Anthropocene Diaries: Searsville Dam

Keith Kloor had a nice riff the other day on the question of how we should decide what “nature” is supposed to look like, now that we’re kinda in charge:

It’s not my job to say what nature should mean in a world shaped primarily by humans–I’m still working it out, myself–but I know others feel this is a discussion we should be having.

Yup. Clumsily, it’s a discussion we’re having now, piecemeal, one prairie and watershed and treeline and backyard at a time. As, for example, the discourse underway today on the vastly altered peninsula south of San Francisco where Stanford University’s eucalyptus-decked campus (an Australian import) is so physically and culturally dominant.

Stanford, it seems, has a dam, which some folks thing ought to be removed:

Two environmental organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Stanford University, claiming the school’s management of Searsville Dam and Reservoir harms steelhead trout and violates the Endangered Species Act.

So we’ve got our normal toolkit in place for these sorts of societal discussions – the Endangered Species Act, its blade dulled by the years but no one can remember where Richard put the sharpener before he left. Crap, but this kind of a job is a hassle with such a lousy tool.

And we’ve got the canonical argument:

There many issues to consider besides the steelhead, Lapin noted. Since the dam was built in 1892, the reservoir has created wetland habitat that would disappear if the dam is removed. And the land beneath the dam has been developed, leading to concerns about flooding.

Charging into the Anthropocene, which anthros get to decide?


  1. “Endangered Species Act, its blade dulled by the years but no one can remember where Richard put the sharpener before he left” — nice line and paragraph, John. Poetical. // I don’t see how humans can have any involvement within our physical reach that doesn’t result in human impact on a scene. Even when we leave a spot “untouched,” that place is still within a sphere we’re touching big-time.

  2. Mark – Thanks, and I especially love hearing this from you as someone who’s spent so much time in and thinking about wild places.

  3. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, Feruary 3, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  4. Actually, Stanford and the environmental community have been discussing Searsville for over a decade. This has produced dozens of meetings, field visits and studies. Nonetheless, Stanford remains committed to watering its lawns with Searsville water even if it precludes the recovery of endangered salmon. So the ESA is invoked at the end of the process to break a logjam, not the start. Perhaps that’s one of the ESA’s important roles: to remind people the they can’t talk forever (which always benefits one party) but at some point have to make decisions and in the context of society’s laws and values.

    In this case the salmon are vastly more imperiled than cattails and redwing blackbirds. All scientists agree on that the issue is cheap water for golf courses versus environmental restoration, not trumped up conflicts between salmon and wetlands.

  5. Pingback: Another Week of GW News, Feruary 3, 2013 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Test Blog

Comments are closed.