A political scientist’s account of the growing grassroots movement to restore and preserve the nation’s rivers.
“America’s rivers are experiencing a renaissance,” writes McCool (Environmental and Sustainability Studies/Univ. of Utah; Native Waters: Contemporary Indian Water Settlements and the Second Treaty Era, 2002, etc.). After many decades of developing, damming, diverting or dirtying nearly all of our rivers, Americans are now demanding clean, free-running waterways. River restoration is “a sociopolitical process, and it goes to the very heart of the concept of participatory democracy.” Drawing on hundreds of interviews and visits to many restoration projects, the author notes that most projects take years to complete and usually begin with action by an “instigator,” a single passionate individual who is an expert at street-level politics and can get people to think in new ways. McCool considers a range of efforts, from the modest Matilija Dam removal project on the Ventura River, to massive federally funded projects on the Kissimmee River, the coastal Louisiana projects and the Columbia River’s endangered species programs. The author also traces the history of two federal agencies responsible for much of the nation’s river exploitation: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Both agencies, he writes, have long been vehicles for dispensing federal favors (dams, etc.). His inside story of the “Dams-R-Us” Corps, which is now struggling to deal with the damage, is direct and damning. After detailing how rivers have served particular interests through extractive uses, McCool celebrates the many restoration efforts that are revitalizing waterfronts and improving river recreation. Future successes will depend on a careful consideration of various tradeoffs.
A broad, up-to-date, hopeful view of our nation’s rivers.