continues to deny the significance of global warming, promising that there will always be plenty of water in the Colorado River and its reservoirs, the moral and  scientific equivalent of the promises of the Corps of Engineers that the levees would protect New Orleans. Why do we have federal water agencies that we cannot trust?