I ramble sometimes, especially when I think of water.
I can’t remember the last time water was taken hostage, like it used to be. I was only six years old back in 2012, the last time I remembered traveling to the Southwest with my parents. We visited the shimmering desert cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, places where anything seemed possible. As I grew older, I learned about the impossibility of these places without the Hoover Dam and its water. It was too easy being passive consumers – enjoying mowing our lawns in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the lost Las’s of post-modernity.
Growing up and seeing water flowing down a river was not an indication of waste, but a reminder of community. The old ideas behind income, wealth, and luxury showed me how simple the shifts were in our collective lives. Habitat no longer equated money. It was damn inevitable that things would come to this point. The reservoirs were drying up! The aquifers were depleted, the deltas barren, the fauna shunned and the flora—only invasive!
What a breath of fresh air it was, when the deconstruction of wasteful and inevitably decrepit regional infrastructures happened some years ago! Part of the doing (or undoing) of our local environment was when the Hoover Dam (or the Damned Hoover, as all the “Thirst World” residents used to call it) was serendipitously allowed to flow free, through an act set in motion by the initial stoppage of its flow. There was an entropic reality to a muted river back when I was a kid, instead of the simply synthetic one we have today (fig. 1).
“Thirst World” (fig. 2)was more of a way of thinking, than it was a group of people. Its residents began by repopulating the old river edges of the Colorado (which at the time was not flowing in its traditional direction, because of the Dam). We wouldn’t know it before hand, but this was the beginning of the end for places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The remaining Pueblo people, sitting in their reservations, looked on to the evaporating western water supplies with a sense of collective déjà vu. They would not be the first civilization on this arid continent to get parched lips and see the salt collect on their farms like snowdrifts.
As regional and state governments eroded after the election debacle of 2020, a group of Thirst World residents began to enact their plan for returning the Colorado River to its original flow. A thoroughly progressive sentiment swept those states; they decided to cut their losses and apply the rest of their fossil fuel wealth to the wholesale redistribution of their populations, cites, and farms. Redistribution according to laws more in line with the will of nature.
The plan called (fig. 3) for a dam breach, enacted by a “Carving” period, where industrial diamond cutting saws would cut out a portion of Hoover Dam’s walls, enabling a new flow through the dam. The second action was creating an “Extension” of vertical circulation from the top of the dam down to the newly opened river bed. The final portion called for the “Inhabitation” and development of a new set of cities, along the river.
What they did not foresee was the eventual monumentality of the dystrophic Hoover Dam.
When the water stopped flowing to the major nodes, and went back to its natural flood plains and deltas, it was as if there was let go a dream to control. I remember once what Ed Abbey the old western miscreant said, that the “free flowing river is associated with anarchy, freedom, autonomy, individualism, purity,” whereas our slimy reservoirs “symbolizes filth, bureaucracy, containment, confinement.” There was an absence of anthropocentric thinking, and it was humbling.
The Carving period was a centralized effort to cut a hole through the Hoover Dam, which would allow water to flow freely to the newly populated area located along the old Colorado River banks and deltas. I remember when the cutting started—and no one thought that it would work! But there was a renaissance of concrete diamond cutters in this country, which has seen more than a few of our 20th century concrete Goliaths go under the knife. Once these artists got within 20’ of the back edge of the dam, the cutters were removed and the next phase of the hole carving started, which was a series of controlled underwater explosions on the back side.
The sight was beautiful! The opening allowed the Colorado to run freely for the first time in almost one hundred years. The front opening was gushing out, like a full-strength water hose, and setting things back to normal. The giant whirlpools on the back side of the dam resembled a toilet flushing.
Within in a few hours, Old Lake Mead was downsized and a ferocious new waterfall was constructed at the base of the carve. They could have destroyed them with fantastic dynamite displays, and the river would carry the aggregate and rebar down to the Gulf of Mexico, but they wanted these great bulwarks of misguided intentions and ego-mania to stand as impotent yet powerful reminders of who we had been as country.
Reckless western-charging improvisers ignored history and logic, determined to plow the desert into a boundless cornucopia. Manifest destiny was the popular ignorance of the time. We know better now.
For years, the notion of a primitive communalism was criticized for being to idyllic or utopian, but once we crossed the threshold of technology that we had as a society, these primitivisms were far from basic. It was best for us to abandon our Pavlovian response to the dangers of a fluctuating river.
The dam was the first form of human-built impedance to go. These American monoliths were solid hinges between our metaphorical values: existence and famine, wealth and depravity, natural and industrial. After it was blown through, the water flowed freely, almost exactly as it had for millennia. After the first few years of resettlement along the riverbanks, the local community syndicates decided to create the first nature center focusing on adverse effects versus the natural courses of nature. It called for a new public icon that was freely used and volunteer run. The placement along the back edge of the once halting force of the damn, was intended to bring to light how the dam worked and what it held back. People would then be transported to the main explosion hole at the near-bottom of the dam where a floating platform box truss space framed views of Old Lake Mead basin to the North and the newly freed up Colorado River to the South (fig. 6). Finally, the public would go the very heart of the damage, 40 feet below grade where the silt had accumulated throughout the years the damn was operative, but was going nowhere. The Silt Room framed the spectacle of our nature’s ruins in a surreal capsule made of 6” thick glass (fig. 1, 7).
Techno-futurism took on a new gloss, as we had to renovate our aging infrastructures and technologies. We replaced our amber waves of GMO grain on sandy soil with tumbling apoplectic patchworks of permacultured communities and intensive hydroponic closed-loop systems.
Large cities in the desert became deserted, as they always have (fig. 8). Irrigation became small scale, as it has always been. Humans adapted, as they always will.
COPYRIGHT 2011, 2015
ANDREW SANTA LUCIA, JOHN STEWART CLARK AND KEVIN ANDREW STEWART