Recover password

Study of Western water use finds that dealing with drought led to a conservation success story

John Fleck is a former journalist who covered water issues for the Albuquerque Journal. (Courtesy of Karl Flessa)

John Fleck is a former journalist who covered water issues for the Albuquerque Journal. (Courtesy of Karl Flessa)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John Fleck said he came out of the tradition steeped in the doomsday narrative of Marc Reisner’s 1986 book “Cadillac Desert.”

That persuasive narrative states that society in the western United States will collapse for lack of water.

“I believed that, and my job as a journalist was to warn people of that,” Fleck said. “In one form or another, I’ve been writing about water for 30 years.”

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Fleck was the science and environmental writer for the Albuquerque Journal for almost 25 years.

Fleck will discuss and sign “Water Is for Fighting Over” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, at UNM’s Hibben Center and at 6 p.m. Sept. 7 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

Fleck will discuss and sign “Water Is for Fighting Over” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, at UNM’s Hibben Center and at 6 p.m. Sept. 7 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

His new book, “Water Is for Fighting Over … And Other Myths about Water in the West,” deepens and illuminates the reader’s knowledge on this broad, complex subject.

Fleck’s book focuses on the Colorado River Basin and the cities inside – and outside – the river’s hydrologic basin. Albuquerque is one of several major cities that draw water from the basin. Other outsiders include Los Angeles, Denver and Salt Lake City.

As the drought of the 21st century set in, Fleck began asking many people in the water business in the West this provocative question: Who runs out of water first?

Fleck got answers that surprised him. “It increasingly became clear that people aren’t running out and that change is under way, that people were adapting, using less water,” he said.

In other words, in this new collective, cooperative atmosphere, water authorities have successfully encouraged urban and agricultural users to become water conservationists. Las Vegas, Nev., believe it or not, is a conservation success story.

These stories have turned the water crisis narrative on its head.

Fleck’s book explains in plain language the policies and laws that apply to water storage, water rights and water use.

Today the concerns are what to do with the water saved by conservation and what will happen in water-scarce times. This is an important book for all Westerners.

Fleck has taught in the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program since 2013 and was recently named director of the program.

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