The twentieth century has gone down in history for a number of ignominious as well as heroic events, but certainly one of its more troubling legacies is its treatment of rivers. As agriculture gave way to industry and massive development of cities, water was victim to an increasingly private and individualistic conceptualization of property. Consequently, rivers suffered greater transformation than in the previous ten thousand years. They were straightened, diked, and dammed, and where I live water was transported from less populous areas and fed into the Provo, all to provide more space for homes, more safety from floods to homeowners, and reservoirs to ensure the perpetuity of modernization. And as Donald Worster reminds us, the Mormons played no small role in this harnessing of water’s wild and unpredictable ways, seeing dams and dikes as the way of the Lord. Several small hydroelectric dams were built on the Provo early in the century, and then two major dams were built, one in the 1940s and the other in the 1990s.
Within a century of the arrival of the white man, 95 percent of the native species in the river and of Utah Lake went extinct, this despite the fact that it had been the meat of the native fish of the river and lake that provided for humans for thousands of years and saved the lives of the pioneers in those early, hunger-ridden years of settlement. But this is only the most overt and measurable of consequences. Aquatic species worldwide are going extinct at much faster rates than terrestrials. When the fish go, that means the invertebrates, zooplankton, plants, and whole swaths of life go, too. Continue reading “Excerpt from Home Waters by George Handley”