Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A.

Overview

An intensely personal story crossed with a political potboiler, Left in the Dust is a unique and passionate account of the city of Los Angeles's creation, cover-up and inadequate attempts to repair a major environmental catastrophe. Owens River, which once fed Owens Lake, was diverted away from the lake to supply the faucets and sprinklers of Los Angeles. The dry lakebed now contains a dust saturated with toxic heavy metals, which are blown from the lake and inhaled by unsuspecting citizens throughout the ...

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Overview

An intensely personal story crossed with a political potboiler, Left in the Dust is a unique and passionate account of the city of Los Angeles's creation, cover-up and inadequate attempts to repair a major environmental catastrophe. Owens River, which once fed Owens Lake, was diverted away from the lake to supply the faucets and sprinklers of Los Angeles. The dry lakebed now contains a dust saturated with toxic heavy metals, which are blown from the lake and inhaled by unsuspecting citizens throughout the Midwest, causing major health issues. Karen Piper, one of the victims who grew up breathing that dust, reveals the shocking truth behind this tragedy and examines how waste and pollution are often neglected to encourage urban growth, while poor, non-white, and rural areas are forgotten or sacrificed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"To water the lawns of suburbia, the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power turned Owens Lake into a toxic dustbowl and poisoned the childhood of Karen Piper and thousands of others. In this extraordinary book, Piper uncovers the full story of California's environmental crime of the century."—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums

"Beyond the eco-thriller aspects of this book, Piper is exploring something far more complicated than a villain and victim, a city's thirst, a valley's dust; she is using the water to ask questions about the notion of development and American assumptions about progress toward the public good."— Los Angeles Times

"Another compelling reason not to breathe in L.A...Throughout, Piper writes with prickly, if controlled, anger, much in the kindred spirit of Mark Davis's City of Quartz, which bookends this neatly. The tone is fitting....Readers who admire Davis's work and that of the late Marc Reisner will find this fine entry in the library of apocalyptic Californiana of urgent interest."—Kirkus

" [A] systematic approach to the same story outlined in the movie Chinatown, in which powerful forces stole water from rural areas of California to foster development in Los Angeles."—Columbia Daily Tribune

"Left in the Dust is a scathing critique of water imperialism in the Owens Valley. In its relentless thirst for water, Los Angeles transformed a once-lush valley into a desert and ruined the lives of the people who lived and worked there. By demonstrating how ecological changes in the Valley injured people of color in particular, Piper brilliantly exposes the story of the Los Angeles aqueduct into an environmental justice tragedy"—Andrew Hurley, author of Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-1980, and Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in the Postwar Consumer Culture

Publishers Weekly
The story of how L.A. diverted the Owens River more than 90 years ago draining a lake and leaving behind a toxic dust bowl is one that English professor Piper (Cartographic Fictions) takes personally. She grew up breathing wind-borne arsenic-laced dust lifted from Owens Lake; her lungs are permanently scarred and her sinuses damaged. It's thus disappointing that this history of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's corrupt grab for Owens Valley water, and the coverup of the consequent environmental disaster, doesn't pack more of a punch. In a scenario familiar to anyone who saw Polanski's film Chinatown, Piper lays out facts cogently enough: the capitalist villainy that enriched the young city's white elite nearly a century ago, when work started on the L.A. Aqueduct; the devastating impact of the water's diversion on both Paiute tribes and local farmers; and how the project led to "white flight" from neighborhoods around the Los Angeles River, which was dwindling to a polluted trickle in a trench. Unfortunately, the damning accumulation of accusations, though well documented, is lost in a prose style as opaque as the horrific dust storms the author describes. B&w photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another compelling reason not to breathe in L.A. Piper (English/Univ. of Missouri) grew up 50 miles from Owens Lake, Calif., "currently the worst source of dust pollution in the nation." The lake, on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, had ample water until the 1920s, when Los Angeles began to divert it to serve metropolitan needs 200 miles away, the subject of Roman Polanski's classic film Chinatown. Piper examines how that film's makers denatured it for fear of the city's omnipotent utility department, which could not have found a more suitable source of water, politically speaking, since most of the residents of the Owens Lake area were poor Paiute Indians, who were easily displaced and powerless. The parched conditions unveiled fine dust particles that defy dust masks and grout, causing nightmarish autoimmune illnesses, asthma and other woes that are epidemic around the lake, affecting Anglos, Mexicans and Paiutes alike, to say nothing of the Japanese Americans interned during WWII at nearby Manzanar, locally famous as a place where "reduced visibility due to the dust led to the deaths of dozens of people in car crashes" and even prevented the military from tracking missiles fired during tests in the Mojave Desert. Challenged to undo some of the environmental damage it had wrought, L.A.'s Department of Water and Power proposed that Owens Lake be declared a "national ‘sacrifice area' in order to overrule public trust law." DWP was unsuccessful, so that parts of the lake are slowly being rehabilitated even as a similar disaster looms at the Salton Sea, closer still to the crowded metropolis. Throughout, Piper writes with prickly, if controlled, anger, much in the kindred spirit ofMark Davis's City of Quartz, which bookends this neatly. The tone is fitting. Readers who admire Davis's work and that of the late Marc Reisner will find this fine entry in the library of apocalyptic Californiana of urgent interest.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403969316
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/25/2006
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.65 (w) x 8.59 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Piper is Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Missouri-Columbia and author of Cartographic Fictions: Maps, Race, and Identity. She lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Esprit de Corps at the Department of Water and Power

• Manufacturing Whiteness

• The Department of Water and Power vs. The Paiutes

• "We Ate the Dust" at Manzanar

• Control Measures

• "There It Is, Fix It"

• Conclusion

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