‘The Dreamt Land’ Review: California’s Precious Resource

The Golden State is cursed with some of the finest weather and richest soil on earth. Its luminous skies and airy loam have been crucial to California’s transformation into our most populous and agriculturally most bountiful state. But capricious nature has withheld one essential resource needed to sustain this dizzying growth—water. In his sprawling, provocative book “The Dreamt Land,” journalist Mark Arax examines California’s long-building water crisis with the keen, loving, troubled eye of a native son.

From the earliest days, Americans have gone to California to grab what they could. The state’s history can be seen as a series of “rushes,” each as extractive as the headlong dash for gold that started it all—and each dependent on water. It’s no coincidence that California gold was discovered in a river—the American River, at the town of Coloma, in January 1848—because the current had flushed it out of the mountains where it was formed. And water proved indispensable throughout the Gold Rush. Perhaps the era’s most enduring image is of a grizzled 49er standing in a stream, bent over his shallow pan. But in just a few years the solitary prospector was thrust aside by industrial-scale hydraulic mining that tore away whole mountainsides in quest of the precious mineral.

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