River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America's Rivers


Daniel McCool not only chronicles the history of water development agencies in America and the way in which special interests have abused rather than preserved the country's rivers, he also narrates the second, brighter act in this ongoing story: the surging, grassroots movement to bring these rivers back to life and ensure they remain pristine for future generations.

The culmination of ten years of research and observation, McCool's book confirms the surprising news that ...

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River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America's Rivers

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Daniel McCool not only chronicles the history of water development agencies in America and the way in which special interests have abused rather than preserved the country's rivers, he also narrates the second, brighter act in this ongoing story: the surging, grassroots movement to bring these rivers back to life and ensure they remain pristine for future generations.

The culmination of ten years of research and observation, McCool's book confirms the surprising news that America's rivers are indeed returning to a healthier, free-flowing condition. The politics of river restoration demonstrates how strong grassroots movements can challenge entrenched powers and win. Through passion and dedication, ordinary people are reclaiming the American landscape, forming a "river republic" of concerned citizens from all backgrounds and sectors of society. As McCool shows, the history, culture, and fate of America is tied to its rivers, and their restoration is a microcosm mirroring American beliefs, livelihoods, and an increasing awareness of what two hundred years of environmental degradation can do.

McCool profiles the individuals he calls "instigators," who initiated the fight for these waterways and, despite enormous odds, have succeeded in the near-impossible task of challenging and changing the status quo. Part I of the volume recounts the history of America's relationship to its rivers; part II describes how and why Americans "parted" them out, destroying their essence and diminishing their value; and part III shows how society can live in harmony with its waterways while restoring their well-being--and, by extension, the well-being of those who depend on them.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Wm. Robert Irvin
If past is prologue, Daniel McCool's eloquent history of river mismanagement in the United States should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of our rivers. Weaving in stories that range from how polluted water killed one of Abraham Lincoln's sons to the surprising affinity toward conservationists felt by one of the greatest dam builders of the twentieth century, McCool details the multiple ways in which we have dammed, ditched, diverted, and degraded rivers. Ultimately, though, this is a hopeful book, illuminating our growing recognition that, like salmon returning to Washington's Elwha River or American shad in Virginia's Rappahannock River, we all need clean water and free-flowing rivers for our very survival.
Michael Brune
After an exhilarating whitewater ride through America's love-hate relationship with its rivers, Daniel McCool leaves us inspired and hopeful for a happy ending.
Tim Palmer
This well-crafted page-turner is history and journalism at their best. The book tells with passion, precision, and clarity what has happened to a vital force of nature and offers a vision we can embrace and work toward with enthusiasm. Daniel McCool has given all who want to understand rivers a rare and precious gift.
Deseret News - Rosemarie Howard

Written in an easy-to-read narrative style that is at times poetic, River Republic is also filled with facts and political analysis.

H-Environment - Adam Mandelman

...River Republic is an easy read that raises important questions about politics, money, and development along U.S. rivers while providing vibrant accounts of restoration projects all across the country.

River Management Society Journal - Steve Johnson

Daniel McCool has done a terrific job


well-researched and well-written...Highly recommended.


well-researched and well-written...Highly recommended.

Anthem EnviroExperts Blog

An authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States... An important book. River Republic offers essential lessons for entrenched water bureaucracy.


McCool tempers the flow of statistics and environmental facts with liberal doses of wit and colorful anecdotes while offering a reassuring account of working-class citizens triumphing in a timely cause.

Presents the text of three of Butler's (rhetoric and comparative literature, U. of California-Berkeley) 1998 lectures exploring the meaning of Antigone. Questioning what forms of kinship might have allowed Antigone to live, Butler discusses the work of philosophers including Hegel, Lacan, and Irigaray and discusses how a culture of normative heterosexuality obstructs our capacity to see what sexual and political agency could be. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A political scientist's account of the growing grassroots movement to restore and preserve the nation's rivers. "America's rivers are experiencing a renaissance," writes McCool (Environmental and Sustainability Studies/Univ. of Utah; Native Waters: Contemporary Indian Water Settlements and the Second Treaty Era, 2002, etc.). After many decades of developing, damming, diverting or dirtying nearly all of our rivers, Americans are now demanding clean, free-running waterways. River restoration is "a sociopolitical process, and it goes to the very heart of the concept of participatory democracy." Drawing on hundreds of interviews and visits to many restoration projects, the author notes that most projects take years to complete and usually begin with action by an "instigator," a single passionate individual who is an expert at street-level politics and can get people to think in new ways. McCool considers a range of efforts, from the modest Matilija Dam removal project on the Ventura River, to massive federally funded projects on the Kissimmee River, the coastal Louisiana projects and the Columbia River's endangered species programs. The author also traces the history of two federal agencies responsible for much of the nation's river exploitation: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Both agencies, he writes, have long been vehicles for dispensing federal favors (dams, etc.). His inside story of the "Dams-R-Us" Corps, which is now struggling to deal with the damage, is direct and damning. After detailing how rivers have served particular interests through extractive uses, McCool celebrates the many restoration efforts that are revitalizing waterfronts and improving river recreation. Future successes will depend on a careful consideration of various tradeoffs. A broad, up-to-date, hopeful view of our nation's rivers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231161312
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 1,483,030
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel McCool is the director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program and a professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Utah. He has won a number of awards for his teaching and publications, and his research focuses on water resources development, voting rights, American Indian water rights, and public lands policy. He has published widely in such journals as the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Political Research Quarterly, and the University of Texas Law Review. This is his eighth book.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceAcknowledgments"Green River," by William Cullen BryantMap: Selected SitesPart I: The Fall1. Crumbling Edifice2. Planters, Sawyers, and Snags: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers3. The Manless Land: The Bureau of ReclamationPart II: Dismemberment4. Handout Horticulture: Farming and the Feds5. Falling Waters: Hydropower and Renewable Energy6. Rivers Into Waterways: Barging, Locks, and Dams7. Black Water Rising: The Myth of Flood Control8. Downstream Dilemma: Water PollutionPart III: Resurrection9. River City: Urban Riverscapes10. Net Losses: Habitat and Endangered Species11. Playground on the Move: River Recreation12. The River CommonsNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

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