A lucid primer on water technology.
Civilizations appeared without many things, including iron, the wheel, domestic animals or writing, but water was critical. Providing it has always taxed human ingenuity, writes Sedlak (Civil and Environmental Engineering/Univ. of California) in this chronicle of “the essential ingredient of life.” Dividing its history into stages, the author begins 2,500 years ago with Water 1.0. Growing cities, with Rome being the supreme example, built complex pipes and channels to bring in water and carry away sewage—usually not very far. This remained the norm until 19th-century scientists understood that sewage spread disease, especially cholera and typhoid. This led to Water 2.0: treating drinking water, usually with filtration and/or chlorine. Clean drinking water is still considered man’s greatest public health achievement. Sewage continued to pour into rivers and harbors, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that the smell, visible filth and outrage from downstream cities led to Water 3.0: a vast infrastructure of sewage treatment plants. In the second half of the book, Sedlak discusses Water 4.0: technology in the works to deal with (and pay for) water shortages, which are already upon us. Conservation is only modestly effective. Desalinization remains expensive; drinking treated sewage produces horror from laymen and their representatives, but effluent already makes up a large percentage of our rivers and tap water. One possible solution is to abandon centralized systems to treat and recycle wastewater in our homes and neighborhoods. Our electrical and communication infrastructure is relatively cheap and often in the news. Water infrastructure is expensive and lacks enthusiasts, but in Sedlak’s hands, it isn’t boring.
A solid popular examination of our most vital natural resource.