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River Republic

River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America's Rivers

Daniel McCool
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    River Republic
    Book Description:

    Daniel McCool not only chronicles the history of water development agencies in America and the way in which special interests have abused rather than preserved the country's rivers, he also narrates the second, brighter act in this ongoing story: the surging, grassroots movement to bring these rivers back to life and ensure they remain pristine for future generations.

    The culmination of ten years of research and observation, McCool's book confirms the surprising news that America's rivers are indeed returning to a healthier, free-flowing condition. The politics of river restoration demonstrates how strong grassroots movements can challenge entrenched powers and win. Through passion and dedication, ordinary people are reclaiming the American landscape, forming a "river republic" of concerned citizens from all backgrounds and sectors of society. As McCool shows, the history, culture, and fate of America is tied to its rivers, and their restoration is a microcosm mirroring American beliefs, livelihoods, and an increasing awareness of what two hundred years of environmental degradation can do.

    McCool profiles the individuals he calls "instigators," who initiated the fight for these waterways and, despite enormous odds, have succeeded in the near-impossible task of challenging and changing the status quo. Part I of the volume recounts the history of America's relationship to its rivers; part II describes how and why Americans "parted" them out, destroying their essence and diminishing their value; and part III shows how society can live in harmony with its waterways while restoring their well-being -- and, by extension, the well-being of those who depend on them.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50441-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Technology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
    William Cullen Bryant
  6. Map: Selected Sites
    (pp. xviii-xix)

      (pp. 3-24)

      Matilija Dam, sixteen miles from the California coast, sits astride the narrow canyon of the Ventura River amid the velvet green foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. I visited the dam in the spring of 2006 to see what the future might look like for many dams.

      The road to the abandoned dam was strewn with fallen rocks and debris. The dam had a dark and uninviting look, like an empty house where some crime had been committed. The windows of the operational office were smashed, and rusting cables and slashed wires hung from the abutments. Razor wire conspicuously adnorned...

    • 2 PLANTERS, SAWYERS, AND SNAGS: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
      (pp. 25-51)

      Wayne Stroupe knows how to make people feel welcome at the Corps of Engineers’ premier laboratory, the Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC). Formerly called the Waterways Experiment Station, the Center’s sprawling campus is just outside Vicksburg, Mississippi. Wayne is a Mississippi native and earned a degree in journalism at Southern Mississippi University by participating in the Corps’ cooperative student program. “If it hadn’t been for the Corps, I couldn’t have finished college,” he says.¹ That was twenty-five years ago. He is now the director of the Center’s public relations, and he gives substance to the phrase “Southern hospitality.” Mr....

    • 3 THE MANLESS LAND: The Bureau of Reclamation
      (pp. 52-84)

      For Americans who lived through the Great Depression, the date of September 11 carries a meaning quite different from what usually comes to mind today. On that date in 1936, Hoover Dam began generating electricity. At the dam’s dedication ceremony, held nearly a year earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Boulder Dam (it was not named Hoover until 1947) a “great feat of mankind.”¹ He looked out across the crowd at the new reservoir and the “fiord-like vista.”² “Gee,” he exclaimed, “this is magnificent.”³ The world’s biggest dam at that time, it was “the Great Pyramid of the American Desert,...


    • 4 HANDOUT HORTICULTURE: Farming and the Feds
      (pp. 87-104)

      Farmers are perhaps the only people in modern America who still understand and appreciate the value of demanding physical labor. They value work not just for its productive capacity but also for its ability to build character. The virtues that we typically ascribe to the quintessential American—honest, hardworking, thrifty—are derived from the archetype of the family farmer. It is not surprising that Thomas Jefferson and many of his contemporaries felt that farmers would be the essential backbone of democratic government—that a government without the benign imprimatur of the yeoman farmer was doomed. Of course, at the time...

    • 5 FALLING WATERS: Hydropower and Renewable Energy
      (pp. 105-137)

      At the visitor center at Glen Canyon Dam there is a real-time meter that clicks out a dizzying succession of numbers—too fast to actually read anything but the numbers on the far left. That is, of course, by design. The flashing numbers indicate how much money is being made by selling electricity generated by the dam’s turbines. They make a stark visual impression and remind the visitor that this dam is what the Bureau of Reclamation refers to as a “cash register dam.” One gets the sense that this is “free money,” courtesy of gravity and the Bureau. This...

    • 6 RIVERS INTO WATERWAYS: Barging, Locks, and Dams
      (pp. 138-165)

      When the first steamboats began chugging up the Mississippi River in the 1820s, they marked a crucial development in the growth of the Union. Historians Charles and Mary Beard wrote that as a result of the opening of the great river to transport, “the far country was brought near. The timid no longer hesitated at the thought of a perilous journey.”¹ None of this would have surprised Thomas Jeferson, who predicted in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781–87) that the Mississippi “will be one of the principal channels of future commerce for the country.”² Rivers were seen...

    • 7 BLACK WATER RISING: The Myth of Flood Control
      (pp. 166-188)

      Floods are, quite literally, biblical in their iniquity and reach. The specter of drowning in one’s own home or watching it wrench from its foundation and disappear into muddy swirling water is suffciently malignant to conjure up the starkest religious imagery. But we lack Moses’ ability to part the waters or Noah’s option to ride out the storm in an ark, so we do the next-best thing: we seek higher ground. Or, if we want to tempt nature’s wrath and indulge in optimistic water hubris, we stay low and build a wall—a levee—between us and the river. Of...

    • 8 DOWNSTREAM DILEMMA: Water Pollution
      (pp. 189-216)

      Americans tend to do things with panache and gusto; we even fought our Civil War that way. We slaughtered each other at a horrific rate for four years, and 620,000 Americans lost their lives. But most of them did not die from whizzing minié balls or blasts of canister. The majority of deaths in the Civil War were due to disease, in no small part because of tainted drinking water. No one, regardless of rank, escaped the foul scourge. General Robert E. Lee, at crucial points in the war, suffered from debilitating diarrhea. President Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie, died of...


    • 9 RIVER CITY: Urban Riverscapes
      (pp. 219-239)

      In 1969, when Neil Young sang about shooting his girlfriend down by the river on his best-selling album Everybody Knows his Is No-where, there was a twisted logic to the lyrics. In those days, in most American cities, the riverfront was a good place to go if you wanted to commit some heinous crime. The river itself was polluted and unit for decent human activity, and urban riparian zones oten consisted of abandoned warehouses and dilapidated buildings, crowded with failed dreams and moral lapses. When Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, was growing up, his mother would warm him,“Make sure...

    • 10 NET LOSSES: Habitat and Endangered Species
      (pp. 240-264)

      When I first began graduate school in 1974, I was desperate for money. Fortunately, through a series of connections, I was able to land a job on a salmon-processing ship off the coast of Alaska. The ship had let Bellingham, Washington, that spring, but the ship’s owner said that if I could catch up with it, I could have a job cleaning, freezing, and stacking salmon. So, at the close of the semester, I hitchhiked from Tucson, Arizona, up the Alcan Highway to Anchorage, Alaska. The trip took nearly a month, but hitching was the only mode of transportation I...

    • 11 PLAYGROUND ON THE MOVE: River Recreation
      (pp. 265-282)

      My earliest memory of fishing begins on my grandmother’s front porch in Oakland City, Indiana, when I was about eight or nine years old. She had awakened me early, and I went out to the front-porch swing to eat my oatmeal and psych myself up for the biggest adventure of my life up to that point: Grandpa was taking me ishing. It was going to be just the two of us—my sister was excluded, thank God. The mourning doves were in the maples making that soothing cooing sound when Grandpa came out and sat beside me, mixing peanut butter...

      (pp. 283-304)

      My first memorable river running experience occurred when I was about 10 years old. I had the good fortune to grow up next to a heavily wooded Boy Scout camp—one of the last remaining patches of natural land in central Indiana. This wooded area was bounded on the northwest by Fall Creek, a meandering little river about twenty paces in width. My fellow boy-adventurers and I spent many summer days testing those waters. On one occasion, with visions of Huck Finn in our heads, three of us decided to build a raft and float all the way to Indianpolis....

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 305-370)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 371-388)