Book Review: A River Lost

A River Lost

Harden, Blaine

W.W. Norton, 1996

This book is a general overview of the state of the Columbia in the mid 1990’s from the various vantages of river users which does a fairly good job of presenting the issues and the arguments from the various sides without leaning too heavily one way or the other.  This lets the book itself comes across more about the underlying issues than the specifics of the Columbia.

The basic question of the issue is “Is it right to permanently alter a key component of the landscape and ecology to improve the situation for a section of the human population?”   This question is turned in this book to focus on the specifics of the Columbia drainage.  On the Columbia, the world’s largest and longest salmon run was essentially destroyed by a series of dams created to generate electricity and provide irrigation water.  The people who depended on the salmon lost out, the salmon lost out, the taxpayers across the country who paid for (and are still paying for) the project from the 1930’s onward may or may not have lost out depending on their connections, and the business interests of the Pacific Northwest have won.  It can be argued if the residents of the area have won, but it should be recognized that the explosive growth of this area has been in large part due to the electricity generated by the dams.

This all ends up tying back in to the salmon.  Should we remove the dams to let the salmon returned to an “original” condition river system?  Should we continue doing as we have done?  Is there a compromise?  The strength of this book lies in not attempting to force an answer to these questions while at the same time provoking that there needs to be an answer.

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