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Wallace Stegner was the author of the book, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. This was a book that recounted the accomplishments made by John Wesley Powell and the troubles he went through before being successful. One of the accomplishments that John Wesley Powell is credited for in the book is his successful exploration of the Colorado River. Wesley is recognized as the first man to traverse the Colorado River through the Steep Gorges. He is also acknowledged for foreshadowing the water issues that would befall the West as a result of global warming and climate change (Stegner 216).
The water issue in the West
Stegner found out that most of the wilderness in West America had been explored apart from a few places, the Grand Canyon being one of them. The surveyors of the American government had not managed to explore the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River due to the difficulties that were involved in traversing it. One had to pass through rapids and falls that were capable of smashing boats to pieces. There were also swirling bodies of water, dangerous waterfalls and steep cliffs.
The expedition that Powell launched was meant to pass through to the Indian and other communities downstream where rainfall was rarely experienced. He was familiar with the area thus exploring it would not be a problem. He also was well aware of the fact that people who inhabited the area had a high population density that was ever-increasing. As a result, there was a very high possibility that these communities would experience water shortages in the coming years if the status was not checked. Stegner talked of the Eastern part of America being green and the West being dry. Many people noticed this difference but Powel was the first to ask and wonder what the future of the West held for that nation (Stegner 234).
Many people who had relocated to the West following the weather forecast made by the scientists and records in newspapers believed that the area would have ample rainfall to sustain their farms. They were offered free land by the government but woe unto them because they felt betrayed and cheated when no rain fell on their land. Those people who tried plowing on the land without adopting irrigation were greatly disappointed in the results.
In his book, Stegner explained how Powell intervened in the problem and formulated methods that would enable the landowners to continue settling on these arid areas while avoiding competing for water amongst themselves. He advised the people to tap the water that had resulted from the melting of snow. Due to global warming, the slight increase in atmospheric temperatures has resulted in the melting of ice on the mountain’s peaks that can be used at their advantage as a source of water. This water can be channeled into their farms and used for irrigation. This would result in an increase in their production hence their farms will be sustainable both in the short run and in the long run. the same method had been implemented successfully in Utah where the natives utilized water from melting ice blocks for irrigation purposes (Stegner 216).
Powell wanted the people to be self-reliant. They should not rely on the government to build for them a dam or a canal that would direct water into their farms but instead, they should use their own money to develop their lands. These visions appeared far-reached for that desperate nation but before Powell died, he watched his dreams come true as the government-funded for the building of a huge dam and canal that would lead water to the area. What followed was a success story since the small homesteads turned into mega-farms and development became rampant.
Stegner believes that Powell was a great influence and that his attempt to rescue the West from a possible dark future was successful as he influenced the people and changed their attitudes. His predictions were a revelation that prevented the west from facing a catastrophe that would have tremendous impacts on the lives of many people. He changed from a situation of lack of water to having too much of it.
Stegner, Wallace. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954. Print.