Skip to main content


Into the Future of Water in the West

Award-winning journalist rafts down the Green River, revealing a multifaceted look at the present and future of water in the American West.

The Green River, the most significant tributary of the Colorado River, runs 730 miles from the glaciers of Wyoming to the desert canyons of Utah. Over its course, it meanders through ranches, cities, national parks, endangered fish habitats, and some of the most significant natural gas fields in the country, as it provides water for 33 million people. Stopped up by dams, slaked off by irrigation, and dried up by cities, the Green is crucial, overused, and at-risk, now more than ever.
Fights over the river’s water, and what’s going to happen to it in the future, are longstanding, intractable, and only getting worse as the West gets hotter and drier and more people depend on the river with each passing year. As a former raft guide and an environmental reporter, Heather Hansman knew these fights were happening, but she felt driven to see them from a different perspective—from the river itself. So she set out on a journey, in a one-person inflatable pack raft, to paddle the river from source to confluence and see what the experience might teach her. Mixing lyrical accounts of quiet paddling through breathtaking beauty with nights spent camping solo and lively discussions with farmers, city officials, and other people met along the way, Downriver is the story of that journey, a foray into the present—and future—of water in the West.

248 pages | 1 halftone | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Biological Sciences: Conservation

Geography: Environmental Geography

History: Environmental History

Sport and Recreation


"[A] strength of Downriver is Hansman’s ability to make complex and historically fraught water issues understandable. It can take years of engagement to fully comprehend many of the topics she discusses, such as tribal water rights. But Hansman’s writing is clear and succinct, and she has done a great deal of research. As someone who has spent the better part of a decade thinking about Colorado River governance, I was impressed by the book. Hansman exceeded my expectations. Her descriptions and discussions of western water topics are so useful and accurate that they make an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about these issues."

American Scientist

“Heather Hansman’s new book is a must-read for anyone who loves rivers or is concerned about the future of the West . . . The river carries Hansman through Wyoming ranches, natural-gas fields, cities, and national parks, and she finds that seemingly everyone wants a piece of its pie. So she follows her curiosity, learning where the water goes—and who’s fighting over what.”


"In an energizing mix of travelogue and investigative journalism, Hansman, a raft guide and environmental reporter, provides a straightforward elucidation of the mind-bogglingly complicated subject of water rights in the American West. . . . Travel enthusiasts will appreciate Hansman’s descriptions of her rafting exploits, love of wildlife, and admiration for the power of water, while policy advocates will mull over her thought-provoking insight into the West’s water conundrum."

Publishers Weekly

"Hansman delivers a worthy updating of a core library containing such works as Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert and Philip Fradkin's A River No More. An insightful look into the unsustainability of western waterways."


"Whether you're a westerner or not, you'll be caught up in the hustle and flow of this universal story, one that has rippling effects on our entire country."


"Hansman’s new book Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West explores the water emergency with remarkable calm and even-handedness."

New Republic

"Heather Hansman wants her readers to connect the dots between water use, natural resources, and human impact"

Sunset Magazine

"[Downriver] is a blend of personal narrative, water policy research and on-the-ground reporting in the rural West. It’s about her growing comfort with solitude, the technicalities that define a water right, and the people she met along the way. But it’s also a testament to how recreation can serve as a door to learning and an opportunity to engage with big issues that paddlers—and all outdoorspeople, including climbers, skiers, hikers, surfers—tend to be passionate about."

Uncommon Path (REI Blog)

"Downriver should be required reading for everyone who enjoys this podcast—it strikes the perfect balance of being entertaining and educational while examining all sides of the many issues facing the West’s water supply. There are few topics in the West as divisive and emotional as water, and in her book, Heather provides a balanced overview of all the issues, delving deep into the substance of water-related arguments, without crossing over into the mind-numbing jargon that defines most water-related writing."

Mountain & Prairie

“Heather Hansman’s account of her 730-mile solo raft trip down the Green River is more than a terrific adventure story. She ably explains why water in the West doesn’t concern only the West and why simple answers to water questions are never as simple as they seem.”

David Owen, author of Where the Water Goes

“History, politics, science, reportage, and adventure all whirl together in Downriver, a deeply researched and intimate exploration of water’s uncertain fate in the American West. In this narrative journey along the Green River, Heather Hansman navigates turbulent waters and diverse worldviews with compassion, grit, and an overriding respect for complexity. This book is graced with insights that can only be won with a paddle in hand and a sense of our collective future at stake.”

Kate Harris, author of Lands of Lost Borders

“In her journey down the Green River, Heather Hansman brilliantly captures the complexity of the Colorado River through the lens of its largest tributary.  Her balanced and thoughtful investigation into the river's many usesthe colorful characters that depend on it,and those who have dedicated careers to it will leave readers questioning their own biases and wanting to learn more about the landscape, its people, and its future. Downriver is a must read for those interested in the Colorado River and the future of the West.”

Matt Rice, Director, Colorado River Basin Program

“Hansman is the best river guide you’ll ever have—smart, informed, curious, observant. A trip not to be missed.”

Steve Olson, author of Mapping Human History

"Hansman is willing to interrogate her own assumptions, to speak to people with differing views, and to allow western water issues to become more complicated, not less, as she moves down the river. She explores the sticky parts of western water policy, just as she explore the less-loved sections of the Green."

Melissa Sevigny, author of Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest

"Downriver contains [Hansman's] commentary on the state of the river, sprinkled with useful information on the laws that control the river, federal water regulations, and studies that address contemporary issues such as endangered species and climate change."

Journal of Arizona History

"Heather Hansman's time as a rafting guide piqued her interest and her journey on the river, along 730 miles of water from Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. It is so wonderfully written you'll forget you're reading non-fiction."

The Colorado Sun

Table of Contents

On the River
702 cfs

686 cfs
The Law of the River
Growing a Crop of Humans in the Desert
All Those People Have to Eat

2,790 cfs
The Only Watering Hole in the Whole County
Flowing Uphill to Money
Whose Rights?

6,940 cfs
Claiming and Reclamation
After the Dam
Protect the Green River at All Cost
The Map of What’s Next

9,080 cfs
Larval Triggers
Humans Are a Species, Too
What’s the Point of a Wild River?
One Big Fish Tank

9,180 cfs
Through the Gates
What Is It Worth?
We Save What We Love and We Love What We Know

Future Risks
10,600 cfs
Energy and Power
Water Is Where the Fight Is
Climate Change Is Water Change

Future Plans
6,820 cfs
This Land Is Your Land
You Can’t Just Sell Out to a City
Getting Comfortable with Risk

3,220 cfs

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press