Monday, January 19, 2009

Not a Drop to Drink: America's Water Crisis [and What You Can Do]

Sub-zero high temperatures last week kept me in the house (the greatest perk of freelancing, no doubt), so I made some progress toward rebalancing acquisitions versus completions.

I have a peculiar interest in books about water issues. Ever since I read Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert seven or eight years ago, this stuff just fascinates me. Now I've reached the point where whenever an author refers to another book about water issues, the odds are better than 50-50 that I've already read it. I have more books about the subject than most Midwestern libraries.

It was once hard to find books about water, but there has been a flood (sorry) of them in the past few years as problems become more acute all over the world. Almost all of them state that water is becoming "the new oil" in terms of scarcity and conflict. I first saw Not a Drop to Drink: America's Water Crisis [and What You Can Do] by Ken Midkiff in my local bookstore in December 2008, although it came out in 2007.

The book serves as a decent introduction to the range and severity of water problems in the United States. It discusses the Ogallala Aquifer going dry, the Colorado River being overallocated, and the looming threat of privatization. Midkiff scores points for including (albeit briefly) some regional issues that aren't mentioned in similar books, as well as discussing the negatives of solutions such as desalination plants and Arctic icebergs. He also devotes more coverage to privatization, which is rarely addressed in general books that tend to focus on scarcity. Unfortunately, most topics are not covered to a satisfying depth.

The "What You Can Do" part of the title caught my attention even though I'm too pessimistic and jaded to ever be much of an activist. Midkiff didn't really convince me otherwise; I still think money and power will determine the outcome of most water wars regardless of the sign-wielding, parched masses.

Overall, Not a Drop to Drink is an adequate Cliffs Notes about American water issues. If you haven't been paying attention to water troubles, it will bring you up to speed and perhaps inspire you to read further. Alas, for someone well-read in the subject, there isn't enough new ground covered to make the book particularly noteworthy. I have included links to some other water books that I like below.

Current tally: 6 books finished, 7 books acquired


Jennifer said...

Maybe I shouldn't encourage an addict, but...

On privatization, it looks like Thirst and Bottlemania cover that particular topic in more depth. I just cheated and read the associated Grist features here and here.

Truly frightening thought. If I ever had a bottled water habit, that knocked me right out of it.

David Johnsen said...

Thanks. I own Thirst but haven't read it yet. Actually, that's a good example of my addiction to books and particularly water books. Privatization is one of the least interesting water issues to me, yet I still bought a whole book about it! (That's not to say privatization isn't important, especially since Mayor Daley has been auctioning off our public assets lately (the Chicago Skyway, Midway Airport, parking meters...), just that such predictable corporate bastardry doesn't intrigue me as a reader.)

As for Bottlemania, that topic has been beaten to death in articles on progressive Web sites like AlterNet (and I assume Grist) to the point where I couldn't imagine reading an entire book about it. Besides, most recent water books, especially those focused on groundwater pumping, include a chapter or two about bottling schemes.