Public Power, Private Dams: The Hells Canyon High Dam Controversy

Paperback | February 17, 2009

byKarl Boyd BrooksForeword byWilliam Cronon

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In the years following World War II, the world’s biggest dam was almost built in Hells Canyon on the Snake River in Idaho. Karl Boyd Brooks tells the story of the dam controversy, which became a referendum not only on public-power expansion but also on the environmental implications of the New Deal’s natural resources and economic policy.

Private-power critics of the Hells Canyon High Dam posed difficult questions about the implications of damming rivers to create power and to grow crops. Activists, attorneys, and scientists pioneered legal tactics and political rhetoric that would help to define the environmental movement in the 1960s. The debate, however, was less about endangered salmon or threatened wild country and more about who would control land and water and whether state enterprise or private capital would oversee the supply of electricity.

By thwarting the dam’s construction, Snake Basin irrigators retained control over water as well as economic and political power in Idaho, putting the state on a postwar path that diverged markedly from that of bordering states. In the end, the opponents of the dam were responsible for preserving high deserts and mountain rivers from radical change.

With Public Power, Private Dams, Karl Brooks makes an important contribution not only to the history of the Pacific Northwest and the region’s anadromous fisheries but also to the environmental history of the United States in the period after World War II.

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In the years following World War II, the world’s biggest dam was almost built in Hells Canyon on the Snake River in Idaho. Karl Boyd Brooks tells the story of the dam controversy, which became a referendum not only on public-power expansion but also on the environmental implications of the New Deal’s natural resources and economic poli...

Karl Boyd Brooks is associate professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Kansas.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:250 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.77 inPublished:February 17, 2009Publisher:University Of Washington PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0295989122

ISBN - 13:9780295989129

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Why so Important a Story Is so Little Known, by William Cronon

PrefaceAcknowledgmentsList of Abbreviations

1. Introduction: Hells Canyon High Dam and the Postwar Northwest2. At Hell's Gates3. Nationalizing Nature: The New Deal Legacy of Snake River Hydropower4. Taming Rivers and Presidents: The Hells Canyon Controversy Goes National5. Planning for a Permanent Control: The New Deal Legacy of Northwest Fishery Policy6. Sacrificing Hells Canyon's Fish: Death by Committee7. Unplugging the New Deal: Hells Canyon High Dam 8. Claiming the Public Interest: Idaho Power Moves on Hells Canyon9. Privatizing Hells Canyon: Dwight Eisenhower's Partnership with Idaho Power10. From Energy to Environment: The Aftermath of Hells Canyon Controversy

NotesBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

In the years following World War II, the world’s biggest dam was almost built in Hells Canyon on the Snake River in Idaho. Karl Boyd Brooks tells the story of the dam controversy, which became a referendum not only on public-power expansion but also on the environmental implications of the New Deal’s natural resources and economic policy.Private-power critics of the Hells Canyon High Dam posed difficult questions about the implications of damming rivers to create power and to grow crops. Activists, attorneys, and scientists pioneered legal tactics and political rhetoric that would help to define the environmental movement in the 1960s. The debate, however, was less about endangered salmon or threatened wild country and more about who would control land and water and whether state enterprise or private capital would oversee the supply of electricity.By thwarting the dam’s construction, Snake Basin irrigators retained control over water as well as economic and political power in Idaho, putting the state on a postwar path that diverged markedly from that of bordering states. In the end, the opponents of the dam were responsible for preserving high deserts and mountain rivers from radical change.With Public Power, Private Dams, Karl Brooks makes an important contribution not only to the history of the Pacific Northwest and the region’s anadromous fisheries but also to the environmental history of the United States in the period after World War II. Public Power, Private Dams provides a thorough discussion of the controversies surrounding the Hells Canyon High Dam, with a detailed examination of the regional and national forces that struggled over the dam, how their differing visions of the future were embodied in developmental alternatives, and how the region's salmon runs and tribes and fishers were the big losers. - Dale Goble, University of Idaho