June Book Review

This month’s review is by Tom Tomlinson

Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles

By Jared Orsi

Here’s a book for our parched southern California time: it’s about rain, too much rain; it’s about floods and the region’s now century-long efforts to harness excessive, disobedient rainfalls and the property-destroying, life extinguishing floods. In the now four year long drought that is our present condition, Orsi’s tightly written, meticulously well researched, well footnoted, and illustrated work reminds us that our present parched-moment is not unique in the weather history of southern California.

While Orsi’s story is about too much water and the constructions—dams, catch basins, and concrete boxed channels–that intend to speed rainfall to the Pacific Ocean, it is also about not enough water in the region as well. Orsi captures the sense of urgency that in 1917 inspired LA County to form the Flood Control District and its partnership with the Army Corps of Engineering; this urgency built dams throughout the San Gabriel Mountains, including those above Sierra Madre. And, following the floods of March 1938, south facing river-rock strewn streams and rivers were concretized throughout LA County channeling water to the Pacific.

Sierra Madre readers present in the late 1960s and early 1970s will be pleased to read and remember Orsi’s explanation of the SOS—Save Our Stream—Sierra Madre’s grassroots movement as one of the regions first environmental-aesthetic responses to the prevailing concrete boxed channel responses to the Army Corps/LA County

Flood Control District style of moving water from the greater Los Angeles area to the Pacific Ocean.
For more than 135 years, Southern Californians have adjusted to the extremes of too much and too little water; and the evidence of those adjustments are everywhere evident throughout the region. This is a book not to be missed by local readers concerned about the ying and yang of drought and flood that promises to be our enduring relation with water.


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