I love this picture.
E.C. LaRue was a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who in 1916 assembled the first attempt at a rigorous scientific survey of the water resources of the Colorado River Basin. Water Supply Paper No. 395 will never be mistaken for great literature. LaRue was one of America’s early technocrats, intellectual ancestors of a thousand government employees and consultants today laboring over Federal Register Notices and Environmental Impact Statements. And yet, clumsily, LaRue reached for a grand vision when he opened the work with a five paragraph “Comparison With the Basin of the Nile.” This is no ordinary project we are embarking on, he seemed to be saying, but rather an opportunity to build one of humanity’s great societies.
In 1923, LaRue returned as a member of the Birdseye Survey, which returned to gather the data he had lacked when writing his 1916 report. But within a decade, he had left government service, frustrated by what he thought was the failure to listen to science. He thought evaporation would be too high at the Boulder Canyon dam site (what we now call “Hoover Dam”, which was really built at Black Canyon, not Boulder Canyon). He favored building the river’s first great dam at Glen Canyon instead.
Most importantly, LaRue argued that there was less water in the Colorado River than people thought.
- The Colorado River and its Utilization, USGS Water Supply Paper No. 395?