Thursday, July 3, 2008

When the Rivers Run Dry Water: The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century / Fred Pearce -- Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

Pearce's When the Rivers Run Dry is a nice introduction to hydrological problems around the world. From ground water to aquifers, from sea water to rain water, Pearce describes attempt to capture and use a resource that is in ever-increasing demand. Besides giving the impression that everything hydrologists have done in the past 150 years was a mistake, Pearce drive homes the maxim, "water runs up hill to money," meaning that those with money always have the power to acquire water at whatever cost to others or the environment. It's a sobering read with one hopeful note: "We never destroy water...Somewhere, sometime, it will return, purged and fresh."

1 comment:

  1. When Rivers Run Dry: Water - the Defining Crisis of the Twenty First Century is indeed a good introduction to hydrological problems around the world. Pearce's writing is very enjoyable, and the information is well researched. The book is organized around various responses to when rivers run dry... crops fail, we mine our children's water, wet places die, floods may not be far behind, etc.

    The majority of the book is fairly doom and gloom, chronicling diverse examples of water management projects with cost overruns, fewer benefits than expected, unintended negative consequences, and corrupt or cynical political motivations. The last few chapters address alternatives for how to go about and think about water management.

    The book is interesting and informative; however, I was disappointed in it for not setting out a clearer framework for making decisions about when and how to manage water resources. Although there is some consistency to the measures Pearce uses to evaluate the water projects he highlights as failures in the beginning of the book, these are not very clearly drawn out, nor are they applied to the smaller scale solutions he paints in a positive light at the end of the book. For example, the lining of ditches in large-scale irrigation projects is criticized for preventing the replenishment of groundwater sources, but in praising small scale, on-site rainwater harvesting there is no discussion of how this might effect groundwater sources.

    When Rivers Run Dry provides a clear account of the problems with twentieth century water management techniques and gives some inklings of different options and ways of approaching water resources. Coming up with a decision-making framework for how households, communities, regions, nations, and larger watersheds might responsibly and peaceably steward and share water resources will require a great deal of further thought.