A warning about the worldwide struggle to manage water resources in an era of growing demand and climactic instability.
Droughts in Texas, irrigation problems in Wyoming, concerns about rising sea levels in low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Netherlands, deteriorating drinking-water safety: these are among the many fronts in the world’s ongoing “water wars.” Getting water to go where we want it to, when we want it to, is a large part of the battle, although the real question is whether people can manage to develop new attitudes that will lead to solutions. Can the industrial world, with its increasing population that crowds and pollutes waterbodies, and its gaseous emissions that affect sea levels and cause glacier-melt, rise to the challenge of safeguarding so precious a resource? The author pursues a far-reaching itinerary in order to evoke the global nature of the crisis. She reviews the history of America’s bold experiment with regional improvement through water management, the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority; discusses power needs in areas of rapid population growth; and evaluates decades of successful dike management in the Netherlands (where increased population in below-sea-level areas has heightened fears of a future catastrophic flood). Ward writes of the water politics of the American Southwest, with special focus on the unchecked expansion of Las Vegas, a boomtown whose growth has sucked up so much of the region’s scarce water supply that area springs and wetlands have dried up, dooming wildlife and straining aquifers. Ward’s key arguments: that in earth’s natural climactic workings, there is a finite amount of water; that efforts to control it have historically been hit-or-miss; and that growing population and environmental pressures mandate concerted action. She fails, however, to propose many specific remedies. Ward focuses almost exclusively on the availability of water, power needs, irrigation, and flooding; unfortunately, she sidesteps concerns about the decline of drinking-water safety in industrial nations.
Still, an informed discourse about the vital historical relationship between humans and water, and an overview of a possible global dilemma.