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UBC Theses and Dissertations

om a "Whopper" to a "Green and Clean" development : modernity, environmentalism, and the Canadian-American Libby Dam Project Van Huizen, Philip


In the 1940s, planners in both the American West and British Columbia were in the throes of what anthropologist James Scott has termed "high modernism." Development rhetoric during this period promoted the construction of large dams in ways that stressed the rational "conquest of nature" using tools provided by science and technology. The Libby Project, included as part of the Columbia River Treaty and located along the Kootenay River in northwestern Montana and southeastern British Columbia, was initially promoted in a similar fashion. By the time construction of the Libby Dam began in 1966, though, a growing environmental movement changed how planners, such as the US Army Corps of Engineers in Montana and various scientists, politicians, and bureaucrats in British Columbia, described and designed the Libby Dam and its reservoir, Lake Koocanusa. This thesis traces how the "environmental turn" affected the Libby Project from 1948 to the late 1970s. I argue that the larger North American environmental movement gave pre-existing conservation groups and government agencies in Montana and British Columbia greater influence over politicians and legislation. In response, Libby Project planners implemented mitigation measures, "blended" the dam and reservoir into the Kootenay landscape, and appropriated First Nation's symbols and artefacts to make the project seem "native" to the Canadian-American Kootenay Basin. Such efforts also affected how local residents in the area viewed environmentalism and the Libby Dam. In this way, Libby project experts and Kootenay residents were affected by, and a part of, the more general shift from high modernism to environmental modernism that occurred in North America in the mid-to-late twentieth century.

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