Friday, September 11, 2009

On "The Salton Sea" by George Kennan ***

This basic primer on the creation of the Salton Sea was written in 1917. It divulges the geological history of the area, explains the creation of the land and water companies that would bring farming to the Imperial Valley and ultimately also the Colorado River itself, and the efforts of engineers to prevent the rerouted Colorado River from overwhelming the valley. Much of the book is written, as many books of the time seem to be, in a hagiographic tone about the greatness of man's exploits--and in this case especially one man's exploits, H. G. Harriman. Harriman was the man in charge of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which took charge of the California Land Company when it failed financially. The Southern Pacific, in turn, ended up responsible for paying the three million dollars it took to reroute the Colorado. Yet, according the author, Harriman received not one word of thanks from the government--and not one penny of help. In part, this book seems a propaganda tool for government relief of big corporations, but it also makes some salient points regarding who should pay when ecological disaster strikes. Who Kennan, the author, was might be a further useful route to understanding the deeper motivation behind the book.

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