The Dam Builders
On Memorial Day, 1948, the Vanport River breaks its dikes and devastates a community of World War II veterans and their families. Most of the community is out of town for holiday parties, but Larry Scott loses not only his home but more importantly his wife and child in the ensuing flood that destroys everything in its path. Larry survives, mentally and physically, and finds purpose in continuing his education under the GI Bill’s available largesse in the postwar years. However, his education becomes more focused on the role of the Columbia River in providing electricity to nearby towns and cities. The process of dam building and water rights are fascinating in that they deal with engineering, finance and laws affecting millions of Americans, who for the most part ignore the details but protest the results when circumstances go awry.
In a novel that reads more like nonfiction at times, the reader gets an education about the Japanese internment during the war, the McCarthy tactics after the flooding at the Grand Coulee Dam, the Hell’s Canyon murders of Chinese workers, and the actual government interests in the Grand Coulee project as well as its manipulations to further its economic plans. The latter receives comprehensive coverage as it affects the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla and Yakima Tribes, who turned over their land in return for broken fishing rights.
Bill Gulick has obvious prodigious knowledge about the history, planning and process that produces pivotal dams, barriers that both protect and harm innumerable United States citizens, including Native Americans. He has managed to present this historic story in a fascinating, fictional form that counts the cost of one energy supply too often ignored.