General Notes

Preface (rev. ed.)

Hundley lays out the themes of the book as:

  1. The “dynamic interplay between human values and what human beings do to the waterscape” (xviii). Technology is important because more can be done to nature with it, but values place significant restrictions on technology. Notes also the appearance of a new kind of “social imperialist” who sought to acquire water at the expense of others.
  2. The crucial role played by government (local, regional, provincial, and national) in shaping water policy. In the twentieth century, Californians have been able to tap into the national treasury to fund water projects, but the purse had strings attached. The result has been complicated decision-making not only about harnessing water but also about reforming the system.
  3. The close relationship between private and government interests. California exhibits a wide and confused crosscutting range of interests groups and bureaucrats “who accomplish what they do as a result of shifting alliances and despite frequent disputes among themselves.” (xix) Conflict, rivalry, and localism permeated development while exacerbating the human and environmental costs.
  4. The relationship between American political culture and California water policy.

Viewed from the national and local perspective, California’s water achievements “have resulted ultimately from the support and encouragement of the people, who have considered themselves participants in a booming economy made possible by great hydraulic projects.” (xx) Projects include flood control, urban aqueducts, reclamation, irrigation. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, Californians began to reassess their support of such projects in the face of huge costs, urban sprawl, gridlock, environmental damage, decline in quality of life, subsidies to agriculture, wasteful water practices, and poor working conditions for laborers in fields.

New legislation in the 1960s and 1970s from Washington and Sacramento sought to reverse environmental damage, including a voter rejection of a major water project; challenges to water rights in the Owens River and Mono Basin; derailment in Congress of all new major water projects. Yet these defeats were more symbolic than real, according to Hunley. Hunley cites a lack of informed, consistent leadership in Washington and Sacramento leading to problems in California today: accelerating urbanization of farmlands, despoliation of water supplies, equity in water allocation for populations, restoration over the SF Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Chapter 4: Urban Imperialism

The construction of the dam that flooded the Hetch Hetchy Valley emerged from political maneuvers in San Francisco’s metropolitan leaders. By the late 1970s San Francisco was importing six times as much water as it did under the original Hetch Hetchy project, and selling half of the water to outsiders for $33 million profit annually to maintain the system. (194)

Chapter 5: Hydraulic Society Triumphant

Notes specifically for the Central Valley Project (pp. 234-275):

  • The Central Valley is a rich and broad alluvial plain roughly 450 miles long and 40-70 miles wide watered by streams from the Sierras on the east and coastal ranges to the west. But precipitation is light and normally comes after the growing season. (235)