Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (review: 5/5)

Cadillac Desert was pretty awesome. Marc Reisner tells a story (in sometimes overwhelming detail) of the American West, and how we have explored, settled, and altered it. And how it was maybe a little idiotic to do it the way we have.
The Mormons were the first to understand and refine large-scale irrigation projects. Later we get into the geographic discoveries of the Powell expedition, the explosion of Los Angeles and California farming during the Mulholland era, the massive federal projects of the Depression and World War decades, and the competition between two federal agencies that LOVE to build: the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Where great rivers ran we now have dams and reservoirs—around 75,000. Not to mention canals and levees and aqueducts. They’re a mixed blessing at best. Aside from the environmental impact, the amount of political maneuvering, folly, thuggery, and outright deceit that has gone into some of these projects is just incredible. Very few of the projects would have been possible without Federal involvement (read: subsidized by Eastern tax dollars). I don’t even consider myself “environmentalist” but still found it all pretty outrageous. Great book.

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