Denver Post book review — ‘The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century’

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From The Denver Post (Hank Lamport):

From the premise that water’s abundance is now waning on a planet with 7 billion people, [Alex Prud’homme], a writer for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, plumbs the intricacies of its ebbs and flows.

He worries that the energy behind the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts of the 1970s has dissipated, allowing unregulated chemical runoff from agricultural, industrial and mining uses to poison wells and aquifers. Prud’homme revisits mid- decade European studies that found traces of cocaine in Italian water and analyzes “chemical cocktails” in U.S. supplies that impact the reproduction of fish species in Chesapeake Bay. We meet water managers of desiccated desert cities and read of the lengths they must go to assure supplies for their communities.

With all parties attempting to maximize their access to the resource, prognosis for a balanced response to these myriad challenges is not rosy. Big-project engineering maintains we need all possible solutions in our arsenal to combat the bottlenecks ahead. “Flipping the Mississippi” envisions extravagantly pumping excess floodwaters from the Mississippi drainage to the Front Range or the Ogallala Aquifer, leaving more of the runoff from the Western Slope in the Colorado Basin for residents of Arizona and California. Massive desalination efforts still appear to be prohibitively expensive and politically untenable.

A countervailing approach is provided by Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, who offers the environmentalist’s “tread lightly” view. Gleick promotes mechanical innovations such as low-flush toilets, drip irrigation and other proven conservation methods to forestall the crunch ahead. One wonders, though, if we are already past the point where even those measures can stop a dystopic water future where decayed infrastructure and corporate profits are the critical factors.

Here’s the link to the book on the Tattered Cover website.

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