adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT
adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT

1 audiobook of your choice.
Stream or download thousands of included titles.
$14.95 a month after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
Buy for $28.00

Buy for $28.00

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Taxes where applicable.

Publisher's Summary

A brilliant, eye-opening account of where our water comes from and where it all goes.

The Colorado River is a crucial resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado's headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes listeners on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the US-Mexico border where the river runs dry.

Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill all the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on.

The story Owen tells in Where the Water Goes is crucial to our future: how a patchwork of engineering marvels, byzantine legal agreements, aging infrastructure, and neighborly cooperation enables life to flourish in the desert, and the disastrous consequences we face when any part of this tenuous system fails.

©2017 David Owen (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Owen has the keen observation of a birder combined with the breezy writing to draw you in with unusual insights.... As Owen shows, the Colorado River is a great, sad, terrifying, possibly hopeful example of the pervasive, permanent mark people are making on the planet.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“This wonderfully written book covers issue that will, or should, give you a headache. But it is a good headache, one that makes you a more informed person. Mr. Owen writes about water, but in these polarized times the lessons he shares spill into other arenas. The world of water rights and wrongs along the Colorado River offers hope for other problems.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Owen is effortlessly engaging, informally parceling out information about acre-foot allotments alongside sketches of notable, often dreadful figures in the river's history... Where the Water Goes doesn't pretend to solve the problems Owen acknowledges are overwhelming and, in some ways, impossible. It's a restless travelogue of long-term human impact on the natural world, and how politics and economics have as much to do with redirecting rivers as any canal. But with its historical eddies, policy asides, and trips to the Hoover Dam, at heart Where the Water Goes is about water as a function of time, and a reminder that we're running out of both.” (NPR.org)

Featured Article: How to Celebrate Earth Day in Your New Normal


What a time for a golden anniversary. Celebrated annually since 1970, Earth Day commemorates its 50th year of existence as the world faces an unprecedented global crisis. While this particular Earth Day won't be filled with parades, communal beach cleanups, and school field trips to plant trees, fear not: when there's a will to honor the environment, there's a way. Inspire your inner environmentalist by listening to some of our favorite earth-loving audio.

What listeners say about Where the Water Goes

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    152
  • 4 Stars
    65
  • 3 Stars
    18
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    2
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    130
  • 4 Stars
    62
  • 3 Stars
    14
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    4
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    135
  • 4 Stars
    56
  • 3 Stars
    14
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    5

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Water issues are never about only water.

Where the Water Goes is a fascinating account of the Colorado River as it flows from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to a trickle in Mexico. David Owen combines important information about this water source for much of the West with his account of traveling the river, and it is an incredible story. John Wesley Powell, who led the first American expedition to navigate the Colorado River, stated later in his life, “There is not sufficient water to supply these lands.” People that came after Powell have tried to prove him wrong by portioning the Colorado River with water rights, but they made some important and far-reaching miscalculations and gave users more water than actually exists in the river.

Owen explains the Law of the River, prior appropriation, and how and why these water rights were even necessary.

"Water law in Colorado and most states in the West is based on the doctrine of ‘prior appropriation. That doctrine holds that the first person to make “beneficial use” of water gains the right to use that quantity for that purpose forever, and that the claim takes precedence over every claim made later and is unrelated to the user’s distance from the stream.

In the East and in England, most surface water was (and is) governed by “riparian law,” whose guiding principle is that the right to draw water from a stream must be shared equitably by all adjacent property owners. That didn’t work with gold, because in the West there was so little water that dividing a stream among multiple users often made it useless to all."

The whole idea of water rights has led to an incredible system of lawyers arguing over “dry water” (water which exists only on paper and legal agreements and “wet water” (actual water in the river), some of the seven states in the Colorado River Compact storing water so that California does not get more than their share, measuring water in unimaginable acre-feet, and the unexpected problem of the river's salinity dealt with by a desalinization plant along the Dolores River by the Paradox Valley Unit.

Humans have created this system, and are learning that all of the components are far more inter-related than we might have suspected originally. Having seen Hoover Dam and the “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead, I was quick to blame Las Vegas, but Owen points out that it's not all their fault, nor is this solely a western problem. Much of the water that is siphoned from the Colorado irrigates the fields in California that grow food for all of us. Global change means water change, and all of us are going to feel the effects of diminishing snow pack that feeds the river.

David Owen has written the fascinating, complex, and scary story of the Colorado River in such an engrossing and educational way that it is one of my favorite books of 2017. This cautionary tale is something all of us should be aware of because “water issues are never only about water.”

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

great read if interested in the Colorado river

great read if interested in the Colorado river, especially if you've already ready the classic western water book, Cadillac Desert.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful book, narration had some issues

This was a fascinating book. It was well researched and the author did an excellent job of explaining a very complicated topic. Unfortunately the narrator mispronounced multiple words. The one that annoyed me the most was the fact that he pronounced the "g" in saguaro, a common but not one I expect in a professionally narrated book.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Of two or three really good books about water this might be the best

This book is not only richly comprehensive and informative but terrifically entertaining. Not to be missed.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Narrator makes it difficult, but good overall.

Book is super informative and very interesting for anyone living in the west. However, clearly the narrator has not spent much time in the southwest. He routinely mispronounces a lot of place names and Spanish words. It is almost comical and distracted from the content. Overall the material is very good.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Text is detailed, complex and attentive… Narrator & production are not.

The production team blew it on this one. They clearly aren’t from the western states and could not be bothered to consult anyone who is from the western states — or the author — on the pronunciation of common words and place names.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good book about a critical topic

The book is an easy to follow exploration of the use of the Colorado River’s water. He follows the river from its beginnings to its end in a desert.
The author gives a reasonably balanced presentation for different viewpoints. The book is a good introduction to water issues in the Western USA and is worth reading.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

A Broad Account of Dilemmas Facing the Southwest

If you've read Wallace Stegner and seen the movie Chinatown, you are already familiar with many of the author's stories and points. Nevertheless, Owen does a good job covering the wide range of issues that surround water use in the Western United States.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • RF
  • 10-16-21

People, agriculture, and water - well balanced

An incredibly informative and well-balanced book that analyzes the agricultural, mineral, and residential needs of people, jobs and the history of water.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Second Listen Required

If the author had skipped the descriptions of the attire of the people he interviewed, and if the narator had used local pronunciations of location names (Salt on Sea is pronounced Sultin locally) I would have rated it a flawless five stars. Even if one isn't interested in Western water law, the history alone is worth the read. It's a good follow up to Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridian and Reisner's Cadillac Desert. I'm starting over at the beginning to try to follow along via Google Earth.