Low and popular (rik) Sun 25 Sep 05 11:58
I found it fascinating, and well done. Well worth going out of your way to catch.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Sun 25 Sep 05 12:14
Okay, privatization. Privatization usually involves efforts by multinationals, supported by the World Bank, to buy or more often lease municipal water systems around the world. This drive has arisen as many public utilities have faltered. Governments often have lacked the money to invest in water infrastructure, and the result has often been that while water rates are low, they're also entirely hypothetical, as the water often doesn't even reach poor districts. The poor then end up paying ten times as much for water delivered by truck. Once the multinationals take over, they usually try to raise rates, which sometimes provokes protests. The most notorious of these conflicts occurred in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1999, when the government gave a 40-year lease to a Bechtel subsidiary to manage the city's water system. The subsidiary quickly doubled and tripled rates, and tried to justify doing so by saying that the increased revenue would pay for infrastructure investments. Protests in Cochabamba led to the death of one person, and Bechtel eventually pulled out of the deal. Generally, though, the dilemma remains: the record of privatized municipal water utilities has been no better than that of public ones, as far as I can tell, and in many cities the systems run poorly regardless of who's running them. Further, many people argue that if water is a human right, then privatization shouldn't be allowed, and some even say that water shouldn't be priced. To my mind, there's no question that every person should have a right to the amount of water needed for basic needs, which I think the U.N. places at 50 liters a day. But that's different from saying that no price should be charged for water; indeed, I think often the problem is that the price isn't nearly high enough, and so people waste water. But I'm thinking chiefly of water in agriculture, not water to meet basic human needs. In California, for instance, the huge growers that dominate agriculture get water at a tiny fraction of the cost required to build the dams and aqueducts and pumps that bring it to their fields, and as a result they grow crops that have no business being grown in the semi-arid climate, such as rice. Accurate pricing of water for agriculture would end this practice immediately, and would lead to a much more efficient use of water. And agriculture, remember, uses 70% of the water at humans' disposal.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Sun 25 Sep 05 12:16
And rik, thank you for your nice comments.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 26 Sep 05 07:43
Nice review of "Deep Water" in the current Atlantic Monthly (the issue with Lincoln on the cover). Jacques, can you tell us a bit about the journalistic aspects of this book project? Did an advance finance your travels? Did you feel the need to keep working on other, income-producing articles and projects while you were working on this longer story? To what extent did you pre-arrange the interviews you conducted in remote locations? (I assume interviews with members of the Commission were all pre-arranged.) At points did you feel overwhelmed with your accumulation of information? If so, how'd you get back in control of it?
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Mon 26 Sep 05 11:30
Iâm tempted to think that my determination to do this book had something to do with the various grants and financial gifts that came my way, but in truth I was very lucky. Back when I was thinking about writing a history of the World Commission on Dams, before the final shape of Deep Water had occurred to me, Iâd made up my mind that no matter how small my advance was, I was going to take it, and then I was going to figure out how to pay for the travel, my familyâs living expenses, and so on. I figured that if I didnât do that, Iâd never get started on the book. Instead, just as I was about to sign a contract with another publisher for a WCD history, Farrar Straus & Giroux entered the picture, and the idea of narrative nonfiction immediately supplanted the history. FSGâs advance was bigger than the one for the history, but still modest, and it probably didnât even cover all my travel expenses. Then a college classmate offered to give me a substantial grant from his family foundation, and persuaded the Hewlett Foundation to match it. Even more unexpectedly, a year into the writing, the manuscript won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, with its stipend of $45,000. Even with all these amazing grants, I still found myself deeper in debt when I finished the book than when I started. True, the book may still earn some money once its pays back the advance, and a paperback edition will eventually be published. All that funding did help keep me from having to write magazine pieces while I was doing the book, something I wanted to avoid anyway. It took all my energy to track down the threads of my three stories, and it was hard enough keeping them straight. For instance, for scheduling reasons I had to go on my first Australia trip before Iâd finished writing about Africa. Then, when I got back from Australia, I immediately went back to finishing Africa, figuring that I had to do it while the Africa details were still sufficiently fresh in my head. Before I began the book, I had to secure agreements with the three principals that they would participate in the project, not only by granting interviews but by allowing me to tag along with them as they did their work. Then, in the middle of the book, one of the three fell ill, and I had to find another subject among the pro-dam Commissioners. The substitute turned out to be Don Blackmore, and for various reasons I think his story worked out better than the one Iâd originally planned on. In the case of India, I planned little beyond going to visit Medha Patkar immediately after my arrival in India. I figured, correctly as it turned out, that I would know much better how to proceed once Iâd spent some time with her. With Ted Scudder, I planned the entire trip in advance, including the visit to New Mazulu where I was guided by Tedâs former research assistant. In Donâs case, I timed the tripâs conclusion to coincide with a Murray-Darling Basin Commission meeting, then filled in other places after I got to Canberra. Even so, I discovered after I wrote a draft of the Australia section that I was missing too much of the Murray itself, and returned to Australia to make a journey from one end of the Murray to the other. It was during that second, essential trip that I visited the Coorong, Chowilla, the Barmah Choke, David Mayâs farm, the Mitta Mitta Valley, and Hume and Dartmouth Dams. Iâm not sure I ever felt overwhelmed by all the information Iâd gathered, and I suspect the reason is that the contours of the three stories dictated what information I needed. Instead, much of my concern went into figuring out how the stories would unfold. Once I did that, I knew what information I needed to get. The India story was the most straightforward; in fact, I felt as if I knew where each piece in that story would go even as I watched it unfold in front of me. Africa and Australia were more complicated. In both cases I wrote a draft only to have my editor point out that the stories were missing some vital components. With both stories, that resulted in my making the dams and the landscapes nearly as fully rounded characters as the principals themselves.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Mon 26 Sep 05 11:31
And Steve, are you sure the new Atlantic has a review of Deep Water? I have the October issue in front of me, and I can't find it.
It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Tue 27 Sep 05 09:35
You have to be pleased with all the praise your book has been getting. Are you surprised how well it is being received or did you know you were onto something as it developed? From your comments above, I take it that financial reward is still down the road. In terms of narrative non-fiction, you had good financial support along the way, is that not usually the case? I hope all these fine reviews and interviews are helping the sales of your book. And it may be too early to ask, but what are you thinking about for your next project, after you rest up from this one?
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Tue 27 Sep 05 11:48
I certainly knew I was on the right track when the India segment of the manuscript won the Lukas Awardâthat was a life-changing event. I knew that many fine writers go through their careers without receiving the kind of acknowledgment this represents, and I felt gratified, to say the least. I still remind myself of my three favorite words in the citationâ- "elegant, beautiful prose"-- when I'm having doubts. But I still do have doubts-- it's part of the process. Winning an award doesnât guarantee that all literary efforts from that point on will be any good (and many works that _have_ won awards aren't much good, either). I worried constantly that the last two sections of the book, on Africa and Australia, would not meet the standard set by the India section, and once I finished the book, I worried that it wouldnât find an audience because dams strike so many people as an arcane subject. As I suspect many writers do, I went through constant ups and downs, excited by a bit of information I'd found or a passage I'd written, then convinced that it was all rubbish. At this early point I have no idea what the book's sales will be: I have chiefly been hoping that the book enjoys a long life. The reviews, particularly those by Bill McKibben in OnEarth Magazine and Tom Vanderbilt in the Columbia Journalism Review, have astonished me. I definitely didn't expect to see the book compared favorably to writing on dams by John McPhee and Joan Didion, but at the same time, in honesty, I was striving to be considered in their league. But it's very hard for any writer to get outside his/her own work and see it from a distance. A great part of the pleasure I've taken in those reviews is that they describe so accurately what I intended in Deep Water. The financial support I received is far from typical for narrative nonfiction. As I've said, I've been amazingly lucky. But I learned as a journalist in Vietnam that there is value in taking calculated risks, and I took risks to do this book. This time the gamble paid off. My next major project, alas, is spine surgery, which I'll undergo when the book promotion is finished, in a month or so. It will probably take me a couple of months to recover. I do have a book project in mind after that, but it would be premature to describe it now. It will certainly be narrative nonfiction, focused on people contending with big issues, and it will deal with the environment.
Philippe Habib (phabib) Tue 27 Sep 05 14:44
I also can't find the review in the Atlantic. I'm about 1/2 way into the Australia segment and what I find amazing is that Australia seems to be the worst place for dams of any of them. The least advantageous geography, a large and nearly flat flood area, the soil poisoning, and yet there it is and it has support for its existance. With the talk about tearing down the Hetch Hetchy dam at some point, do you think the lessons learned in some of these other places can help make that possible or do you think that we're down the lifestyle and development path that a dam dictates and we'd have a really hard time turning back?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 28 Sep 05 04:24
Sorry about the mis-information about a review in The Atlantic. The review I read was Tom Vanderbilt's in the Columbia Journalism Review. (I had a stack of magazines on my lap during a recent cross-country flight, and read both the Atlantic and the CJR as well as some other mags. Apologies for the conflation.) Jacques, thank you for the details about the structure and financing of your project.
It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Wed 28 Sep 05 09:17
I had not thought about the death of dams until I read your book. How many large dams are in this stage and what are the various processes involved in decommissioning them? Also, what happens when a new dam being built gets waylaid or stopped by protests and/or public pressure?
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Wed 28 Sep 05 09:51
Re #34 Australia's extremityâ its flatness, its aridity, its relentless sunninessâ is precisely what made dams so desirable. I suspect Don is right when he says that an Australia without dams could support a number of people "in the single-digit millions," or less than half of the continentâs current 20 million. Part of the trouble with these monstrous technologies is that once they're built, theyâre not easily disposed ofâ you canât say, "Oops, sorry, let's try something else." To a degree, weâre stuck with dams, and for a long time to come. What seems urgent is to change the direction: to stop building big dams, to take down some of them, to find other ways of dealing with our energy and water needsâ including, most vitally, by consuming less. Two trillion dollars has already been invested in dams; it's time to put significant sums of money in the alternatives. On a broader level, it is time to face the central fact that the human population has grown beyond the earthâs capacity to support. It is not just rivers that are strained; ecosystems are crashing all around us, and most of us live so far from the evidence that we donât even notice. When decommissioning is proposed for a large dam, it's usually because the dam is an obstacle to the movement of fishâ thatâs true of the four dams on the Snake River, even Glen Canyon to a degree. What interests me about Hetch Hetchy is that the argument is chiefly over recreation and aesthetics, not species survival. O'Shaughnessy is also rich with symbolism, because its construction marked the formation of the environmental movement and the movement's first defeat (in a long, long history of defeats). John Muir fought against O'Shaughnessy; the Sierra Club emerged out of opposition ot it. For that reason alone its dismantling is attractive, but I can't say whether that's more important than taking down the four Snake River dams that block salmon. And then on another lvel, it sounds like a pragmatic argument about economics: is it worth more to take down O'Shaughnessy and reopen Hetch Hetchy to recreation, thereby taking pressure off its overused neighbor, Yosemite, or to save the billions that dismantling would cost?
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 28 Sep 05 10:16
That's such an interesting set of questions. I turned on the TV to help wake up this morning and CSPAN happened to be on, so I caught a one minute House speechlet about the dismantling of the Endanged Species Act. The Act has been one of the few tools for protecting habitats from big money projects. I haven't been following that and was dismayed to hear that it may be gutted. If so, fish may no longer be the way to save rivers.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Wed 28 Sep 05 10:23
Re #36 I have no numbers on aging dams. Suffice it to say that most of the big dams built in the U.S. were built in the 1970s or earlier, and by the time they reach 40 or 50 years old, theyâre aging. About 2,000 privately owned hydroelectric dams have government licenses, and they must get renewal permits from FERC at the end of the licenses' 30- to 50-year terms. In 1997 FERC rejected an application to renew the Edwards Dam on Maineâs Kennebec River, leading to the Edwards Dam's dismantling-- the first time the government ordered the decommissioning of a dam whose owner wanted to continue operating it. Most of the dams being decommissioned now are small, and in many cases their owners canât be identified. So some level of government takes on the job. Most of the projects that are halted by protest or public pressure never reach construction stage, but even so, the area designated as reservoir can end up a kind of no man's land, neither used nor definitively ruled out as reservoir. A major reason thatâs so is that dam projects have a way of coming back from the dead-- in the industry, many are known as "vampires" because no amount of rejection seems to deter their prospective builders. This is what has happened in the area behind the proposed Auburn Dam on the American River east of Sacramento. The dam got partially built in the '60s, but an earthquake put a halt to its construction. Since then it's been declared dead perhaps half a dozen times, but it keeps coming back-- two months ago, two Republican Congressmen from the area backed the idea of yet another Auburn Dam feasibility study. Meanwhile, the land where the reservoir would be has become a haven for low-lifes and bizarre behavior. As many people here know, Jordan Fisher Smith, who worked as a ranger in this area, wrote a book, Nature Noir, on this subject, and it's the focus of inkwell.vue's topic 253.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Wed 28 Sep 05 12:57
Re #38, my impression is that the Bush Administration is determined to exhaust every last natural resource in the country, or at least to extract every last penny of monetary value from them.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 29 Sep 05 09:21
Exactly. I've grabbed a quote from Jordan's interview: > This administration and the congressional majority are profoundly > anthropocentric, following a line of thinking that nothing is doing any > good unless it is producing a commodity for human beings. Human beings > are, according to the fundamentalist theology of this administration, > God's chosen species. We have have therefor been authorized to despoil > as necessary in order to accumulate rich trusts, houses on steroids in > gated communities, Cadillac SUVs, and golf memberships on exclusive > links. Commodity outdoor recreation is the closest thing to a commodity > that a national park can produce; it's quantifiable in user-days and > park admission dollars and is focused on what is fun for the people > involved, not what is good for America's crown jewels of nature. If > off-road vehicles, jet skis, and low-altitude helicopter tours of the > Grand Canyon are considered more fun, that's what you'll get. > -- Jordan Fisher Smith, <inkwell.vue.253.12> Which brings me to the movement to decommission the Hetch Hetchy dam. I totally agree that the land that dam's water covers was a gorgeous piece of nature (based on photos I've seen of it pre-damming). However, if the dam were to come down, what are the chances that it would be left alone to return to its pristine state? Also, a more general query: If a dam as large as the Hetch Hetchy was decommissioned, how long would it take before the re-exposed landscape recovered? Are we talkin' 20 years or 200?
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 29 Sep 05 11:29
Cynthia, I'm not quite sure what you mean by "return to its pristine state." The general assumption is that if O'Shaughnessy Dam were dismantled, Hetch Hetchy would be used for recreation, taking some of that burden off Yosemite. Environmental Defense, an NGO that is leading the battle to restore Hetch Hetchy, last year published a report called "Paradise Regained: Solutions for Restoring Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley." The report envisions the draining of the reservoir but not the dismantling of the dam, which would cost several billion dollars more. With the reservoir drained, the report estimates that: -within five years, grasses, sedges, and rushes would appear. Planted conifers would reach heights of up to 15 feet, and black oaks, 6 feet. Small mammals would reappear, black bear and deer would gradually return, and bald eagle populations would increase. -within fifty years, boundaries for most plant communities would stabilize, in close resemblance to the pre-dam pattern. Suitable habitat for peregrine- falcon prey would completely recover, and deer fawning would beging. --within a hundred years, the animal population and distribution would closely approximate their pre-dam numbers. -within 150 years, the entire valley would "very much resemble the pre- flooded valley, and forest and woodland communities would be nearly mature."
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 29 Sep 05 15:31
Ah, I see. There are many more layers to my question than I'd realized I'd be poking at. When I asked "what are the chances it'd be left alone to return to its pristine state" my thinking was more on "left alone" than "pristine state." I don't really know that much about the area, but I presume it was a relatively unused, somewhat wilderness-y area before it was dammed. I was wondering whether, if the water that flooded it was removed, whether the PTB would allow it to return to that previous state. Or whether it'd end up being another place for Consumers with Big Toys to ride around in offroad vehicles and ATVs. But perhaps my initial assumption, that the area was relative wilderness, is way off base. Nevertheless, your info on how quickly it would stop looking like a soggy, sludgy swamp is pretty interesting. However, your answer raises another question for me. > the draining of the reservoir but not the dismantling of the dam ... How do they do that? If the dam's still in place, won't it fill up again eventually?
Low and popular (rik) Thu 29 Sep 05 16:57
Not if they leave the drain hole open.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 29 Sep 05 17:13
Cynthia, if emptied of water, Hetch Hetchy would turn into a servant of "recreation." In fact, I imagine that if OâShaughnessy is taken down, the next battle would be over what sort of adjunct to Yosemite it would become. Should there be campsites only, or lodges, or hotels? A limit on the number of visitors? How many roads, bathrooms, trails, etc. etc. Whatever the decision, Hetch Hetchy would be understood as fulfilling recreational needs, just as Yosemite does. But wilderness is a squishy term. When did wilderness end? The first sentence in Chapter 1 of John Warfield Simpson's new book, "Dam! Water, Power, Politics, and Preservation in Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite National Park," is: "People have probably inhabited Yosemite Valley for more than six thousand years, and perhaps as long as ten thousand." So, did wilderness end when they arrived? Or did it end when Anglo-American gold prospectors drove them out, starting in the mid-1800s? (As seems to be their wont elsewhere in the world, the newcomers, Simpson says, "hunted the inhabitants like animals, burned their villages, desecrated their sacred sites, and even seized their young women for 'wives' and servants.'") We like to envision a time when the land was "unspoiled," a time presumably before humans fouled it, but humans have occupied most of the land we envision in this way for thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of years. They've had a relationship to the land involving resource consumption and land manipulation. Indigenous people's impacts on environments were gentle compared to modern societies', but they were still substantial. So if "pristine" means "pre-human," you find yourself cast so far back in time that the envisioned land may have been swept by glaciers or underwaterâ at the very least it probably was a substantially different place. I suppose one of the things I learned writing this book was that the land constantly changes. You can do your best to exercise stewardship over it, but it will still change. The environmental argument is much more about the proper pace of change, not its absence. And thank you for that good question about draining vs. dismantling. Simply put, it's possible to drill a hole in a dam in a way that allows water to go around or through it without making it collapse. (Engineers can say much, much more about this than I can.) Itâs cheaper than taking a dam down, but it leaves a, um, rather major structure in the middle of the river valley. The dam would turn into a spectacular (and constantly changing) relic.
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Thu 29 Sep 05 18:49
Is there a step past "stewardship"? I see the differences in the fundamentalist mentality that the earth is ours to exploit and the conservationist stance of stewardship. But it seems to me that there is another leap to be made; a recognition that we are, in fact, a part of this planet and it is a part of us. I'm not trying to be mystical, here. I don't really think mysticism is needed to reach this conclusion. Is it?
John Ross (johnross) Thu 29 Sep 05 20:41
My frame of reference or big dams is primarily the Columbia/Snake system and Seattle City Light's big dams on the upper Skagit. From that perspective, the social benefits of inexpensive non-polluting power and irrigation seem to be arguably great enough to justify much of the environmental and social costs (social costs meaning the loss of traditional Indian fishing grounds on the Columbia). What am I missing?
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Fri 30 Sep 05 10:54
Re #46, Sharon, I agree with the statement, but I'm not sure it takes us very far. If it's true, then what? I think it's when you start describing the implications that it might begin to get interesting. #Re 47, John, I'm certainly no expert on the Columbia system, but I think that if I do a little research, I can provide a meaty list of unintended consequences that the power and irrigated water have caused. I can't do this now, so give me some time on this one.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Fri 30 Sep 05 17:00
Less time available than I hoped today. Suffice it to say that the trade-off for the Columbia's systems hydropower and irrigation water involves the following: 1) decimation of many salmon strains, accelerating the decline in salmon beginning with the arrival of the white man and continuing to the point that many strains are now endangered. 2) decimation of the indigenous cultures that focused on salmon. Tribal groups upstream from Grand Coulee in Canada weren't even told that their salmon were about to disappear. By now, some bands have entirely dispersed. 3) I suspect that the economics of the irrigated water depends mightily on the water's being provided to farmers as a big subsidy, in that farmers were never charged anything like the real cosjt of delivering the water to them. This fact has contrbututed to the farmers' waste of water. 4) Ecosystem transformation. One of the world's major rivers has been transformed, as Blaine Harden puts it, from "America's largest free-flowing stream into its most elaborately engineered electricity-irrigation- transportation machine," with 14 big dams on the Columbia and more than 100 on tributaries. 5) There are certainly many more consequences arising from the change in the river's flow and obstruction of sediment, but I have no information on them. In any case, I think the point now isn't to argue whether the dams should have been constructed, but to face the future that arises from their presence.
It's a new sun to me (nukem777) Sat 1 Oct 05 11:31
What are some of the alternative technologies that could or should be used for water management and why is the World Bank so adverse to using them?
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