Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water Characters

Marc Reisner


(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Cecil Andrus
Andrus served as Secretary of the Interior in the Carter administration; his lack of negotiating skills disabled Carter’s proposals on water policy.

Wayne Aspinall
Aspinall was a Congressman from Colorado who served as chairman of the House Interior Committee in the late 1960s; he denied California and Arizona water projects because they voted against his state’s projects.

David Brower
A hard-core conservationist, Brower strongly opposed dams and repeatedly fought the Bureau of Reclamation. He battled then-Commissioner Floyd Dominy over Grand Canyon dams, and won. He founded Friends of the Earth in 1969.

Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Pat Brown’s son, Jerry, was instrumental in putting together the State Water Project, California’s most expensive water supply system; he hoped it would be environmentally safe.

Edmund G. Brown Sr.
Brown was a California governor who facilitated the State Water Project and later opened a questionable law practice, working for the biggest corporate growers in the state.

Jerry Brown
See Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Pat Brown
See Edmund G. Brown Sr.

Jimmy Carter
President Carter developed a ‘‘hit list’’ of water projects he wanted Congress to eliminate; he made many enemies as a result, including the press, and couldn’t get reelected. Jim Casey
Casey served as deputy chief of planning for the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s; he was also crucial in the Texas Water Plan. Casey realized the danger of overusing the Ogallala Aquifer and recruited Texan bankers to support his conservation efforts. Casey left the Bureau because he was disgusted by Floyd Dominy’s leadership.

Harry Chandler
Chandler came to Los Angeles for his health and discovered money-making opportunities; he first acquired newspaper routes, then he became Harrison Otis’ circulation manager for the Times; he used his power in the media to help run the scam that brought the water from the Owens River to Los Angeles. Like his co-conspirators in the plot, he became phenomenally rich.

Wilbur Dexheimer
Dexheimer, the Bureau Commissioner before Floyd Dominy, is described as ‘‘good-natured, somewhat bumbling, uninterested in politics, and therefore inept.’’ Dominy easily pushed him out.

Floyd Elgin Dominy
Commissioner of Reclamation from 1959 to 1969, Dominy was one of the most ruthless, powerful, manipulative, and efficient people in the Bureau’s history. He started out as a county agent in Wyoming during the Depression, where he built 300 small dams to save cattle from drought. Arriving at the Bureau in 1946, he quickly achieved the position of chief of Allocation and Repayment. Hardworking and sharp, Dominy soon became close with top officials. Although he was not an engineer (he had a masters degree in economics), Dominy considered that to be his great advantage in the Bureau; among engineers (mostly pious Mormons who knew nothing about politics) he was eloquent, knowledgeable, and a good politician. His breakthrough happened in 1955 when he testified about the Bureau projects in front of the Appropriations Committee. Immediately thereafter, he became the agency’s contact man for Congress members desiring water projects in their states.

Authoritarian and self-assured, Dominy practically ran the Bureau for three years before he was appointed commissioner. With strong ties to congressmen and a contemptuous attitude that he took with superiors, he soon realized he was indispensable. Dominy eventually became commissioner and ruthlessly competed with the Corps of Engineers for projects. Criticizing governors and politicians as well as engineers, he soon created a few enemies, a few friends, and a large group of supporters that feared him.

Dominy eventually got caught up in the web of corruption: while farmers were ‘‘illegally irrigating excess acreage with dirt-cheap water [to] grow price-supported crops’’ and in the process ruining the Bureau’s standing, Dominy decided to ignore the violations, believing that the protests of the conservation movement would not generate enough attention for substantial problems. He was wrong, and, after losing many battles with environmentalists and tarnishing his own and the Bureau’s reputation, he was fired.

Daniel Dreyfus
The ‘‘house intellectual’’ of the Bureau of Reclamation, Dreyfus was part of the plot to improve the Bureau’s reputation by compromising— which Dominy would not hear of. Dreyfus left the agency embittered about Dominy’s leadership.

Fred Eaton
Coming from a family that founded Pasadena, Eaton was a Los Angeles native who began his career in water projects as superintendent for the city’s Water Company. He was aware of the expanding city’s mounting lack of water resources and, before moving on to a political career, advised his successor William Mulholland to target the Owens River. Eaton eventually became the mayor of Los Angeles; after retiring, he helped Mulholland build the aqueduct.

Dwight Eisenhower
Like most other presidents, Eisenhower tried to get rid of some of the projects pushed by the Bureau and the Corps with his ‘‘no new starts’’ policy, but he failed. The United States Congress forced him to fire then-Commissioner Wilbur Dexheimer so Floyd Dominy could get the job. Despite his conservative principles, Eisenhower had to support the Colorado River Storage Project.

Carl Hayden
A senator from Arizona who held an almost despotic rule over the Bureau’s authorizing com- mittees, Hayden had enough power on the Appropriations Committee to negotiate water deals for his state. Hayden was a part of the group of Western legislators that had a tight grip on Congress and successfully pushed for more dams; Eisenhower often had to support what he opposed in principle because Floyd Dominy was Hayden’s protege.


(The entire section is 2503 words.)