The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 195
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In this lengthy, detailed, thoroughly researched, and controversial
study, Marc Reisner, an accomplished journalist, relates the past his-
tory and recent efforts of water developers in creating a situation that
can only spell disaster for the American West. It all started with the best
of intentions: to provide the water so necessary to sustain civilization in
a desert environment. But thanks to greed and the competition be-
tween the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to con-
struct dams and provide irrigation facilities, it soon got out of hand.
States and private agencies got involved, as did Congress and even
presidents. The result: thousands of dams costing billions of dollars
have created a huge network of water facilities that benefit large land-
owners and promoters at the expense of both the public, who pay most
of the bills, and family farmers, who were supposed to benefit from the
democratic intent of the Reclamation Act. Since the capacity of the
dams is being dramatically diminished by silt at the same time as irriga-
tion waters are destroying thousands of acres through saline deposits,
the West is facing a crisis situation that in another generation will reach
In many ways, Reisner indicates, Los Angeles, in particular, and Cali-
fornia, in general, are central to these developments. Seeking water for
its growing population, the city first reached out and eventually de-
stroyed the Owens Valley. Then it sought water from the Colorado River
and prompted the allocation and draining of that source. The state cre-
ated its own water project and at present is seeking water from the Co-
lumbia and Canadian rivers. The process now is endemic throughout
the West. There are almost no free-flowing rivers remaining in the
United States, and salt and silt are beginning to impede all of those that
have been dammed. Cheap water has helped enrich large farmers, who
produce surplus crops that depress crop prices.
All of this and more is related in such abundant detail through
twelve chapters that the reader, without the benefit of specific area
or project maps, at times is overwhelmed, though the inside covers
present a map of the West indicating most of the projects discussed.
Some chapters and sketches of individuals and projects, on the other
hand, are exceedingly well done, most notably the chapters discussing
the rape of the Owens Valley, the tenure of Floyd Dominy as commis-
sioner of Reclamation, and the section narrating the collapse of the
Teton Dam. But Reisner's discussion of the situation in the 193os and
1940s-the bulk of the historical background that he presents-leaves
much to be desired. Some of his facts are wrong, and he exhibits little
understanding of the context in which New Dealers and others oper-
ated. While his research is extensive, his notes and his bibliographical
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/222/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.