One River, Many Users
By Blaine Harden
W.W. Norton & Company, $15.95, 286 pages
In this updated edition of his A River Lost from 1996, reporter and Washington native Blaine Harden provides a meandering narrative of one of America’s most significant rivers: the Columbia. This river came to mean so much to many different groups of people, and it is the often contentious intersection of those group interests that Harden writes about. From the Native Americans who fish salmon from the river and dam laborers and barge pilots whose jobs depend on it, to environmentalists who want to protect it and power companies who want to harvest the winds that blow upriver, and the farmers whose land depends on water diverted from the river and Northwest residents who rely on electricity produced by hydroelectric plants, the struggle over claiming authority of the river, its use, and its natural resources is respectfully told by someone whose own family was involved in the government project to build the river’s largest dam, the Grand Coulee, in the 1930s. The reader is not just told what the issues were – and still are – but is introduced to many of the players involved. The River Lost captures the political and economic conflict that results when not everyone values a river the same.
Reviewed by Michael Barton