Some required retroactive expectation management Marc Reisner was a journalist, writing for a general audience Much like Charles Mann and Pollan and other pop non fiction writers from the journalistic world, he was less concerned with thorough documentation than he was with persuasion and exposition even though few things are persuasive than accurate documentation and logical analysis With that in mind, I should not have been so utterly enraged by the nearly complete absence of direct citations in this book, despite numerous facts, figures, and yea, quoted dialogue included Reisner was writing without the benefit of Endnote, after all, and he was a well respected, tweedy looking academic, so I should just trust him, right Some intriguing propositions Teddy Roosevelt personally colluded with the city of Los Angles, the Reclamation Service, and the Forest Service to destroy the irrigated communities in Owens Valley for the sake of LA.I guess the fact that TR s brand of environmentalism was way utilitarian than most people think isn t exactly news, but the fact that his utilitarianism extended to provisioning a metropolis like LA was a bit surprising.Irrigated agriculture in the American West was is supported by a welfare state.Apparently it s ok for the state to pay farmers in Ohio not to farm while practically giving away subsidized water to giant agribusiness conglomerates owned by oil companies in California, but universal healthcare is a waste of money and would never work At least I know I m free Just not free to eat wild salmon.Damming and hydropower in the Pacific NW was instrumental in WWII b c electricity and lots of it are required to produce aluminum for planes and plutonium for A bombs.Reisner basically asserts that the US might not have defeated the Axis if it weren t for northwestern hydropower, which is a pretty amazing idea that would have been even amazing with some supporting evidence showing increasing electricity generation and aluminum production in the US, Germany, and Japan during the war years Should I read Richard Rhodes In addition to the citation thing, there were also these surreal moments of anti Irish racism, like this description of William Mullholand His face is supremely Irish belligerence in repose, a seductive churlish charm p 58 Seriously, find a Japanese farmer who s cunning and inscrutable and you ll just about have me pegged, Marc I might have to slam some Jameson and karate chop you to death Maybe it s petty of me to go all ad hominem on a dead environmentalist who clearly, despite lack of citation, knew about the history of water in the West than I ever will, and yes, the stereotypical Irish American is himself racist and perhaps anti Irish bigotry is so outdated and comical that the Simpsons were able to repeatedly employ it to great comedic effect over a decade ago, breathes but c mon, this kind of crap isn t appropriate in a respected work of non fiction Even from the 80s.Overall, if I swallowed my aforementioned misgivings, this was a fascinating and engaging history of water in the West I was both intrigued and impressed by Reisner s unwillingness to impose some kind of grand theory on it all The events he depicts seem mostly driven by greed, incompetence, petty competition, and simple climactic contingency I never got the sense that he was driving toward some absurdly reductive single flaw in our culture Water use in the West is messed up, and this book is mostly about how it got that way, not why For all its reputation as an environmentalist fire starter to mix metaphors quite horrifically , though, I was surprised at how little doomsaying Reisner indulged in Not until the very end does he start talking about silting reservoirs and salting the earth I should also say that despite the lack of citation, the bibliography looks great I wonder if the interviews he conducted have been archived anywhere.Some further reading seems like it might be a bit less journalistic scientific article testing some of Reisner s predictions available online, but I d love to see it in person if this doesn t make you want to take Los Angeles and associated farmland and dump it in the ocean nothing will Great history of water development in the west. What a book It s dense and involved and took me forever to read, but it has fundamentally changed the way I view the American West And Reisner s writing is entertaining as hell. A year later, I ve given CD a second read and must, finally, award it the 5th star for whatever that s worth that it so deserves One of the most scathing, witty and instructive books of political environmental economic journalism that I ve ever had the pleasure and horror to read I do so wish Reisner was still around to bring us up to date on this most vital and fascinating subject Afterward to revised 1992 edition is as close to contemporary as CD gets.Brilliant enough for 5 stars, but it caused me a bit of reader fatigue due to its relentless comprehensiveness Impeccably researched, Cadillac Desert meets the highest standards of investigative reportage Which is not to say that Reisner is absolutely objective always an illusive goal at best nor sober in his approach At times, his tone borders on the sarcastic as if he were saying, you are not going to believe exactly how incredibly stupid this idea was His account is apolitical in the sense that he depicts Democrats and Republicans, both on the state and national levels, as bipartisan in their promotion and funding of the most suspect environmentally, socially, economically dams and water projects, going back at least as far as the New Deal Reisner takes a close and critical look at the very notion of irrigation farming in a desert, its costs, benefits and long term consequences depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer deadly salinity levels of land and water, the making of wild river an oxymoron, etc An apt secondary subtitle for the book might be Water flows uphill toward political power and money An entirely concrete example of this aphorism would be the California Aqueduct, particularly that section which carries water over the Tehachapis to L.A The water is carried across the Tehachapis in five separate stages The final cyclopean one, which occurs at the A.D Edmonston Pumping Plant, raises the water 1926 feet the Eiffel Tower atop the Empire State in a single lift At their peak capacity, if it is ever reached, the Edmonston pumps will require six billion kilowatts of electricity every year Moving water in California requires electrical energy than is used by several states First published in 1986 and subsequently revised in 1993, Cadillac Desert, if less prophetic now than it was 20 25 years ago, remains relevant and instructive And if you ever thought there might be a silver lining to pork barrel politics, it s a must read In light of the recent financial system bail out, and with many touting infrastructure projects as a solution to our current high unemployment and economic malaise, reviewing the history of perhaps the greatest public works program ever anywhere will give you pause Dams and water projects California s Central Valley Project and the Central Arizona Project are just two examples can have both intended and unintended consequences that make them less than great ideas Engineers and experts Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, Water Commissioners, Resource Specialists, etc can be as greedy, short sighted, and blinded by belief in their own expertise and desire for power as anyone else Reisner s description of the proposed Narrows Dam on the Lower South Platte River in Colorado thankfully, a project that was subsequently abandoned, though it was all too typical of projects that have been built makes for a good summary Here was a dam that the state engineer said would deliver only a third of the water it promised and could conceivably collapse a project whose official cost estimate would barely suffice to relocate twenty six miles of railroad track a project whose real cost, whatever it turned out to be, would therefore be written off, in substantial measure, to recreation, though the water would be unsafe to touch a project whose prevailing interest rate was one fifth the rates banks were charging in the late 1970s a project many of whose beneficiaries owned land than the law permitted in order to receive subsidized water a project that might, if the state engineer was correct, seep enough water to turn the town of Fort Morgan into a marsh a project that would pile debt onto the Bureau s Missouri Basin Project a project that would generate not a single kilowatt of hydroelectric power and would be all but worthless for flood control. That was a slow read Very pretty And the author was very fond of obscure words Obscure words that I refuse to look up, and I don t think I would have even with an electronic copy I read this book due to its reference in The Water Knife It seemed like an awful lot that happened in that fictional book also happened in real world California I m not sure I buy this book s title This book was pretty darn informative but mostly it talked about people acting in their short term selfish self interest Other than destroying the soil and water by making it too salty, I thought this book positive and optimistic than I expected Oh and the possible diversion of the Columbia River to feed into the Colorado drainage yikes In the end this book was a lot about how politics didn t work for 100 years Presumably it will not work in a similar way in the future Interesting read, especially if you ve got a month to devote to it 3.5 of 5. An amazing book that was too long.The best synopsis I came upon was on page 484 illegal subsidies enrich big farmers, whose excess production depresses crop prices nationwide and whose waste of cheap water creates an environmental calamity that could cost billions to solve He goes into copious detail in the 500 pages The political system congress, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army Corp of Engineers become a vicious cycle that dam and divert rivers as much as they can, whether it makes sense or not.Lots of great stories how Los Angeles got its start and remains dependent on diverted water how western states fight over water the bull headedness of Floyd Dominy, an early head of the Bureau how Jimmy Carter got eviscerated by politics trying to shut down bad projects how Lyndon Johnson got his political start by supporting dam projects on and on Also lots of long lists of dams and their capacity, projects and their ill fatedness, many mentions of millions of acre feet.Marc Reisner was director of communications for the Natural Resources Defense Council NRDC , so he leans towards preservation of the natural environment i.e not dams Here, he over communicated I would have loved to read the 200 page version As it is, I had to come back to it several times to get through it.The original copyright is 1986, and he added an epilogue in 1992 I believe His book is filled with predictions of disaster Basically, we are drawing down groundwater 1000 times faster than nature replenishes it It is 24 years later I d love to see an accounting of how well his predictions have come true. just a chapter or two in, i already predict this will be one of the important books i read this decade The Story Of The American West Is The Story Of A Relentless Quest For A Precious Re Water It Is A Tale Of Rivers Diverted And Dammed, Of Political Corruption And Intrigue, Of Billion Dollar Battles Over Water Rights, Of Ecologic And Economic Disaster In Cadillac Desert Marc Reisner Writes Of The Earliest Settlers, Lured By The Promise Of Paradise, And Of The Ruthless Tactics Employed By Los Angeles Politicians And Business Interests To Ensure The City S Growth He Documents The Bitter Rivalry Between Two Government Giants, The Bureau Of Reclamation And The US Army Corps Of Engineers, In The Competition To Transform The WestBased On Than A Decade Of Research, Cadillac Desert Is A Stunning Expose And A Dramatic, Intriguing History Of The Creation Of An Eden An Eden That May Be Only A Mirage I read this non fiction book after reading the fiction book, The Water Knife, which mentions Cadillac Desert multiple times Indeed, Cadillac Desert clearly served as a major motivator behind Bacigalupi s novel So I figured, hey let s do a one two, fiction nonfiction combo.Okay, so this book is about the water works of the Southeast and the cities and organizations that guided them Los Angeles, Army Corp of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, etc It is superbly well written, with rich detail not just about the projects and politics but the people behind them.And yet I reached a point that I just couldn t pick it up and read any In fact, I m retiring this book at only about 60% completed.The problem is that it is relentlessly negative and cynical It s entirely deserved, mind you, but the sheer and ceaseless inundation of greed, corruption, and ignorance depicted in the politicians and leaders behind the American southwest s water policy became too hard to swallow I m not naive, and I absolutely loathe the phrase ignorance is bliss But honestly, ignorance is bliss I eventually realize the value of the knowledge gained was less than what I was losing in disgust and distaste for my fellow human beings I m happy I read what I did, for this was a topic on which I was wholly ignorant But I m also quite happy I stopped when I did, for the book s themes become entirely repetitive and redundant. If you read only one book about the role of water in the west, this should be the one Reisner recounts the complex and often violent history of efforts to control water in this dry land Only in the last few years has water been allowed to return into the once verdant Owens Valley of California, after it was diverted through subterfuge to supply the needs of southern California There is so much history to tell about the way the huge dams along the Colorado River were sold to the American public based on benefits that never fully materialized It is sobering to think how Reisner s story will play out since written in the late 1980 s with the growing population and increasing droughts from climate change His tale makes one wonder how much we have yet to learn about how to relate to our environment.
Marc Reisner was an American environmentalist and writer best known for his book Cadillac Desert, a history of water management in the American West.He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of a lawyer and a scriptwriter, and graduated from Earlham College in 1971 For a time he was on the staffs of Environmental Action and the Population Institute in Washington, D.C Starting in 1972, he wo
- 582 pages
- Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
- Marc Reisner
- 04 October 2017 Marc Reisner