TeacherServe Essays

The Challenge of the Arid West

Author: Worster, Donald

Over the past few decades the nation has been reappraising its efforts to develop the arid West. Students should try to connect the past to current debates between environmentalists and developers, between rival users who want more water than they are getting, and between regions of the country over who should pay the cost of maintaining a civilization in the desert. Should we support more golf courses or urban growth, should we preserve the few remaining wild rivers, or should we cut down on the amount of water going to agricultural interests (typically 80 to 90 percent of the supply in western states)? Should water become more of a market commodity than it is now and be sold to the highest bidder? Does the desert have any value beyond economics? Has our history left ordinary citizens in control, or has it created a powerful elite who make the decisions? As hard as it may be to imagine how people once experienced aridity first-hand, it is even harder to grapple with the complex decisions that must be made about aridity today. Or to respond to nature’s limits and uncertainties.

Read More
History / Environment and Nature / Education Studies / American Westward Expansion / Water / Ecology / Agriculture / Environmental History /