Stories and Reports

Colorado River
In Crisis

Stories and Reports

The Western
Energy Boom

Stories and Reports

Health Care in
the Rural West

Historical Background

The Country Life Commission

A Collaboration Between Journalists and Scholars

The Rural West Initiative aims to create a unique collaboration between journalists and scholars to investigate the forces transforming the rural west.  We are generating reports and stories ourselves and will commission more from reporters, scholars, researchers, and students across the West. Our work uses extensive data visualization as well as text, video, and still photography to tell our stories.
 

Latest Posts

Colorado River Crisis: Do Farmers Have the Water To Solve It?

By John McChesney, Director of the Rural West Initiative

In discussions about water shortages in California’s Sacramento Delta or on the Colorado River, you’ll often hear that farmers can slake the thirst caused by ballooning urban growth. Agriculture sucks up 70 to 80 percent of water in those basins. Farmers have more water than they need, some water wonks say, and can make good money selling it to thirsty urban areas. For example, California’s Imperial Valley farmers send 280 thousand acre feet of Colorado River water each year to San Diego.

What you don’t often hear in these discussions is any concern about what happens to agriculture and rural life as these transfers become more common. Bruce Finley of the Denver Post took a look at that issue here: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_17598524. His piece focuses on the Front Range in Colorado where “about 400,000 acres in Colorado dried up between 2000 and 2005, according to U.S. Geological Survey data...

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 7:12

Wallace Stegner, the Rural West, and Me

By John McChesney, Director of the Rural West Initiative

I spent some of the most enjoyable years of my life as a graduate student at Stanford in the 1960’s. During two of those years I lived in a cottage that Wallace Stegner rented to graduate students. In our many conversations, Wally enlarged my knowledge of and love for the West, particularly the rural West. We argued sometimes, but that was almost always about the war in Vietnam. That led to a rough patch in our relationship. Since then I have read almost everything Stegner wrote and wish that I had used all my time with him soaking up his deep understanding of the American West.

Years later I was stunned to discover, while reading Philip Fradkin's biography of Stegner, that Wally had written an imaginary dialogue between us. It had a lot of things wrong about me, but I was touched. Our arguments had moved him too. Later he told my wife that he had heard me reporting from China and was glad I had found my niche in journalism.

Now, following nearly 30 years with National Public Radio as an editor and correspondent, I'm thrilled to be back at Stanford, directing the Rural West Initiative at the Bill Lane Center for the American West. We hope to stir up a robust conversation about important issues transforming the rural West — and their deep historical dimensions.

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 7:11

The West as Carbon Colony: Tempest Over Wild Lands and Unexploited Oil and Gas Leases

By John McChesney, Director of the Rural West Initiative

Energy companies and some congressional Republicans have been up in arms about Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s order 3310, from December 2010, for BLM to inventory public lands for “wilderness characteristics.” If the land is found to be worth protecting, it will receive the designation “Wild Lands.” Oil and gas drilling was put on hold in areas to be surveyed until decisions are made. Energy companies felt the order was a sneaky way to get new wilderness areas without congressional approval.

When asked about the charge that his administration was restraining domestic onshore drilling, here’s what President Obama said: “right now, the industry holds leases on tens of millions of acres — both offshore and on land — where they aren’t producing a thing. So I’ve directed the Interior Department to determine just how many of these leases are going undeveloped and report back to me within two weeks so that we can encourage companies to develop the leases they hold and produce American energy. People deserve to know that the energy they depend on is being developed in a timely manner."

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 7:11