This novel focuses on rapidly decreasing natural resources - in this case, the delivery of water from the Perdido River in Northern California to the southern part of the state, using a system of waterbags to transport massive amounts of water.
Aqueduct Systems Corporation bids for the job even though the area is under the aegis of strict environmental protective laws. Local special interest groups gather to challenge the removal of water from the Perdido, requesting legal representation from the New York-based Environmental Consultants Clearinghouse.
Jessie Domingo is sent by the Clearinghouse as a community liaison and Fitch Collier as attorney of record. Jessie and Fitch join with Friends of the Perdido, headed by Bernina Tobin and Joseph Openshaw, an ecologist and former resident. Both sides gather for the State Water Resource Control Board Hearings that will determine the fate of the Perdido River.
Jessie meets like-minded souls in the small town where she is registered at the only motel, immediately at ease with Stephanie Pace, owner of the local cafe, and Curtis Hope, a member of the tribal council of the Pomo Indians. The locals feel betrayed by one of their own, Timothy McNear, who has offered his long-closed mill as a base of operations for Aqueduct Systems, fronted by Gregory Erickson.
Before the hearings even get underway, there is an act of sabotage and tempers rise, adding to the turmoil. It seems there is a past history at work here, behind-the-scenes manipulations that do not bode well for the success of the hearings or the environment.
Cape Perdido is on a collision course with history as an unsolved murder rises to the surface, followed by the stealthy destruction of the waterbagging apparatus and a fire that destroys the mill where Aqueduct Systems Corporation planned to locate their material. Suddenly people disappear from the scene with no explanation, and the culprit behind the recent violence remains anonymous.
Friends and acquaintances who have known each other for years are suspicious, unsure how much loyalty really exists between them. Clearly Cape Perdido has unfinished business, the friendly atmosphere belying a false serenity. The long-buried history of Cape Perdido reaches into the present while buried secrets are used as leverage against anyone unwilling to bow to the inevitable progress in a world obsessed with the need for natural resources.
The dwindling resources of the planet have come to roost in Cape Perdido, a test case for interventionist policies challenging environmental protection. The citizens of Cape Perdido consider their water rights inviolate in this classic battle of environment versus corporate intervention; ties to other nations add another layer of complication. The small town of Cape Perdido holds the secrets of the coastline. Finally, the public face is betrayed by unresolved issues, the strange destiny of a friendship and the influx of progress.