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Early History Settlement Construction Era Aftermath Appendices


In the Preface to Water, Land, and Law in the West, Donald J. Pisani wrote "Professional historians have an obligation to learn from the past, but we must avoid making history a whipping post for the anxieties and frustration of our own times" (Pisani, xi). In the past rivers have provided many uses for their surrounding societies. They sustain the life of plants and animals. Hunting and gathering societies used rivers for drinking and washing. Rivers provide "food, drugs, medicines, dyes, fibres, and wood" (McCully, 9). The river provides irrigation for crops. The river is a place of food, fodder and grazing in pastoral societies. Rivers carry away wastes and have been used for "commerce, exploration, and conquest" (McCully, 9). Perhaps what can be learned from Pisani is an ability to step back from history without accusing a blind destruction of nature, but instead recognizing an earnest desire to relieve humanity of its hardships through technological support.

The Debate Today
National Geographic's April 2001 headlining article.

Nevertheless, the Columbia River has been changed for the time being. The human footprint is undeniable. Even the rotation of the Earth has been slightly altered by the weight of dams in certain quadrants of the world. This is Donald Worster's third stage of hydraulic societal development called the "infrastructure trap". Like so many New Deal infrastructures, the damming of the Columbia had become too complicated to undo. An attempt to imagine the sudden disintegration of highways and paved roads is nearly impossible. Humanity has accepted, adopted and become unable to live without many of the luxurious technological arrangements. This too is the case of the Columbia River. Barges and boats depend on the Columbia being navigable. Farmers depend on irrigation for economic support. Millions depend on the hydroelectricity for everyday life. Removing the dams would incur massive flooding. And of course, many effects can not even be predicted.

Powerful Country Early Conservationists Ecological Disaster Native American Aftermath Salmon as Symbol

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