Monday, September 10, 2012

Daniel McCool's "River Republic"

Daniel McCool is the director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program and a professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Utah. His research focuses on water resources development, voting rights, Indian water rights, and public lands policy, and he has published widely in such journals as the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Political Research Quarterly, and the University of Texas Law Review.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his eighth and latest book, River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, and reported the following:
Imagine a river, clean and wild, teeming with salmon, coursing through forested mountains. Then, imagine a federal agency diverting 90 percent of the flow of that river—at tremendous public expense—so that a handful of corporate farmers could grow, among other things, rice in the desert. Sound implausible? It’s actually a fairly common story in the U. S. In this case, the Trinity River in northern California was virtually destroyed, along with its bountiful salmon runs, by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation. But local people, who love the Trinity River, did not just lie down and submit. Rather, they put up one hell of a fight to get their river back. On page 99 of River Republic I describe how a group of high school students in the small town of Hayfork, California, generated national media coverage by holding a mock funeral for the dying river and its lost salmon runs. That act of defiance started a movement to restore the flows to the Trinity. Today the Trinity River is coming back to life and the salmon runs are coming home.

Such David-versus-Goliath stories are common all across American as everyday citizens—I call them instigators—take matters into their own hands and begin demanding that their local river be restored. Most rivers in the U. S. have been damned, diverted, channelized, or polluted. There are over 79,000 dams in the U. S. at least 25 feet high; there are an additional 2.5 million small dams. Most waterways in the U. S. have been fundamentally altered or abused, destroying their value as a community resource for recreation, scenery, and habitat. But that is changing in a big way; there are literally hundreds of river restoration projects across the country; people are reclaiming their rivers and making them a valuable part of their community.

River restoration is popular for several reasons. First, rivers are the primary source of our drinking water. Second, people just naturally love rivers; they are a part of our history, culture, and national lore-- from Bruce Springsteen to Mark Twain. Third, they have an enormous impact on our economy. A beautiful river enhances property values, brings in tourists and recreationists, and improves our quality of life.

When we restore a river, we restore ourselves, our economy, and our pride; we restore an essential part of America.
Learn more about River Republic at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue