Water Books

Storm Over Mono Storm over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future
by John Hart
Edition: Hardcover

Modern David vs Goliath over Water in the West, July 29, 2006

In this version of the story, it's David Gaines - the graduate student from U. C. Davis. And Goliath is none other then the water company brought to life by William Mulholland and friends. Storm Over Mono has all the makings of a biblical tale, however, it reads much more like a case study for a class in environmental law.

The small, but scrappy, Mono Lake Committee along with California Trout and others used their dogged persistence to protect one of the more unique ecosystems in all North America. John Hart recounts this critical conservation battle in American history with the greatest of precision and detail -- real, high-stakes stuff with a happy ending.

A little background: Mono Lake rests in an arid basin just below the shadow of the Sierra Nevada in Northern California - unfortunately, not quite far enough from the long arm of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Referred to as the "Mono Extension", L.A. Water and Power drained Lee Vining and Rush Creeks. Over decades, this water project diverted critical fresh water flows into Mono Lake - lowering the lake's level and rising it's salinity.

With the lake's ecosystem faltering in the 1970's, a group of "bird freaks" from the University of California at Davis saw the clear signs in their research and sounded the alarm. Members from this research group, including David and Sally Gaines, led the efforts to organize the diverse legal and environmental support needed to defeat a giant like L.A.'s Department of Water and Power. (If you're fortunate enough to fish the lower run of Rush Creek or explore the lake, be sure to tip your hat to the Mono Lake Committee and company.)

One final note: today, Los Angeles County is home to 10 million people. (If L.A. County were a state, it would rank 8th in total population.) David won the battle over Mono Lake, but I'm afraid the water war is far from over in California.

WaterCalDream Water and the California Dream: Choices for the New Millennium
by David Carle
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

Let California's Water History be a Lesson, August 7, 2005

David Carle takes a fresh approach to documenting California's development in light of water resources. It's an approach tinted with hope. Basically, Californians still have choices to make. But, I have to say it's tough seeing California's water glass as half full. Especially after reading about the complete crash in the salmon and steelhead runs up and down the state's watersheds. It almost brought me to tears when I read:

"In 1996, only about 1,014 miles of stream remained of the 2,113 miles of Central Valley streams originally used by Chinook salmon." Or, "The spring run of Chinook on the San Joaquin River once numbered up to a half-million fish. Salmon runs ended, completely, on that drainage after Friant Dam."

The author sprinkles a number of "what if" scenarios in the early parts of the book (e.g., what would the Owen's Valley be like today if not for Mulholland, etc.). It's fun to ponder -if not too late to change, it would be useful to ponder. There's a strong longing and sense of nostalgia for the pre sprawl days of Southern California in the book. I came across any number of quotes from old-timers about "the air in Los Angeles being clear" or "you could smell the citrus blossoms for miles." I wonder what the Miwok or any of the other tribes inhabiting California would have said before the ranchers, farmers, and miners arrived. Ah, wouldn't we all long for the days of the Golden State at the peak of her unexploited beauty and natural bounty - I know I do.

One key pivot point for California's future is its farmland. It boils down to a question of whether to grow sub-divisions or almonds. In the last part of the book, Carle really hits his strive and represents the reader with the cold, sober reality of California's future - we are losing farmlands at a constant and rapid rate to housing developments.

The book's merits are in drawing the clear lines between California's past decisions about water development and the current mess that has resulted. Putting aside the unmatched economic and population growth, and whether that's been a net positive for the state and it's inhabitants or not, this author gives equal time to the "hidden costs." The loss of habitat, altered eco-systems, reduced bio-diversity, polluted air and water and extinction of species are all costs that California is paying today.

The question remains how much more growth, if any, can our water resources continue to fuel. Ultimately, California has a choice to make today - stabilize or continue unbounded growth. The book closes with constructive and well thought approaches to making that choice.

I applaud Mr. Carle for his work.

TheGreatThirst The Great Thirst: Californians and Water-A History, Revised Edition
by Norris Hundley
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

The Single Tome on California Water History, February 15, 2003

The Great Thirst is as long and detailed as the subject matter it tackles, a complete history of Californians and water. The revised edition came out in 2001 and addresses the recent developments in the Bay-Delta program (formally know as CALFED) and important water policy changes at Mono Lake and in the Owens Valley. The book consists of 8 chapters covering the early, pre-European settlement, the role water development played in the growth of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the development of large state and inter-state water projects, the recent changes in water policy brought on largely by shortages, and environment concerns, and the author's summary.

To give you a feel for the detailed scope of the work, the author includes over 100 pages of notes to supplement the text, and a bibliography of nearly the same length! I have yet to find anything the matches The Great Thirst in its unbiased depiction of the complex history, water policies, competing interests, and future challenges that have and will come to shape California.

The author, an American History professor at UCLA, presents the reader with the single most important fact facing California, "Californian's are currently using more water than well be available on a long-term basis. The deficit is 1.6 million acre-feet annually, which can rise to more than 5.1 million acre-feet during drought years..." The public appetite for new water development has come to a halt given the high cost to state budgets and more importantly the surrounding landscape. But the growth of development and population continues marching on, leaving you to wonder how the final chapter of this important story will be written.