Daniel Walker looks at San Diego’s attempts to secure a stable water supply.
by Eliza L. Martin / Current Intelligence / Originally published January 17, 2011
Daniel Walker. Thirst for Independence: The San Diego Water Story. San Diego: Sunbelt Publications, 2004. xi + 163 pp. $16.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-932653-62-8.
San Diego, California, located in the southwestern corner of the United States just north of the Mexican border, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the desert, currently imports approximately 90 percent of its water. Most comes from the Colorado River, hundreds of miles to the east. Daniel Walker’s Thirst for Independence takes a closer look at this region’s relationship to water resources. The book examines the development of San Diego County’s water supply, including the physical systems and the bureaucracies currently in place to convey water to this rapidly expanding community.
Walker begins his book with the acknowledgement that “this account of San Diego County’s past, present, and future water problems is written more for those who live and work in the county than for historians or scholars,” and I agree with this assessment (p. vii). With this popular history based mostly on interviews and secondary sources, Walker, a long-time resident of San Diego County, intends to reach a broad audience instead of specialists. The book offers a useful source for those seeking basic background information on how San Diego has arrived at its current water challenges, and successfully explains in simple terms where the water that supports Southern California originates. A concise history of water in San Diego, this book covers quite a bit of ground in only 152 pages.
This top-down, political history focuses mostly on San Diego’s relationship with the Colorado River, currently the county’s main source of water. Yet Walker begins much earlier with a summary of the major developments in the history of San Diego’s potable water infrastructure. He starts his narrative with the arrival of Spanish explorers and missionaries, and their difficulties negotiating both drought and floods as they attempted to build a new type of settlement in Southern California. Walker gives short shrift to the next pivotal stage in this story–the early period of water infrastructure growth in the county, the period between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when entrepreneurs and engineers built a large number of massive dams across the county. He then takes a few detours away from San Diego proper to discuss Los Angeles’s claims to the Owens River, the growth of the Imperial Valley, and the construction of Boulder Dam and the Colorado River Aqueduct.
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Tip of the hat to George at Groksurf’s San Diego.