Freelance journalist Prud’homme (The Cell Game: Sam Waksal’s Fast Money and False Promises—and the Fate of ImClone’s Cancer Drug, 2004, etc.) offers a comprehensive, even encyclopedic, survey of the dangers, debates, frustrations, failures, technology, greed, apathy and rage that whirlpool around the phenomenally complex issue of freshwater.
The author conducted interviews with principals on all sides of the issue—consumers, entrepreneurs, politicians, business executives, bureaucrats, the rich and the thirsty—and visited key sites, and he provides a generally balanced view of the looming freshwater crisis. He educates us about the depletion of aquifers, the role of big business in the race for water (billions of dollars at stake), the demands that power generation (coal, nuclear) place on water resources, the effects of agricultural runoff on rivers, oceans and marine life, the process of wastewater treatment, global warming, the difference between “gray water” and “black water,” the fragility of cities (due to water demand) as geographically distant as New York City and Los Angeles, the mining industry’s passion for some prime Alaska real estate, droughts and floods, dams and salmon, desalination, shrinking reservoirs and our human determination to keep doing what we’re doing until it’s too late to save ourselves. Prud’homme lauds the Dutch for looking ahead and protecting their land (at enormous expense), and the Singaporeans for their stewardship; praises Intel for recycling much of the water used in computer-chip fabrication; blasts the bottled-water industry, reminding us that about half of the products available are mere tap water—and they generate all those throwaway bottles that most people don’t bother to recycle. And what would a story about liquid gold be without a walk-on by T. Boone Pickens? Hopefully, the author’s commonsensical solutions will be heeded.
As essential work about a topic too-often ignored.