Unleash the Rivers

Dams are responsible for some of the worst environmental tragedies in history. We're starting at last to take some down.

Last year, when a group of journalists and historians offered a list of the 100 biggest news stories of the 20th century, the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was ranked 58th. Completion of Hoover Dam didn't make the cut. You sort of expect this from celebrity-infatuated mass culture: when it comes to fundamental achievements that make contemporary civilization work, a stifled yawn. Water, dams, aqueducts, irrigation, hydroelectricity--how borrrrrrring! Really? Los Angeles, world headquarters of celebrity culture, has measured as little as 5 in. (13 cm) of rainfall in a year. And despite occasional monsoons, Southern California is so chronically...

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