Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley
by William L. Kahrl
Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley, William L. Kahrl, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 574pp.
Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley while ostensibly concerning California water issues is applicable to water issues in the Western United States in general. This work is an examination of both the politics and causes of the problems surrounding water resource allocation.
Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley has been required reading for multiple political science courses at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This work will be of interest to those who wish to improve their understanding of the problems surrounding water resource allocation in the West. Kahrl begins with an examination of the history of water policy in the United States. He discusses the opposition of the underlying goals of water policy for the Eastern v. Western portions of the United States. In the former, the goal is to mange the removal of excess water, for the latter the goal is to acquire sufficient amounts of scarce water. Thus, water policy was re-invented in the Western US. The first chapter concludes with an examination of the struggles and subsequent litigation and precedents which culminated in a water resource management policy where water is a scarce commodity.
Chapter two examines competing public interests, primarily that between those who sought to develop for reservoirs to supply urban areas with water and those who sought to preserve natural areas from suchdevelopment. The author discusses in some depth the Reclamation Service Project and subsequent changes to the project. The competing interests are presented as lively, personalities and groups which engaged in human conflicts, not simply abstract conflicts. The author next focuses upon the politics of appropriation. He addresses the affect of money, power and the tenacity of one Mary Austin on appropriation decisions. While vividly portraying the personalities the discussion does not abjure its primary function of communicating the intricate political dealings which ultimately defeated Mary Austin in her quest for preservation.
After permission to develop the Owens Valley was received, a collaboration of development interests was foraged with the goal of proceeding. Kahrl addresses this topic in chapter four. Chapter five chronicles the extent and levels of excess in the consumptive behaviour of the city of Los Angeles and the powerful parties who sought development. The politics of exploitation is the subject of a lengthy chapter six. The accomplishments while alive of, and the legacy left by, William Mulholland (whose influence spanned most of the time the first part of the book covers) is Karhl's focus in the next chapter. The final chapter examines the results of the struggle over Owens valley. The author discusses constitutional and legislative measures which were adopted to insure the public interest in water. The County of Origin statute ended the policy of financial-might-makes-right in regards to water within the state of California. In his conclusion, Kahrl examines the ways in which the development of water policy in California both diverges from and is in alignment with water policy in other Western states.
Water and Power: The Conflict over Los Angeles' Water Supply in the Owens Valley is a well researched and annotated work, which aside from a thorough examination of the development of water policy in California, is also a pleasant read. The thirty page bibliography will be most helpful to those who wish to pursue the subject further.