River in Ruin by Ray A. March

One American river’s well-researched journey from trickling stream to environmental disaster.


The Carmel River is barely a stream at its source, less than 40 miles long, and likely known only to the residents of its immediate surroundings. But it has a rich and telling history–from early Spanish explorers to its eventual place on the nonprofit environmental organization American Rivers’ top 10 list of Most Endangered Rivers in 1999. But the Carmel is especially important to journalist Ray March because he grew up nearby; with River in Ruin, he makes an excellent case for its story being an archetype of endangered rivers everywhere.

The paradise that is California’s Monterey Peninsula has attracted settlers since 1602, when Sebastian Vizcaino first discovered the Carmel River. Later, railroad magnates adopted the area as a site for profitable tourism, quickly followed by real estate speculators and the development of several small towns. The original Spanish mission and agriculture, followed by the later hotels, golf courses and townships all relied upon the Carmel for water, requiring the construction of dams and reservoirs and the flooding of idyllic valleys. Ecological implications abound: forest fires were exacerbated by a no-burn policy; the local steelhead population is nearly extinct. March details these and more consequences of local development while showing how the growth of the environmental movement nationwide has paralleled local awareness of the plight of the Carmel River and Monterey Peninsula. March’s treatment of the history, the politics and the personalities involved is heartfelt and personal; several times he consults diaries and includes individual stories (including his own), making the Carmel’s story resonate with his readers.


This review originally ran in the April 6, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 salmon.

One Response

  1. […] River in Ruin by Ray A. March is a loving, informed but readable discussion of exactly what the title says. […]

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