Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains

Finalist for the National Book Award
An intimate reckoning with aquifer depletion in America's heartland


Published (US):
Oct 4, 2022
Published (UK):
Oct 25, 2022
5.5 x 8.5 in.
27 b/w illus. 2 maps.
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The Ogallala aquifer has nourished life on the American Great Plains for millennia. But less than a century of unsustainable irrigation farming has taxed much of the aquifer beyond repair. The imminent depletion of the Ogallala and other aquifers around the world is a defining planetary crisis of our times. Running Out offers a uniquely personal account of aquifer depletion and the deeper layers through which it gains meaning and force.

Anthropologist Lucas Bessire journeyed back to western Kansas, where five generations of his family lived as irrigation farmers and ranchers, to try to make sense of this vital resource and its loss. His search for water across the drying High Plains brings the reader face to face with the stark realities of industrial agriculture, eroding democratic norms, and surreal interpretations of a looming disaster. Yet the destination is far from predictable, as the book seeks to move beyond the words and genres through which destruction is often known. Instead, this journey into the morass of eradication offers a series of unexpected discoveries about what it means to inherit the troubled legacies of the past and how we can take responsibility for a more inclusive, sustainable future.

An urgent and unsettling meditation on environmental change, Running Out is a revelatory account of family, complicity, loss, and what it means to find your way back home.

A look inside Running Out

Awards and Recognition

  • Finalist for the National Book Award
  • Finalist for the Outstanding Western Book Award, Center for the Study of the American West
  • Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize, American Society for Environmental History
  • Kansas Notable Book of the Year
  • Winner of the Bonney MacDonald Book Award, Center for the Study of the American West
  • Winner of the Victor Turner Prize, Society for Humanistic Anthropology