The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California
By Mark Arax
576 pp., Knopf
For two summers in a row, I had the privilege of acting as an interpreter for a team of auditors of an international development organization which was involved in a reservoir and irrigation project in Armenia. My two big memories from that experience were the adage, “Water is life” and how rural individuals and groups in Armenia had it in them to get organized and advocate for themselves in the face of a rather rigid government and a major global donor. It was moving and impressive.
The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax has numerous such tales to share in the continuing saga of “Water is life” across a territory about 15 times the size of Armenia with a history of pipelines, wells, irrigations, dams and claims and counter-claims on land and land use that date back two centuries. The book is in part a history of California told through its management of water and other natural resources and a compilation of investigative reporting pieces, alongside profiles of notable figures past and present. There’s also plenty of social commentary, as well as autobiographical elements. It is a lengthy piece of writing – sometimes disjointed, often very much detailed – but always revolving around the same key question: Who gets to decide what to do with the land and the water in California, how and why?