inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #26 of 86: 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #27 of 86: 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

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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #28 of 86: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Sun 25 Sep 05 12:16
And rik, thank you for your nice comments.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #29 of 86: 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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #30 of 86: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Mon 26 Sep 05 11:30
I’m 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, I’d 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 family’s living expenses, and so on. I figured that if
I didn’t do that, I’d 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. FSG’s advance was bigger
than the one for the history, but still modest, and it probably didn’t
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 I’d 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 I’d 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 I’d 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 Ted’s former research
assistant. In Don’s case, I timed the trip’s 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 May’s farm, the Mitta Mitta Valley, and
Hume and Dartmouth Dams.

I’m not sure I ever felt overwhelmed by all the information I’d
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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #31 of 86: 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #32 of 86: 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

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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #33 of 86: 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 Award—that 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 citation—- "elegant,
beautiful prose"-- when I'm having doubts.

But I still do have doubts-- it's part of the process. Winning an award
doesn’t 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 wouldn’t 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #34 of 86: 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

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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #35 of 86: 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. 
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #36 of 86: 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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #37 of 86: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Wed 28 Sep 05 09:51
Re #34 Australia's extremity— its flatness, its aridity, its relentless
sunniness— 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
continent’s current 20 million. Part of the trouble with these monstrous
technologies is that once they're built, they’re not easily disposed
of— you can’t say, "Oops, sorry, let's try something else." To a degree,
we’re 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 earth’s 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 don’t even notice.

When decommissioning is proposed for a large dam, it's usually because the
dam is an obstacle to the movement of fish— that’s 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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #38 of 86: 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #39 of 86: 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, they’re 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 Maine’s 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 can’t 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 that’s 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #40 of 86: 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #41 of 86: 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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #42 of 86: 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

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."
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #43 of 86: 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
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #44 of 86: Low and popular (rik) Thu 29 Sep 05 16:57
Not if they leave the drain hole open.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #45 of 86: 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 O’Shaughnessy 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 underwater— 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.) It’s 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #46 of 86: 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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #47 of 86: 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?
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #48 of 86: 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.
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #49 of 86: 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

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
inkwell.vue.255 : Jacques Leslie, "Deep Water"
permalink #50 of 86: 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


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