Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter William Dietrich traces the history of the second largest river in the U.S. from its unpredictable wildness in frontier days to the controlled, energy-producing river it is today. Dietrich examines the current conditions of the river and the problems facing it from a number of perspectives.
Washington's mighty Columbia River has been transformed in 60 years from an unruly river into a series of placid pools; it is the most heavily dammed river in the world, and the greatest producer of hydroelectricity. Dietrich (The Final Forest), Pulitzer prize-winning science reporter for the Seattle Times, looks at the Columbia as a whole-its history, geology, biology, hydrology, economics, contemporary politics and management. The report is disturbing and compelling. Wild salmon stocks have nearly disappeared; there are competing demands on the river for power, irrigation and fish. Dietrich charges that no single agency is in charge of measuring pollution or maintaining the health of the river. Conceding that dams are of undeniable benefit, producing energy, food, navigation and flood control, he notes that few would pass environmental and economic review today. This comprehensive survey of the Columbia ecosystem points out the social and environmental costs of engineering marvels. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)