Recommended Reading Strikes Back

October 2, 2008 § 1 Comment

Creek Freak rides the bus and the train, so he reads a lot (both while waiting and while in motion.) Here’re a few more water and river books that I just finished and highly recommend to you.

Managing Water by Dorothy Green

Managing Water by Dorothy Green

Managing Water: Avoiding Crisis in California by Dorothy Green (2007, University of California Press, $14.95 paperback)

Dorothy Green is the founder of some of the most important progressive water activist organizations – including Heal the Bay, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, the California Water Impact Network, and probably more that I am not aware of. I really enjoyed Managing Water not only because I learned a lot about water, but also, perhaps chauvinistically, because it’s finally a statewide water book with plenty of focus on Southern California. There are other books that cover the whole state, but don’t give as much attention its bottom half. One example of this is California Rivers and Streams: The Conflict Between Fluvial Process and Land Use by Jeffrey F. Mount . Please don’t get me wrong – that’s an excellent book, and I do recommend it (I learned a lot from it about sediment and the way streams are shaped,) but it’s not so much about Los Angeles. Northern California readers will probably have the same criticism of Green’s book… but then again, perhaps this bias may be justifiable in that Southern California has the most population, imports the most water, and therefore needs to play the biggest role in avoiding crisis.

Managing Water focuses on water supply, which is, unfortunately, somewhat divorced from stream health in Los Angeles (p.72 shows that local water provides only 15% of the city of LA’s supply.) Green makes this connection by taking us through the basics of the Los Angeles River story and how we went farther and farther afield to import water. From there she details the various sources of water supply, and the massive tangle of local water agencies. If you’ve ever wondered things like “just what does the Water Replenishment District do?” or Green has the answers for you – see page 84. The charts and diagrams are excellent. I especially like the story that the per capita water use charts (p.168, 169) tell: due to the successes of conservation work (some of which Dorothy Green spearheaded), Southern California’s water usage has remained flat while our population has grown.

I highly recommend this book. It has plenty of great information for folks who are new to water issues, and plenty of details that creek freaks like me can pour over. There is a looming crisis in California’s water supply with sources of Southern California’s imported water in decline, but Green remains hopeful that we can manage our water wisely for people and the environment.

Excerpt: There is enough water for our growing population, for agriculture, and to restore much of our ecosystems decimated by water transfers. We are that inefficient. We can have it all. We just need the political will to make it happen.

Rivertown edited by Paul Stanton Kibel

Rivertown edited by Paul Stanton Kibel

Rivertown: Rethinking Urban Rivers edited by Paul Stanton Kibel (2007, MIT Press, $22 paperback)

The book is a collections of essays about urban rivers. These include chapters on the Los Angeles River (by Robert Gottlieb and Andrea Misako Azuma), the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. (by Uwe Steven Brandes), the Chicago River (by Christopher Theriot and Kelly Tzoumis), City Creek in Salt Lake City (by Ron Love), the Guadalupe River in San Jose (by Richard Roos-Collins), the Army Corps of Engineers (by Melissa Samet), grassroots river networks (by Mike Houck), and the Mississippi River in New Orleans (by the editor Paul Stanto Kibel.)

Gottlieb and Azuma’s piece on the Los Angeles River focuses on the story of the 1999-2000 “Re-Envisioning the L.A. River” the year-long series of events that was a collaboration between Occidental College’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) and the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) – with an eye toward how this influenced the successful campaign for a river park at the Cornfields site – now Los Angeles State Historic Park.

All the essays are good, but my favorite is actually Roos-Collins’ piece on the Guadalupe River. It’s interesting to have a window into understanding some the complicated negotiation processes between agencies and advocates to move their project forward. It’s actually an inspiring tale that, instead of ending in rancorous legal clashes (as are all to common in Southern California’s water and restoration struggles), the parties were able to negotiate agreements that have resulted in a beautiful downtown river parkway and enhanced habitat for anadromous fish.

Excerpt: In September 2000, the final event in the Re-Envisioning series, a mayoral candidates’ debate about the L.A. River and the urban environment, was an animated discussion about the Majestic Realty project [industrial development proposed at the Cornfields], alternative scenarios about the site, and general river renewal issues. Each of the candidates present either declared opposition to the Majestic project or sought to slow down the fast-track approach… The mayoral candidates’ debate in turn suggested that the political climate around the project had significantly changed. “It is hard to adjust to the fact that the L.A. River has become a kind of mom and apple pie issues,” [FoLAR founder Lewis] MacAdams commented to Gottlieb immediately after the debate.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (1974, Vintage, $13.95 paperback)

Well… it’s a stretch to claim that this entirely within the theme of this blog… but I just read and enjoyed this dark and strange book and was really taken with a passage that perhaps invokes the primal power of a rain-swollen creek. Cormac McCarthy can really write! Where would our authors, our stories, our metaphors, our language be without our streams?

Excerpt: He crossed a fence into a half flooded field and made his way toward the creek. At the ford it was more than twice its right width. Ballard studied the water and moved on downstream. After a while he was back. The creek was totally opaque, a thick and brickcolored medium that hissed in the reeds. As he watched a drowned sow shot into the ford and spun slowly with pink and bloated dugs and went on. Ballard stashed the blanket in a stand of sedge and returned to the cave.

When he got back to the creek it seemed to have run yet higher. He carried a crate of odd miscellany, men’s and ladies’ clothes, the three enormous stuffed toys streaked with mud. Adding to this load the rifle and the blanketful of things he’d carried down he stepped into the water.

The creek climbed his legs in wild batwings. Ballard tottered and rebalanced and took a second grip on his load and went on. Before he even reached the creekbed he was wading kneedeep. When it reached his waist he began to curse aloud. A vitriolic invocation for the receding of the waters. Anyone watching him could have seen he would not turn back if the creek swallowed him under. It did. He was fast in the water to his chest, struggling along on tiptoe gingerly and leaning upstream when a log came streaming into the flat. He saw it coming and begin to curse. It spun broadside to him and it came on with something of animate ill will. Git, he screamed at it, a hoarse croak in the roar of the water. It came on bobbing and bearing in its perimeter a meniscus of pale brown froth in which floated walnuts, twigs, a slender bottle neck erect and tilting like a metronome.

Git, goddamn it. Ballard shoved a the log with the barrel of the rifle. It swung down upon him in a rush and he hooked his rifle arm over it. The crate capsized and floated off. Ballard and the log bore on into the rapids below the ford and Ballard was lost in a pandemonium of noises, the rifle aloft in one arm now like some demented hero or bedraggled parody of a patriotic poster come aswamp and his mouth wide for the howling of oaths until the log swept into a deeper pool and rolled and the waters closed over him.

He came up flailing and sputtering and began to thrash his way toward the line of willows that marked the submerged creek bank. He could not swim, but how would you drown him? His wrath seemed to buoy him up. Some halt in the way of things seems to work here. See him. You could say that he’s sustained by his fellow men, like you. Has peopled the shore with them calling to him. A race that gives suck to the maimed and crazed, that wants their wrong blood in its history and will have it. But they want this man’s life. He has heard them in the night seeking him with lanterns and cries of execration. How then is he borne up? Or rather, why will not these waters take him?

When he reached the willows he pulled himself up and found that he stood in scarcely a foot of water. There he turned and shook the rifle alternately at the flooded creek and the gray sky out of which the rain still fell grayly without relent and the curses that hailed up above the thunder of the water carried to the mountain and back like echoes from the clefts of bedlam.


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§ One Response to Recommended Reading Strikes Back

  • Nate says:

    Transit is such a great place to read. I’ve been pouring through Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine of late, and most of my reading for school get’s done on the bus, too. Dorothy Green’s Managing Water… was recently put on my to read list, and now I’m going to have to add Child of God to the list, as well. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy. Though, I prefer his Border Trilogy to No Country for Old Men and The Road. I think McCarthy’s gotten a little too pessimistic with his good vs. evil story lines in his latest books.

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