Sunday, April 25, 2010

Floyd Dominy

Floyd Dominy has died at the age of 100.

Shockingly, major newspapers haven't picked this up. I imagine they will in the next couple of days. No single person did more to reshape the American West in the second half of the twentieth century than Floyd Dominy. As the head of the Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 to 1969, Dominy made it his personal mission to dam every river in the West. He even wanted to dam the Grand Canyon. Famously, writer John McPhee took Dominy and Sierra Club head David Brower on a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, let them argue about the dam, and then wrote about it in Encounters with the Archdruid. Until his dying day, Dominy had no apologies for his attitude of putting rivers to work. He saw no inherent value in an untamed river. Because of Dominy and a handful of others, virtually no rivers in the West run undammed.

Dominy is largely responsible for one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in American history: the Glen Canyon Dam. Despite the unnecessary damage and destruction of some of the nation's most beautiful places, Dominy said, “Glen Canyon Dam and the creation of the most wonderful lake in the world, Lake Powell, is my crowning jewel."

He lost his job in 1969 only because the Nixon Administration got sick of dealing with him. By all accounts, Dominy bullied everyone to get his way, including his own employees. He also had a habit of trying to sleep with every woman around him, which was not overly endearing to the people he met. Still, we cannot overstate Dominy's importance in our history.

In addition, Dominy's death means that 3 people on my 2010 death list have passed.