Drowning the Dream

California's Water Choices at the Millennium

by David Carle


Explores the impact of water policy on California's environment, urban development, and quality of life, arguing that it is time for the state to limit growth and implement serious conservation measures.

Print Flyer
Cover image for Drowning the Dream

February 2000


Pages 256
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Current Events and Issues/Environment

Imported water has transformed the Golden State's environment and quality of life. In the last one hundred years, land ownership patterns and real estate boosterism have dramatically altered both urban and rural communities across the entire state. The key has been water from the Eastern Sierra, the Colorado River and, finally, Northern California rivers. Whoever brings the water, brings the people wrote engineer William Mulholland, whose leadership began the process of water irrigating unlimited growth. Using first-person voices of Californians to reveal the resulting changes, Carle concludes that the new millennium may be the time to stop drowning the California dream.

With extensive use of oral histories, contemporary newspaper articles, and autobiographies, Carle provides a rich exploration of the historic change in California, showing that imported water has shaped the pattern of population growth in the state. Water choices remain the primary tool, he claims, for shaping California's future. The state's damaged environment and reduced quality of life can be corrected if Californians will step out of their historic pattern and embrace limited water supplies as a fact of life in this naturally dry region.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Changes and ChoicesFrontierland to FantasylandIn Grizzly DaysSave the Cows... Horses Off the CliffsGold Fever: Sick ForefathersStatehood, State Hoods and State LawsR&R Railroads and Real Estate, Citrus and SunshineWater Choices (1)--Eastern Sierra WaterMelodrama on the Right Side of CaliforniaLife in the Big City--How Did They Get Away With It?Did They See Where They Were Going?What If the Los Angeles Aqueduct Had Never Been Built?Water Choices (2)--Colorado River Water"And Lest Our City Shrivel and Die..."Boom! Postwar, Postaqueduct ArrivalsPeople Fumes: Just Don't InhaleWater Choices (3)--Northern California WaterThe Northern End of the PipeToo Much Is Not EnoughSprawling GridlockTomorrowlandToday's Choice (1): Who Needs Farms?Today's Choice (2): The Environment--Has Mono Lake Really Been Saved?Visualizing Tomorrow--Just Say No to Water?ReferencesIndex



Carle's analysis of the impact of an ever-expanding need for water on the past and future of California is well done, so much so that his book has enormous value to those wrestling with issues of sustainability anywhere. Carle is affiliated with the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, placing him in the story of water decisions in California, and his academic position gives him the skills to teach readers. In this thorough historical analysis of how California changed from a frontier to a place where growth seemed to be the only possible option, Carle delineates the various choices that were made in quenching the growth-frenzied thirst....This well-written suitable for anyone interested in growth and related environmental issues....Overall, strongly recommended.—Choice any endlessly growing population, the challenges of dealing with fixed water supply become more and more difficult, the pressures to develop new sources become greater, and the risk of a renwal of ecological decline and loss returns. Any efforts we make will be undermined or even reversed by a population that continues to endlessly grow. Sustainability can only be achieved with a steady-state population, and while Carle is not the first to make this point, it deserves a higher place in the debate over our water future.—Natural Resources Forum

The story of this land larceny, and others to come, has as many twists and turns as a good film noir (and became just that, in Chinatown), and as much violence. Carle spares no one's reputation in the telling.—San Diego Union Tribune

[T]his book is ultimately hopeful and positive. By examining California's watery past, perhaps we can avoid making the same mistakes.—Mammoth Times

Imported water has transformed the environment of California and its quality of life. In the last two hundred years, land ownership patterns and real estate boom have dramatically altered both urban and rural communities. This book argues that the key to this transformation has been access to water from the Eastern Sierra, the Colorado River, and the northern California rivers.—Abstracts of Public Administration, Development, and Environment


Water has always been the defining element in California's history, driving its dreams of expansion. Carle tells that story well--but what his inventive and informative text also demonstrates is that if the state does not soon turn back on its own history, its infatuation with limitless growth and the water to supply it may create a world too ugly to contemplate.—T.H. Watkins^LWallace Stegner Professor of Western American Studies^LMontana State University

For anyone genuinely concerned with the continuing loss of a finer California, David Carle offers a high moral and technological challenge, together with a desperate (and perhaps final!) hope.—Dr. Kevin Starr^L State Librarian of California

David Carle, born and raised in Orange County, knows first hand the changes in Southern California during the past 50 years. For 20 years, the ranger at Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve...learned how water exports can devastate a productive and scenic ecosystem....This book belongs in the hands of anyone interested in California's history and future.—Sally Gaines^LCo-founder, Mono Lake Committee

^IDrowning the Dream^R dramatically illustrates the connections between water supplies and population growth. It clearly explains the role of water development in promoting sprawl. David Carle uses fascinating historical anecdotes and quotations to demonstrate the choices Californians have had in managing the water wealth of their state. He details the current threats to the most productive agricultural lands in the world and dares to question the inevitability of growth. He cautions us that indifference will allow growth to accelerate and makes a strong case for consciously choosing stability and sustainability.—Rick Kattelmann^LSierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory

Discussions of population and growth control are often difficult, but in ^IDrowning the Dream^R David Carle brings a new, strongly reasoned approach to the table. In the process, Carle takes on the ultimate questions of California water politics: What kind of state do we want to live in? How much more growth does California really need? Can we keep the California Dream alive? California is naturally limited by its water supply...and, therefore, water can be the tool to limit the state's future growth naturally--once we finally abandon the untenable proposal that more water can always be found.—Geoffrey McQuilkin^LCo-Executive Director, Mono Lake Committee

A well documented history of boosterism, population growth, water development, and the loss of the quality of life in California. Carle brings the water development history current, i.e., the present CalFed bureaucratic attempt to restore fisheries, have water security for everyone, and end the water wars. Carle inspires us to save what is left of California. Californians can choose population growth control rather than the continuing spiral of population increase and never-ending demand for water in the water-short West. After reading this book I think most would agree that we had better hurry up and make this choice.—Lee W. Miller^LFishery Scientist and Board Member of Californians for Population Stabilization

For anyone at all interested in water issues in California, this book must go on your bookshelf alongside your DVD of Roman Polanski's ^IChinatown^R. Masterfully researching his subject--from newspaper clippings to first-person accounts--David has done a wonderful thing in this book. He not only brings the history of the state alive through his writing but he does something else--which I consider very difficult and very smart--he uses this history as a foundation for a deeper consideration of the future--for helping us understand where we might go from here.—Thomas Curwen^LDeputy Book Editor^LLos Angeles Times

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