WATERSHED: The Undamming of America

Elizabeth Grossman, Author . Counterpoint $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-58243-108-6

Since before Edward Abbey protested Utah's Glenn Canyon Dam in his 1972 Monkey Wrench Gang, such attempts to make rivers work for us have been both controversial and problematic. In this whirlwind tour of dams across America, Grossman, a journalist based in Portland, Ore., persuasively illustrates why it's time for many of the 75,000 dams in the U.S. to come down. According to Grossman, dams were born of a driving need to manage the American landscape. More troubling, most were designed and built without a full understanding of how rivers function and without considering each dam's impact on its river system. As a result, rivers across the country are dying from our hydropower, irrigation and recreation needs. Dams affect a river's ecosystem from headwater to delta, throwing off the balance that fosters plant, insect and fish life along the way. The clearest example of damage is in dwindling fish populations: fish that depend on migration to spawn, such as steelhead and salmon, struggle to get up fish ladders, when they're incorporated in a dam at all, or need to be literally lifted over the dam. In California alone the steelhead population has dropped 90% since the 1950s. Grossman gives a national perspective to the current movement toward river reclamation by visiting about a dozen sites across the country; she reports on the conflicting perspectives that drive or resist reclamation, and she lays out the complex political and economic pressures. By considering each river as a continuous linked entity, Grossman offers a compelling update on a movement that could reshape the face of America. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/10/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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