Maybe California’s Water Wars Aren’t as Bad as You Think

THE AMERICAN WEST has always been a dry place. That gave it a reputation: Everyone is fighting over water. Historically, that reputation reflected reality. Decades-long grudges between farmers and environmentalists over endangered fish. Cities that slurp up entire lakes. States literally declaring war on each other—as Arizona did to California in the 1930s. And a complex legal systems employing armies of water-specialized lawyers to arbitrate all the bickering. That water-for-fightin’ reputation masks a counter-narrative. Amid the droughts, the fish fights, and the water wars, the West remains wet enough for civilization. Las Vegas still has fountains, California still has farms, and Phoenix is still home to 1.5 million heat-loving lunatics. In his new book, Water is For Fighting Over, and Other Myths About Water in the West, John Fleck chronicles the mellowing of some of the west’s biggest water warriors, and explains why that is good for the region’s future.

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