A Grand Disappointment


This May, National Geographic Press published Running Dry: A Journey from Source to Sea Down the Colorado River. It's by Jonathan Waterman, who lives on 20 acres near Carbondale, Colo.
As someone who follows water issues, I wanted to like this book. But I couldn't.
That's because I ran across so many errors at the start of his foot-and-float trip at the top of the river in Colorado's Grand County. That's the part of the Colorado I know reasonably well, thanks to the four years I lived there.
The river starts in Rocky Mountain National Park, where there's a ditch -- it was dug before the Park was established -- built to divert water to farmers on the Eastern Slope. Waterman tells us that water in the ditch is "pumped uphill at a one percent grade."
You can pump water up a closed pipe, but not up an open ditch.
Downstream a few miles, he's camped just below Lake Granby and observes that "in 1977, David Emmert was arrested here for trespassing after floating through the private premises of a rancher." No, Emmert was arrested about 20 miles downstream from "here," on Con Ritschard's ranch near Parshall.
Waterman says "the case went to the local court, which couldn't interpret the law." Actually, Emmert was convicted of trespassing in the local court. We read that "The rancher eventually appealed his case to the Colorado Supreme Court," when it was Emmert who did the appealing. Why would rancher Con Ritschard, who got the trespassing conviction he wanted, appeal the case?
The paddling author reaches the junction with the Fraser River, and complains that it is diminished partly on account of Williams Fork Reservoir. That reservoir is on the Williams Fork River, not the Fraser.
He encounters Gore Canyon, proposed as a dam site early in the 20th century. President Theodore Roosevelt quashed the dam and "permitted the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad a right of way through Gore Canyon instead." No, the route went to the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway, which aimed to compete against the Rio Grande.
That's about as far as my intimate knowledge of the Colorado River goes, but if Waterman got this much wrong in the first 47 pages, I have to wonder how much credence to give his ensuing accounts of territory that is unfamiliar to me.
Granted, nobody gets everything right. But I expected better from National Geographic.

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colorado.