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Wade Davis | River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado

Picture of Wade Davis running Lava Falls

Photograph courtesy Wade Davis

Picture of Wade Davis
Photograph by Mark Thiessen

Plugged by no fewer than 25 dams, the Colorado River is the world’s most regulated river drainage. It provides most of the water supply of Las Vegas, Tucson, and San Diego, and much of the power and water of Los Angeles and Phoenix. If the river stopped flowing, we would likely have to abandon many of the largest cities in the West. The Colorado is indeed a river of life, which makes it all the more tragic that by the time it approaches the sea, it has been reduced to a toxic trickle, its delta dry and deserted.

In a blend of history, science, and personal observation based on his experience as a white-water guide and leading character in the 3D IMAX production Grand Canyon Adventure, Wade Davis tells the story of the American Nile, its geology and ethnography, the early explorations of John Wesley Powell, the critical role of the Mormon Church, the stunning engineering achievement of Hoover Dam, and all the complex decisions that ultimately transformed the river, leaving it but a shadow in the sand as it reaches the sea.

The plight of the Colorado is a story of folly and loss, but also of immense hope, for we have it readily within our power to restore the river and its delta to life. Public perceptions aside, the water crisis in the Southwest is not due to people wanting golf courses in Phoenix, fountains in Vegas, or swimming pools in San Diego. All such domestic uses amount to a minor percentage of the water diverted from the river, perhaps 630,000 acre-feet a year. The water crisis in truth is due to one single factor—cows eating alfalfa in a landscape where neither belongs. The 250 million acres of land allocated by the Bureau of Land Management for cattle grazing yield less than 10 percent of the national beef production. This supports a way of life rich in nostalgia, but hopelessly inefficient in terms of productivity and water consumption. The delta of the river, verdant in the lifetime of Davis’s father, could be restored with the amount of water that now goes to support a third of one percent of the nation’s beef production.

Wade Davis Speaker Page

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Sam Abell
   Photographer Photo of Sam Abell
William Albert Allard
   Photographer, Writer Photo of William Albert Allard
Casey Anderson
   Naturalist, TV Host Photo of Casey Anderson
Peter Athans
   Mountaineer, Filmmaker Photo of Peter Athans
Robert Ballard
   Underwater Explorer Photo of Robert Ballard
Brady Barr
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Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith
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Keith Bellows
   Editor in Chief, National Geographic Traveler Photo of Keith Bellows
Melina Bellows
   Publisher, Editor Photo of Melina Bellows
Don Belt
   Former Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, National Geographic Photo of Don Belt
Lee Berger
   Paleoanthropologist Photo of Lee Berger
Joel K. Bourne Jr.
   Contributing Writer Photo of Joel K. Bourne Jr.
Kobie Boykins
   NASA Engineer Photo of Kobie Boykins
John Bredar
   Senior Executive Producer, National Geographic Specials Photo of John Bredar
Kenny Broad
   Cave Diver, Environmental Anthropologist Photo of Kenny Broad
Dan Buettner
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Andy B. Casagrande
   National Geographic Cameraman Photo of Andy B. Casagrande
Barry Clifford
   Underwater Explorer Photo of Barry Clifford
Jodi Cobb
   Photographer Photo of Jodi Cobb
Michael Davie
   Filmmaker Photo of Michael Davie
Wade Davis
   Cultural Anthropologist, Author Photo of Wade Davis
Dennis Dimick
   Executive Editor, National Geographic Magazine Photo of Dennis Dimick
David Doubilet
   Underwater Photographer Photo of David Doubilet
Sylvia Earle
   Marine Biologist Photo of Sylvia Earle
Frans Lanting and Chris Eckstrom
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Andrew Evans
   Travel Journalist Photo of Andrew Evans
Michael Fay
   Conservationist, Biologist Photo of Michael Fay
Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
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John Francis
   Planetwalker, Conservationist Photo of John Francis
Jerry Glover
   Agricultural Ecologist Photo of Jerry Glover
Annie Griffiths
   Photographer Photo of Annie Griffiths
Kevin Hand
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Zahi Hawass
   Archaeologist Photo of Zahi Hawass
Fred Hiebert
   Archaeologist Photo of Fred Hiebert
Peter Hillary
   Mountaineer, Author Photo of Peter Hillary
Nizar Ibrahim
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Donald Johanson
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Beverly & Dereck Joubert
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Karen Kasmauski
   Photographer Photo of Karen Kasmauski
Mattias Klum
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Emory Kristof
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Tim Laman
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Chris Eckstrom and Frans Lanting
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Albert Yu-Min Lin
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Greg Marshall
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Boyd Matson
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Mireya Mayor
   Primatologist Photo of Mireya Mayor
Steve McCurry
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Kim McKay
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Mark Moffett
   Ecologist, Photographer Photo of Mark Moffett
Nalini Nadkarni
   Forest Ecologist Photo of Nalini Nadkarni
Cathy Newman
   National Geographic Senior Writer, Author Photo of Cathy Newman
Michael "Nick" Nichols
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Paul Nicklen
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Børge Ousland
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Bob Poole
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Victoria Pope
   Deputy Editor, National Geographic Magazine Photo of Victoria Pope
Chad Pregracke
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Reza
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Jim Richardson
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Enric Sala
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Joel Sartore
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Barton Seaver
   Chef, Conservationist Photo of Barton Seaver
Paul Sereno
   Paleontologist Photo of Paul Sereno
Brian Skerry
   Underwater Photographer Photo of Brian Skerry
Bryan Smith
   Adventure Filmmaker Photo of Bryan Smith
Will Steger
   Polar Explorer Photo of Will Steger
Maria Stenzel
   Photographer Photo of Maria Stenzel
Ed Viesturs
   Mountaineer Photo of Ed Viesturs
Spencer Wells
   Population Geneticist Photo of Spencer Wells
Rory Wilson
   Aquatic Biologist Photo of Rory Wilson
Andrew Zolli
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