Category Archives: Clean Air and Water

April Book Club: The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

By Emily Clever

I read The Big Thirst a few years ago, not long after it was published. I am glad that it was on the reading list this year because I needed a bit of a refresher (honestly no pun intended).  The only thing I remembered was some idea about taking water from the Great Lakes region and piping it to Las Vegas.  

Pat Mulroy, who proposed the idea, was angry that the Great Lakes states had an agreement among them that the water would remain in the region based on fear that states out West would try to purchase it.  When I first read this idea years ago the whole idea sounded incredibly absurd.  The amount of money it would cost to lay the pipes and then the energy needed to move the water along would be enormous.  Having read this book a 2nd time and having read This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein there may be a bigger issue with this idea than feasibility and perceptions of the Great Lakes being immature water hoarders. In This Changes Everything there is a discussion regarding solar radiation management (SRM) and it brought up three interesting questions which seem applicable here, just substitute SRM with reallocating water.

Question 1: Is the human that gave us the climate crisis capable of properly/safely regulating this reallocation of water?

Question 2:  In considering water reallocation regulation, are we not in danger of perpetuating the view that the earth can be manipulated in our interests?

Question 3:  Don’t we have to engage with these questions before we place ourselves in the triangle?”

It is also possible that the Great Lakes states not only acted to protect the water should other states come wanting to purchase but because they see the water crisis in other states and are trying to prevent that from happening in their region.  This region may have a history of providing more than enough water for its residents and their needs, but as other areas have shown that is not a long-term guarantee. As we read in last months book, actions that occurred decades before can have lasting impacts on the availability of water now and in the future.
Please join the discussion April 25 at 7pm at the River Action office, 822 E River Dr, Davenport.

March Book Club Cadilla Desert by Marc Reisner

By Emily Clever

Corruption, greed, scandal and tragedy; things you don’t expect to read in a book about dams and water.  I would say all that is missing is a sex scandal, but even that gets a brief mention.

When people think about water problems in the western United States they may consider them a more recent phenomenon.  However, the root of the problems go back to the initial settlement of the West. The history of dams and water resources in the West is long and complex, I highly recommend creating a timeline as you read.

One of the prominent beliefs at the time the West was beginning to be settled was that water would follow the people.  It is a belief that could be perceived as partially true, people have settled the West and water has followed, but it has not done so through natural processes.  The water has followed the people because it has been directed to do so.  There was another belief that followed as water was beginning to be diverted for human use, and that was any water that wasn’t being used for human purposes was being wasted.  Add in competition between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers for money and projects, mix in some corruption at multiple levels and the result has been a haphazard building of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, irrigation canals and destruction of large swaths of land.

Corruption and lack of laws being enforced allowed people to amass large areas of land, much larger than the 160 acre plots granted under the Land Act.  That gets mixed with ridiculous schemes built by the Bureau of Reclamation.  A dam could be built and the electricity provided and water purchased by farmers would be used to repay part of the costs.  Through some creative accounting and interest free loans the costs of many if not all the projects would never be repaid.  Water was being sold for much less than it cost to provide allowing those who had amassed huge areas of land to get highly subsidized water and grow lucrative crops making those few quite wealthy.

True costs of all these mismanaged projects is much greater than the price tag put on them.  Habitat for waterfowl, fish and numerous other animals has been destroyed.  Indigenous groups have been moved from their land so that it could be flooded for a reservoir and was considered a benefit of the project.  Land has become salt logged making it inhospitable for possible future production.  Small farmers have been pushed out of the market while large farming corporations were making large profits using taxpayer subsidized water.  Aquifers are being drained and poisoned simultaneously.  This book also provides a nice background for next month’s book, The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.

Chances are you have heard about Oroville Dam since it has been in the news recently due to concerns that it would collapse and unleash a devastating flood.  There is an entire chapter in the book covering its history.  If you don’t have time to read all 500+ pages of the book, read the chapter Chinatown about the Oroville Dam and it will provide you with a prime example of what was happening with water development.  There is also a special on National Geographic titled Water & Power: A California Heist on tonight and may show again before book club if you can’t get the book.

Book club discussion will be held Tuesday night March 28th, 7 pm at the River Action Office 822 E River Drive Davenport, IA.