Undoing Infrastructure: Trump’s Plan and the Reversal of the Ecological Trajectory of Dams

Authors: Enrique Lanz Oca*, Hunter College - City University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Energy, Environment
Keywords: Infrastructure, dams, ecology, and climate change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the ecological history of dams in the United States and places Trump’s infrastructure plan into this historical trajectory. The paper identifies four phases in this history and connects these phases to political and societal changes. In the mid-nineteenth century dam construction was based upon personal skills of the dam maker and the artisanal nature of society. With the onslaught of precise methods of calculation during the second half of the nineteenth century, dams came to represent engineering mastery, the pinnacle of this mathematical vision being the Hoover Dam, completed in 1936. But some of the dams built under this mathematical regime began to fail epically, killing hundreds. As a result, an ecological vision arose in the middle of the twentieth century. Dam builders began to understand that they could not just make dams with concrete and steel. They would have to also consider the river and weather dynamics as part of their plan. This ecological way of thinking progressed during the second half of the twentieth century until the current administration advanced their much heralded infrastructure plan. I argue that Trump’s infrastructure plan represents a fourth phase in dam construction, characterized by its refusal to recognize rapid changes in climate and river dynamics.

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