2017 Viola Award Nominee for Excellence in Storytelling

Melissa Sevigny cuts through the mirage in the way people view the landscape of the Colorado River Basin in this well-researched and timely exploration of the geology, ecology, history, practices, and politics of water in the American Southwest, offering a rich, detailed picture of the current state of this important and contested resource.

Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest was published by University of Iowa Press in March 2016.

Mythical River was named one of the top Southwest Books of the Year by Pima County Public Library. From the recognition: “Imagine a world in which a river’s conservation was as important as the community it supports. With the insight of a hydrologist and the heart of a poet, Sevigny champions this ideal in her lyrical and exhaustively-researched science journal cum memoir, interweaving the centuries-old paradigm of unlimited natural resources with the facts as she knows them: the Southwest is running out of water and rain does not follow the plow…. It is a call to arms: Mythical River may be the most important book you read all year.”

In a beautiful mix of natural science, history and memoir, Sevigny ponders what it means to make a home in the American Southwest at a time when water is overexploited and undervalued. “She writes of drought as a force for change, not just a physical force that shapes the flora and fauna of the desert, but one that demands westerners tackle the difficult task of deciding what we value.”

From a dismantled dam in Arizona to an accidental wetland in Mexico, she examines how ecologists, engineers, politicians, and citizens have attempted to secure water for desert ecosystems. Mythical River shows how recognizing the rights of rivers is a path toward water security.

Melissa L. Sevigny currently writes science stories for KNAU (Arizona Public Radio and lives in Flagstaff.


Mythical River is an excellent read and an important contribution to the literature of the Southwest, especially that which focuses on water. The book’s scope moves from the micro to the human-scaled to the planetary, but it is all tied together to give a complete picture of the southwestern environment and the vital part water plays within it.”—Christopher Cokinos, author, Bodies, of the Holocene

“Mythical River is a well-researched and timely exploration of the geology, ecology, history, practices, and politics of water in the American Southwest. Melissa Sevigny cuts through ‘the mirage’ in how people view this arid landscape, a landscape remapped by the twentieth-century search for new water, and gets real about what 
it means to live in such a place. As the Southwest suffers through the decades-long drought and impacts of climate change, this work is a welcome call for mindful engagement with these issues.”—Alison Hawthorne Deming, author, Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit

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