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The Great Thirst: Californians and Water-A…

The Great Thirst: Californians and Water-A History, Revised Edition

by Norris Hundley Jr.

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An excellent overview of the harnessing of water in California, with particular attention to 20th Century development. Doubtlessly those who have lived in the state for any appreciable time will recognize many of the issues Hundley discusses, however the book nicely summarizes the current state that Californians now find themselves in - one of multiple competing narratives on how to best use an over-tapped resource. The work does not get bogged down in academic jargon, but rather allows for a quick, enjoyable read, even occasionally humorous, as on page 341 with his backhand to Gov. George Deukmejian's lack of strong leadership. The final chapter (Chapter 8, Reflections) gives Hundley opportunity to more heavily editorialize about water issues - the state has never been run by one monolithic single purpose or vision on water policy (407); true reform in a democracy only takes place when the "public has been informed, vigilant, and active," which has therefore produced only piecemeal changes in how water resources are used (414); that the agricultural industry, one that uses 83% of the state's heavily subsidized water, yet only contributes about 3% of the state's economy, must recognize the need to change (417); and that aquifers provide better storage receptacles than reservoirs (417-418). While published nearly twenty years ago, the book is still unfortunately current, as much has not changed - lawsuits still often determine water policy; the Delta is on the brink of collapse; the Peripheral Canal is back on the table; ballot initiatives on water appear in nearly every election; and even in the midst of drought, Californians rarely change their water use habits. Perhaps the one thing current readers can take from Hundley is his call for real leadership on water policy to emerge. Someone or something to bring some order to a highly complicated system. Too much is riding on this overburden and rapidly decaying hydraulic system. ( )
  waterarchives | Oct 26, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0520224566, Paperback)

The story of "the great thirst" is brought up to date in this revised edition of Norris Hundley's outstanding history, with additional photographs and incisive descriptions of the major water-policy issues facing California now: accelerating urbanization of farmland and open spaces, persisting despoliation of water supplies, and demands for equity in water allocation for an exploding population. People the world over confront these problems, and Hundley examines them with clarity and eloquence in the unruly laboratory of California.
The obsession with water has shaped California to a remarkable extent, literally as well as politically and culturally. Hundley tells how aboriginal Americans and then early Spanish and Mexican immigrants contrived to use and share the available water and how American settlers, arriving in ever-increasing numbers after the Gold Rush, transformed California into the home of the nation's preeminent water seekers. The desire to use, profit from, manipulate, and control water drives the people and events in this fascinating narrative until, by the end of the twentieth century, a large, colorful cast of characters and communities has wheeled and dealed, built, diverted, and connived its way to an entirely different statewide waterscape.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:59 -0400)

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