Endangered Rivers and the Conservation Movement

Palmer, Tim
Year Published: 

"Palmer traces water usage in the United States from the early 17th-century log dams to our present extensively dammed and controlled rivers. For decades, Americans treated water as a resource to be used for flood control, hydroelectric power, irrigation, etc. The value of a scenic, free-flowing river was not generally recognized until the 1950s, when landmark efforts by conservationists halted proposed dams in the Grand Canyon and elsewhere. Writing for the River Conservation Fund, Palmer makes a convincing case for river protection, with emphasis on unprofitable and unnecessary ""pork barrel"" projects versus preservation of ecology, wildlife, water quality, and recreation. Extensive footnotes, sources, and lists make this a valuable reference source. Helen J. Stiles-Wainwright, Colorado Mountain Club Lib., Denver

This book was required reading for an environmental policy course that I took in college in 1988. Re-reading it after having recently ended a mercifully brief stint with the Army Corps of Engineers, it confirms my own observations that agencies such as the Army Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation are above all dispensers of political pork. It powerfully chronicles the gross environmental and economic iniquities that have resulted from fiscally- and economically-unsupportable big government water development projects. It is an illuminating read no matter how much one thinks one knows about the subject.

Primarily, though, this is a book about the conservation movement and the intrinsically spiritual but unquantifiable value of wild rivers, the natural environment, and the natural distribution of water resources. To protect a wild river, the author says, is to prevent ""the killing boredom, the stifling artificiality, the loneliness of life without wild creatures, the dread of a world so lopsidedly controlled by the institutions dedicated to making money."" Such concerns in the past were usually outweighed by political concerns and economic interests. There was even a time when our greatest natural treasure, the Grand Canyon, was under consideration as a dam site! The author points to a recent slow-down in the construction of new water development projects as a sign that convervationists' concerns are at least starting to be addressed but says a river is something which must be saved and resaved.

One passage early in the book that stuck with me as I was reading the rest of the book is ""Underlying many aspects of water-development is a myth: the myth that we must always have more. Meeting needs is one thing, but recklessly subsidizing waste is another."" No one would disagree that subsidizing waste is bad but this book sheds light on how wasteful ""water development"" has degraded our wild rivers and natural heritage and how much the forces of big government are responsible for it. I recommend this book to all concerned citizens."

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