(from the California
The Great Thirst: Californians and Water - a History
By Norris Hundley, Jr.
(University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
2001, 789 pages, paperback, $24.95,
revised edition, ISBN 0520-22456-6)
Reviewed by Grace
In his preface to this
2nd edition, the author proposes to correct errors and omissions and bring
up to date the issues in the on-going development of California water
Water in early California
settlements was considered a community resource and responsibility under
Iberian custom as established in Mexico. The first conflicts arose in
southern California when the pueblos and missions each claimed prior rights
to local rivers.
The onset of legal
challenges and laissez-faire appropriation of water began with the arrival
of Americans in 18461850. Gold mining had an emphatic effect on the
landscape: the miners used water in many destructive ways. When they turned
to farming after gold ran out they developed extensive irrigation systems
which led to conflicts carried into courts where political parties became
closely involved. The author describes in detail many instances in which
political maneuvering affected legal decisions on water rights.
Full descriptions of the
several major water delivery systems are included. The Central Valley
Project is anchored by the Shasta Dam, New Melones Dam and Delta Mendota
Canal. The State Water Project is anchored by the Oroville Dam and the
California Aqueduct. The Metropolitan Water District (Los Angeles) uses
Owens Valley and Colorado River water, while San Francisco uses Hetch Hetchy
water from a Sierra dam opposed bitterly by John Muir.
Currently unsettled is
the resolution of the Peripheral Canal proposal to divert Sacramento river
water before it reaches the salty San Francisco Bay. This clearer water
would flow southwest of Lodi and Stockton to become available to the State
Water Project and the Central Valley Project. North/ south state politics is
heavily involved in this fight.
The incredible array of
state and federal agencies created to regulate various San Francisco Bay and
Delta water related functions finally have an umbrella under which they can
meet: CALFED. Here again politics is stalling decisions. State-wide,
farmers, urbanites, environmentalists, water companies and agribusiness all
push their own interest. The author hopes for an electorate encouraged to
abandon attitudes of increasing urban spread and extravagant water use.
With 563 pages of
informative text, 120 figures and maps, 119 pages of chapter notes and 79
pages of bibliography, this book is a prime resource for any one interested
in California's complicated water history.