Weird Days at Black Rock

The Valley of Stolen Water

The Alabama Rocks and Mt. Whitney. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

It cannot be condemned and explained simply as rampant capitalism. Although there were certainly powerful private real estate interests and cadres of eager engineers, capitalism is only part of the story. In the case of the legal expropriation of Owens Valley water, only owners of the valley land were private; they were paid with public funds approved enthusiastically by Los Angeles residents, state and federal government officials, and funded by a bond measure approved by election in the city.  Transporting enough water from Owens Valley and later Mono Lake to Los Angeles for it grow throughout the 20thcentury, from 300,000 in 1910 to nearly 4 million today, was the very essence of the slogan of Republican Progressives from Teddy Roosevelt to Arnold Schwarzenegger: “The greatest good for the greatest number.” Yet, always, beneath that happy trope, there was another, best expressed by the supply-side economic baloney peddled by Hollywood’s gift to government, Ronald Reagan: “Greed is good.”

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Bill Hatch lives in the Central Valley in California. He is a member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of San Francisco. He can be reached at:

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