Page 14


THE COLORADO RIVER WIN GREAT h %AMU RAwu wax w smetas * Plamot, Gorge Reservoir kiver .1.03 ARMES %144.. ciL 1:53 fr.t. -rot.T .’ se^ sAstm +.1lwmencars ci .14411 Lake uokiwe +.”*Gs 4rAlT Tairen .011’g rn o fiver alvexesa ervo so the salmon could leap around the dams, were ineffective. The species declined rapidly, simultaneously severing the longstanding link between its upand downstream movements and the Elwah, Skokomish, and Skagit tribes, for whom the salmon had great economic value and cultural significance. This disheartening set of consequences will only be reversed if the dam infrastructure is removed. Those walls might come tumbling down, too, as tribes and environmental groups use nineteenth-century treaties, the Endangered Species Act, and appeals to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses dams, to press for the “rereclamation” of the Columbia River watershed. If the watershed is reclaimed, the indigenous peoples would be able to restore their “traditional cultures and livelihoods,” Mary Moran and Lester Dore a prospect for which they have fought since losing tribal sovereignty and territorial integrity more than a century ago. That dams might be “decommissioned,” and thus removed, terrifies many westerners. Why? Because if we are compelled, finally, to acknowledge their deleterious impact on indigenous societies and riparian ecosystems, we will also be forced to acknowledge their central role in nurturing the extraordinary post-war boom in western urban population and development. Consider the massive complex of dams and reservoirs that capture water from the Rockies and Wasatch, the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and other mountain ranges, and from which it is then pumped to Denver, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, or Seattle. Without the seemingly limitless flow of federally subsidized \(and therefore leapt into national prominence; the same could be said of their urban counterparts located along the Missouri and Arkansas river basins, and beside Texas’ waterways. It was the “Dam-icans” and the “Water-crats” who made it possible for industry and population to flow south and west over the last three decades, giving the region immense political clout. Were we to pull the plug on any of the cisterns that inundate the so-called Sunbelt, we would quickly discover just how unsteady were its economic foundations, how ephemeral its social stability. The region may not dry up soon, but the certainties that once dominated its water politics no longer hold sway, complicating its future. The Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, for example, has been effectively challenged in federal courts, the same judicial system that has at long last started to confirm the claims of Native American peoples to a share of western waters.. Once-impotent rural areas, whose water regularly has been diverted to slake the thirst of distant metropolitan centers, have risen up in opposition to such grandiose schemes as the Central Arizona Project, Denver’s Two Forks Dam, and Utah’s C.U.P. Add to this the interstate and interurban battles over stream flow, and it appears that the demand for water has never been more contested. These contests have forced water suppliers to become more creative, and belatedly they have launched a series of conservation initiatives. Most promising is the recycling of water, a strategy particularly suited to the corralling of those “world-class water hogs,” the computer chipmanufacturing companies. Many of these notably Intel and Sony migrated to the region because of low labor costs and good, clean, and very inexpensive water. Until recently, these companies would suck down millions of gallons to turn out thousands of chips, down the drain. But some municipal water systems have initiated plans for that waste water to make its way through urban sewage systems, and relevant filtration processes, the end result of which will be the creation of “gray water”; it will be sold for non-potable purposes only, and be of a high enough quality so that it can be uti NOVEMBER 20, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25 if r tra isiCaria -try