|What can we afford?|
Navigating the site:
"Emptiness. There was nothing down there on the earth --no towns, no light, no signs of civilization."
"Barren mountains rose duskily from the desert floor, . . . broke the wind haunted distance.
" At first no one listened to Powell,"
John Wesley Powell
rain follows the plow
Walter Prescott Webb, "the American West Perpetual; Mirage." 1957.
""Nowhere is the salinity problem more serious than in the San Joaquin Valley.
"the holiness of the blooming desert."
"By the late 1970s, there were 1251 major reservoirs in California, . . . And yet all of those rivers and reservoirs satisfy only 60 percent of the demand."
"As is the case with most western states, California's very existence is premised on epic liberties taken with water -- costly water that fell as rain on the north and was diverted to the south, thus precipitating the state's longest-running political wars."
"In Arizona, 87% of the water consumed goes to irrigation. . .."
"During the first and only term of his presidency, Jimmy Carter decided that the age of water projects had come to a deserved end.-But Carter's hit list had as much to do with his one-term presidency as Iran."
"In the West,
it is said, water flows uphill toward money."
Reisner, pp. 9-14.
Powell's vision was to "help create a limited bounty on that tiny fraction of the land which it made sense to irrigate. It is hard to imagine.. a future in which there might be no rivers left at all."
Desire for gold motivated western settlement.
Ecological alterations were required due to climate:
Spanish colonial land grant system or the "encomienda" included: riparian springs, extensive grazing, & irrigable farmland.
"What is remarkable, hundred years later is how little has changes. The disaster that Powell predicted--a catastrophic return to a cycle of drought--did indeed occur not once but twice: in the late 1800s and the 1930s. When that happened Powell's ideas--at least his insistence that a federal irrigation program was the only salvation for the arid west--were embraced, tentatively at first, then with a kind of desperate insistence."
"The result was a half century rampage of dam-building an irrigation development which in all probability went far beyond anything Powell would have liked."
Structure of the Argument:
Yankee commercial advance and the fur trade. John Colter.
The hundredth Meridian had been passed by settlers in the 1870s.
Railroad development meant land grants by the Federal Government (water side land).
"If anything unifies the history of the American west--its dreadful mistakes, it is this mythical allotment of land."
Reisner, pp. 15-51.
"While Los Angeles moldered, San Francisco grew. . .."
"El Camino Real" & Junipero Serra's Franciscan
"The centerpiece of the Service's program in California
was to be the Owens Valley Project, & there were already rumors that
LA coveted the valley's water."
Gifford Pinchot "the chief of the Forest Service decided to include virtually all of the Owens Valley in the Inyo National Forest."
"With six inches of rainfall, the Owens Valley is too dry for trees. . .. so Pinchot's action was incontrovertibly a violation of the legislation that put him in business [the Organic Act of the U.S. Forest Service]."
"The Aqueduct took six years to build. . . 223 miles, 53 of them in tunnels, . . . & 170 miles of power transmission line."
"Two hydroelectric plants would be needed on the Owens River to run electric machinery that a few months earlier had not even been invented.. . .so a huge concrete plant. . . to be built near the limestone deposits of the grimly arid Tehachapi Mountains."
Very little of the water that was, according to Theodore Roosevelt,. . . more important to Los Angeles than to the Owens Valley would go to the city for another twenty years.. . .every drop of the copious flow of the aqueduct went to irrigate San Fernando Valley crops; the city took nothing at all." (86)
1913; 3000 irrigated acres in the San
Otis, Chandler, Sherman syndicate: San Fernando Mission Land Company
"As [Harrison Gray] Otis never tired of saying, this was the promised land. All things were possible; anyone could get rich; the cardinal sin was doubt."
"The only greater fraud than such blather from Otis & Chandler's newspaper [The Los Angeles Times] was the overflowing desert river on which it all depended." (87)
Cycles of drought
"The Owens River created Los Angeles, letting a great
city grow where common sense dictated that none should ever be.. . ."
"They brought in so much water for so many people that few cared any more whether Los Angeles grew at all.. . . Indeed.. . .For if California now has enough water to more than double its population, then much of California is doomed to be insufferable."
Remi Nadeau, The Water Seekers.
"Did we overreach ourselves trying to build them
winter of '86, drought '88-90, 1889 Johnstown, Pa. flood; & Powell's survey
1902 Agency: Reclamation Service became a rival of the Army Corps
"the psychic value of the Reclamation farms remained high.. . . An acre which in pre-project years was worth $5 or $19 -- if that - was suddenly worth fifty times as much. At these prices many farmers found the temptation to sell out irresistible; by 1927, at least a third of the farmers had."
"It was a case of lawlessness becoming de facto policy, and it was to become more and more commonplace."
An American Nile: The
"The Colorado's modern notoriety. . . stems . . . from the fact that . . ..It . . .has more people, more industry, and a more significant economy dependent on it than any other comparable river in the world."
"four years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you [might] have to evacuate most of southern California," Arizona, and portions of 4 western states."
"The river system provides over half the water of
greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix;"
"The Colorado is so used up on its way to the sea that only a burbling trickle reaches its dried-up delta at the head of the Gulf of California,"
To some conservationists, the Colorado River is the preeminent symbol of everything mankind has done wrong. . ." or "it is the perfection of an ideal."
Reisner, pp. 120-44.
"the Great Depression, 1929-1939: 1 in 4 had no jobs."
Franklin D. Roosevelt (married Theodore Roosevelt's cousin Eleanor Roosevelt He was undersecretary of the Navy during World War I, ran and lost as vice-President in 1920; contracted paralysis due to the polio virus; and became Governor of New York in 1928)
capitalism on trial: stock collapse in November, 1929, destroyed 1/3 of the money in the nation by 1932.
In 1933 began the greatest national conservation effort since 1900, commenced under Progressive, Harold Ickes, as Secretary of the Interior, expanded funding & bureaucracy:
Reclamation: Elwood Meade died in 1936, Ickes friend Mike Straus took over reshaping the agency to promote large construction of "big public-power dams," to compete with private electric utilities.
Then came the "Dust Bowl" often seen as a natural disaster, ecologically it is a bio-cultural disaster, or socially speaking it was an engineering disaster with financial undercurrents of unsurpassed size in American history.
If the dust bowl was a catastrophe, there seemed to be a responsive and responsible solution in reclamation.
1935 Bureau of Reclamation took over California state's Central Valley Project the first irrigation scheme to relocate water from the arid north to the desert south centerpiece of the project was Shasta Dam in the Cascades.
1931-1933 Columbia River (fourth largest in the United States) could generate enough electricity for "every person west of the Mississippi River." (155)
The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River
The Army Corps of Engineers "cut its teeth" on the Grand Coulee & Bonneville dams at more than $270 million each (low dam -- navigation; high dam --irrigation & electrical power) Bonneville's fish facilities cost $65 million 1/4 the cost of the power generated (158); the Grand Coulee was the largest, in terms of height and concrete, dam in the world at that time.
Along the Columbia River Basin, 13 dams over 40 years were built for multipurposes, called Comprehensive Riverine Management. The scheme allowed for improved interstate commerce, flood control, irrigation water, electrical generation, recreation and fish hatcheries --due to the devastating impact of the dams on salmon migrartions.
Smallest to largest dams:
Oregon, Dalles ---> Nevada & Arizona ---> California ---> Washington State
130 million board feet of lumber in the Grand Coulee alone to generate 105,000 kilowatts of electricity per generator!
By 1952 Congress had authorized 110 separate dam appropriations on thousands of rivers!
$194.00 worth of power in NYC would have the equivalent $24 in Seattle!
"If there was a free flowing river anywhere in the country, our reflex action was to erect a dam in its path." (167)
"The whole business was like a pyramid scheme -- the many (the taxpayers) were paying to enrich the few -- but most members of Congress figured that if they voted for everyone else's dams, someday they would get a dam, too."
"economic folly and the environmental damage. . .the corruption of politics. . . Water projects came to epitomize the pork barrel; they were the oil that lubricated the nation's legislative machinery.. . .public works programs . . ..that. . .. grew into a money eating monster that our leaders lacked the courage or ability to stop."
Reisner pp. 145-66.
California State Water Project as a model for the west:
Public expenditures for the construction of facilities that enable water to move from rivers and aquifers to dry (arid) lands to "make the desert bloom" in that these dry lands would have irrigation water for orchards, livestock and crops.
In reality, the dream pitted two agencies against each other in a competition to enlist farmers and organized irrigation district members to have Congress fund projects initiated locally, but engineered nationally by the Army Corps of Engineers or otherwise the Bureau of Reclamation.
San Joaquin Valley's California aqueduct for irrigation and reclamation.
Both Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.vied with each other on how to get around acreage limitations of the 1902 Reclamation Act & the Reclamation Service the San Joaquin Valley's four largest land owners* by damming the Kings, Kern, Kaweah, & Tule Rivers in Kern County.*
"Salyer, Boswell, Kern County Land, and Miller & Lux were among the very largest and richest farmers in the entire world." (175)
Kern County Land held 413,000 acres & is now Tenneco (174)
"The covert liaison between the Corps of Engineers & the world's largest irrigation farmers was to live on . . . as an example of government subsidizing the wrong people, for the wrong reasons. . .."
Corps replaced the Bureau due in part to not being bound
by acreage limits. But competition between them meant overproduction of
. "And the evidence for change has mounted as climate records have grown longer, as our understanding of the climate system has improved and as climate have become ever more reliable. Over the past twenty years, the evidence that humans are affecting the climate has accumulated inexorably, and with it has come ever greater certainty across the scientific community in the reality of recent climate change and the potential for much greater change in the future.
This increased certainty is starkly reflected in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the fourth in a series of assessment of the state of knowledge on the topic, written and reviewed by hundreds of scientists worldwide.
The panel released . . . the first part of the report, on the physical science of climate change, in February."