Dominy lives

Today’s LA Times carries the obituary of one Floyd Elgin Dominy, who ran the U.S. Bureau of Land Reclamation from 1959 to 1969 and lived to be 100.

Dominy was the greatest builder of New Deal government work projects. He was of a time when Democrats built dams, rather than dismantle them. Glen Canyon Dam, which dammed the Colorado and flooded some of the most magnificent canyons of the West, was his “crowning jewel.”

He was also a master bureaucrat. Marc Reisner’s superlative 1986 book Cadillac Desert contains numerous anecodotes and quotes from Dominy’s friends and associates, some not attributed for pretty obvious reasons:

* “I was amazed by him. He had the constitution of a double ox. He’d be dead drunk at a party at three a.m. and he’d be testifying at eight-thirty the next morning and you couldn’t tell.”
* “When he testified he spouted numbers like a computer. He spoke with absolute self-assurance. It was all hogwash. If he didn’t know a number, he made one up.”
* “If Dominy were commissioner today, he’d be killed.”

Most amazing of all, Dominy was one of those 0ld-school government officials who actually believed in what he was doing. So much so, in fact, that he wasn’t afraid of  public records. In fact, Marc Reisner (who died in 2000) couldn’t have written Cadillac Desert — which is mostly a compelling examination of the economic and ecological waste brought on by all that dam-building — without Dominy’s assistance.

“I am much in debt to Floyd Dominy, another great storyteller, who believes in open files and is as fearless of consequences as his reputation suggests,” Reisner wrote in the book’s Acknowledgments.

You don’t find ’em like that anymore. “I’m an enigma,” Dominy told Reisner, “even to myself.”

-Anthony Pignataro

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  1. Admin
    Admin Author 28 April, 2010, 17:51

    Whatever their sins, which were many and crimson, guys like that built America, and California.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  2. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 2 May, 2010, 10:47

    Praise for a government employee? Say it ain’t so, John.

    Reply this comment

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