A Doubtful River documents our Rivers history
For some people who live within its reaches, the Truckee River may be an unremarkable
piece of the landscape. They might fish in its currents, ride a bike, or stroll
along its banks. Communities survive thanks to its water. Until floods or drought
draw attention to its influence over our lives, most who live in the Truckee
Meadows or along the rivers upper or lower reaches pay it little mind.
Several years ago, two photographers and a Reno writer set out to tell its
story, the culture and politics surrounding its water distribution and how those
factors affect the lives of those who live in the high desert it feeds.
The issue is important to study at this particular moment in time, but
also over time, said Robert Dawson, a Bay Area photographer, who along
with Reno photographer Peter Goin and University of Nevada, Reno English lecturer
Mary Webb produced A Doubtful River.
First published in 2000, the book now is available in paperback from the University
of Nevada Press ($29.95). The year it was released the book received the Wilbur
S. Shepperson award from the Governors Awards in the Arts and Humanities.
Dawson and Goin began working on a documentary project involving water in
the west several years ago, Webb said. When they decided to focus on the Truckee,
particularly its most recent years because of its historical interest
they recruited Webb to connect their photos with essays fleshing out
the rivers life from its source at Lake Tahoe to its terminus at Pyramid
The Truckee was the first river to be diverted for its water use in
the west, Webb said. The first to be altered by the U.S. government
for irrigation purposes. The idea was to keep that Jeffersonian promise of individual
farms alive in the Great Basin. Webbs essays begin at the birth
of its waters through snowfall. She tells stories of ranching and community
and finally examines what the future holds for this small western river.
The Truckee has interesting issues, Dawson said.
Some are unique to the Truckee, he said, such as its importance as the spiritual
heart of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Others, such as ranching and economic
development, are issues that face the entire western United States in its efforts
to confront and implement water use in an arid climate.
Dawsons and Goins photographs document the rivers uses and
landscape from homeless camps hidden along its urban banks to the industrial
and agricultural elements that feed on its resources.
The 151 photos contrast the rivers loveliness with the devastation of
its floods and the affects on land, humans, and animals of its dry years.
Throughout, the people who depend on the river weave a history that is descriptive
and a future that is uncertain.
We wanted parallel stories woven together to give readers and viewers
multi-layered positions on what had been happening (with the river), Webb
Susan Skorupa is a feature writer for the Reno Gazette-Journal covering
local arts and literature.