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A Thirsty Land

A Thirsty Land
The Fight for Water in Texas

A Thirsty Land chronicles Texans’ epic struggles over water, from San Antonio’s mission-era acequias to today’s debates in the face of climate change and population growth, with an eye toward innovative technologies and strategies for increasing the supply.

Series: Peter T. Flawn Endowment in Natural Resource Management and Conservation

August 2020
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296 pages | 6 x 9 |

As a changing climate threatens the whole country with deeper droughts and more furious floods that put ever more people and property at risk, Texas has become a bellwether state for water debates. Will there be enough water for everyone? Is there the will to take the steps necessary to defend ourselves against the sea? Is it in the nature of Americans to adapt to nature in flux?

The most comprehensive—and comprehensible—book on contemporary water issues, A Thirsty Land delves deep into the challenges faced not just by Texas but by the nation as a whole, as we struggle to find a way to balance the changing forces of nature with our own ever-expanding needs. Part history, part science, part adventure story, and part travelogue, this book puts a human face on the struggle to master that most precious and capricious of resources, water. Seamus McGraw goes to the taproots, talking to farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, and citizen activists, as well as to politicians and government employees. Their stories provide chilling evidence that Texas—and indeed the nation—is not ready for the next devastating drought, the next catastrophic flood. Ultimately, however, A Thirsty Land delivers hope. This deep dive into one of the most vexing challenges facing Texas and the nation offers glimpses of the way forward in the untapped opportunities that water also presents.

  • Prologue
  • 1. Pipe Dreams: The 1968 State Water Plan
  • 2. When Mine Is Yours and Yours Is Ours
  • 3. “That’s the Kind of Thinking That Will Get Your Land Took from You”
  • 4. The Last Straw
  • 5. Rice in the Desert
  • 6. What Makes the Dollar Flip
  • 7. Dow by Law
  • 8. An Oak with Its Roots in the River, Redux
  • 9. Old Men Shouting at the Clouds
  • 10. A Tale of Two Colonias
  • 11. Up Against the Wall
  • 12. Finding a Solution, Come Hell or No Water
  • 13. Must Be Something in the Water
  • 14. Hanged in a Fortnight
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading
  • Index

Northeastern Pennsylvania

McGraw is the author of The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone and Betting the Farm on a Drought: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change. His award-winning writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, and Reader’s Digest.


A Thirsty Land tells a compelling and important story not just about the state's water history, but also about its social, economic, and political identity.”
Western Historical Quarterly

“A reporting tour de force and reminiscent of Cadillac Desert, the 1986 book by Marc Reisner that is required reading for anyone seeking to understand water policy in the West. McGraw’s work is similarly nuanced, thoroughly researched and beautifully written. .  . McGraw showcases a deep understanding of Texas law, history and culture. There’s a desire not just to explain where we stand now, but how we got here.”
Texas Observer

“Water is set to become the world’s most important commodity. It will be access to water that will determine which communities thrive. It will be the ability of state and local governments to set and enforce water conservation policies that will determine the long-term viability of the quickly growing cities and suburbs being planted in the desert. . . we need to worry about the right things. . . Start worrying about water.”
Inside Higher Ed

“McGraw's book proves that the United States simply isn't ready for the next big drought or flood. This is a problem that's been brewing for a long time, and climate change is about to make it worse. Gulp.

“Although A Thirsty Land is Texas-based, it raises questions about water as a resource and commodity that fits any location; questions we should all be considering regardless of where we live and the prodigiousness of our local water resources.”
Block Island Times

“In stark prose that often gleams like a bone pile bleached in the sun, McGraw travels back and forth across Texas to give a free-ranging but deadeye view of the crisis on the horizon.”
Texas Monthly

“It’s hard to write about the slow creep of environmental crises like drought without resorting to shock tactics or getting lost in the weeds…[McGraw] draws out the conflicts in compelling ways by drilling into the plight of individual water users. Even if you feel no connection to Texas, these stories are relevant to every part of the country.”

“Interviewing both scientific experts and everyday water users, [McGraw] clearly delineates the competing interests, describes political and geological reality, and makes a compelling argument for statewide water policy that utilizes modern technology and fairly weighs parochial needs against the good of the whole.”
Arizona Daily Star, Southwest Books of the Year

“Readers will put the book down with a sense of urgency, a set of strategies, and a feeling of hope.”
Texas Books in Review

A Thirsty Land tells a compelling and important story not just about the state's water history, but also about its social, economic, and political identity.”
Western Historical Quarterly


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca