Public Power, Private Dams

Overview

In the years following World War II, the world’s biggest dam was almost built in Hells Canyon on the Snake River in Idaho. Karl Boyd Brooks tells the story of the dam controversy, which became a referendum not only on public-power expansion but also on the environmental implications of the New Deal’s natural resources and economic policy.

Private-power critics of the Hells Canyon High Dam posed difficult questions about the implications of damming rivers to create power and to ...

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Overview

In the years following World War II, the world’s biggest dam was almost built in Hells Canyon on the Snake River in Idaho. Karl Boyd Brooks tells the story of the dam controversy, which became a referendum not only on public-power expansion but also on the environmental implications of the New Deal’s natural resources and economic policy.

Private-power critics of the Hells Canyon High Dam posed difficult questions about the implications of damming rivers to create power and to grow crops. Activists, attorneys, and scientists pioneered legal tactics and political rhetoric that would help to define the environmental movement in the 1960s. The debate, however, was less about endangered salmon or threatened wild country and more about who would control land and water and whether state enterprise or private capital would oversee the supply of electricity.

By thwarting the dam’s construction, Snake Basin irrigators retained control over water as well as economic and political power in Idaho, putting the state on a postwar path that diverged markedly from that of bordering states. In the end, the opponents of the dam were responsible for preserving high deserts and mountain rivers from radical change.

With Public Power, Private Dams, Karl Brooks makes an important contribution not only to the history of the Pacific Northwest and the region’s anadromous fisheries but also to the environmental history of the United States in the period after World War II.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

Western Historical Quarterly
This is an outstanding book, meticulously researched, imaginatively argued, and engagingly written. Skeptics might wonder about the significance and inherent interest of a dam never built. Yet Karl Brooks narrates the story with considerable flair, and he makes a convincing case that the defeat of Hell's Canyon High Dam was a pivotal event in modern hydropower politics. Western historians should place this book at the top of their reading lists.
Choice
Nicely written, nuanced study contributes to hydroelectric, Pacific Northwest, and environmental history. Recommended.
Review of Policy Research
Brooks' brilliance in this book is in capturing a moment some 50 years ago when, in what is now perhaps the Reddest of states, private business made legitimate claims to represent the public good and helped make public policy more accountable to the public. But Brooks' empirical work suggests that what was important for democracy and environment was not the defeat of federal initiative per se, but rather that private challenge catalyzed political debate. Broader discussions forced needed restraint and a broadening of concerns as part of both public and private policy.
H-Environment
Brooks' work is a necessary addition to the Weyerhaeuser Book Series because it greatly advances our understanding of the conflict over resources, the consequences of development, and the legal battles between public-private ownership that continue to shape the region today.
Technology and Culture
Karl Boyd Brooks has written a masterful book about the politics of hydropower.
H-Net Reviews
Transcending that familiar debate over the preservation of the 'wilderness' of nature, Brooks's examination of this remote Idaho location provides new insight into the origins of the modern environmental movement.
Educational Book Review
The author has done a great job as an environmental historian with sharp insights and a perceptive eye to the unknown. He offers valuable new insight into a question that still agitates the country, whether government or private corporations should be in charge of developing our natural resources.
Oregon Historical Quarterly
Brooks does a splendid job of showing how the Bonneville Power Administration assumed its roles of partner, planner, and promoter of public power in the Pacific Northwest. The author could tell this story as few others might. Public Power, Private Dams is a fine tale.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295989129
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 1/12/2009
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Karl Boyd Brooks is associate professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Kansas.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Why so Important a Story Is so Little Known, by William Cronon

PrefaceAcknowledgmentsList of Abbreviations

1. Introduction: Hells Canyon High Dam and the Postwar Northwest2. At Hell's Gates3. Nationalizing Nature: The New Deal Legacy of Snake River Hydropower4. Taming Rivers and Presidents: The Hells Canyon Controversy Goes National5. Planning for a Permanent Control: The New Deal Legacy of Northwest Fishery Policy6. Sacrificing Hells Canyon's Fish: Death by Committee7. Unplugging the New Deal: Hells Canyon High Dam 8. Claiming the Public Interest: Idaho Power Moves on Hells Canyon9. Privatizing Hells Canyon: Dwight Eisenhower's Partnership with Idaho Power10. From Energy to Environment: The Aftermath of Hells Canyon Controversy

NotesBibliographyIndex

University of Washington Press

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