by Jaymi Heimbuch
March 24, 2011
Water. It's one of the most essential elements
of life on Earth.
Yet nearly 1 billion people don't have
access to safe drinking water. Our fresh water supplies are badly
polluted and over-allocated. And the waste that occurs from the agricultural
industry to manufacturing sectors is practically criminal.
As supplies disappear and populations soar,
Will our future wars be fought over this
Will governments and corporations
continue to seek ownership of and limit access to what
has been declared a basic human right?
How can we celebrate water, appreciate
it, and ensure both humans and ecosystems alike have enough of it?
In a series of essays by some of the world's top
writers, experts and activists,
Water Matters attempts to answer these
questions and shed light on the alarming situation at hand.
With essays from,
...and many others, as well as compelling images
from some of the world's top photographers, Water Matters is a delicious mix
of tutorial on the status of water, a literary exploration, and photographic
And it starts with the basic notion that "Water
Author Barbara Kingsolver writes in her essay,
"Water is the visible face of climate and
therefore, climate change. Shifting rain patterns flood some regions and
dry up others as nature demonstrates a grave physics lesson: Hot air
holds more water molecules than cold."
It's true that we're seeing
water represent massive shifts in the planet's systems.
In recent years we've watches
crops and livestock waste away during
long-lasting droughts, while in other areas unusually powerful storms create
catastrophic floods. Water has always ruled human life, but our familiarity
with its methods is changing.
We have worked hard to master nature - water specifically. We've
bent rivers and even reversed their flow;
we've drilled into the deepest aquifers and are still busy emptying them
the poisons they hold; and we've created
technology to even conjure it up from thin air. Yet despite this willful
attempt at mastering water, we're finding that it is slipping right through
Even in the US, where we've grown accustomed to the abundance of water,
we're finding out that we happened to settle during an unusually wet time in
the continent's history, as Christina Roessler writes in her essay
"Is Conservation Enough?"
Southwest is drying up, and it's because we
keep sticking more straws into an already overburdened Colorado River, a
river that historically has not run as high as we thought it did.
Yet those living in the West and Southwest who are used to water
conservation can teach us a great deal about living with less, or rather,
living with what we need rather than living wastefully. Can the rest of the
nation catch on fast enough, before aquifers and reservoirs dry up? It's not
just a fear-mongering question, but one we have to honestly ask ourselves,
Water Matters explores this question and so much more.
The book includes essays on topics as diverse as
the ways human spiritualities and religions have evolved around water to the
privatization of water, from the damage
dams have caused for ecosystems and communities to the problem of bottled
water - not just the issues with plastics but the draining of local water
companies like Coca Cola, Nestle, and Pepsi.
The issues with water are vast, but it is simply because water is a
necessity of life. Yet, most of us know so little about it.
Brock Dolman contributes an essay in the
book called "Watershed Literacy",
Do you know where you water comes from?
And no, not just which water utility
company, or even which aquifer or dam, but which mountain range's
snowpack, which river, which delta?
Do you really, honestly know the source
of the water you drink?
Odds are, it will take a little research for you
to know how you got the water that came out of your tap.
We undervalue water - it is one of the cheapest goods and is barely metered
in most of the US. If we were to take the time to understand how we get our
water, what our consumption of it means to the ecosystems from which it is
drawn and to which it would naturally flow,
And yes, conservation has to start here in the
As Bill McKibbon writes in his essay
"Poisoning The Well,"
"The world has become too small in the 21st
century for any nation to export its problems. And if you think these
problems are simply those of the developing world, then visit Las Vegas.
Or Phoenix. Or..."
Yet we don't have to go to the driest spots of
the US to feel the burden.
drying up supplies in the Southeast as
well, one of the wettest areas in the US. Yes, nature is shifting and where
and when water hits is changing, but the extent of the problem is something
we're doing to ourselves through poor use of resources.
In her essay "Shortage In The Land of Plenty,"
Cynthia Barnett writes,
"It's not surprising to see AMericans
slugging it out over who gets how much water. We expect such conflicts
in water-scarce regions of the West, where some states have been duking
it out for more than a century. What's astonishing is to watch water
scarcity and strife emerge in the Southast - the wettest region in the
lower 48. And what's maddening is that we did it to ourselves."
So what will we do to get ourselves out of this
crevice where we've jammed ourselves between a rock and hard, dry place?
As Barnett notes, the solution isn't in
water wars, where we fight to get more and
more. It's in helping each other figure out how to use less and less.
This is the second book that Tara Lohan, editor of Water Matters, has
helped create about the water crisis, the first one being
Water Consiousness published in 2008. In a
conversation, Lohan noted that the global water crisis is huge, and so
specific by region that figuring out the most important issues to highlight
in a single book is quite a challenge.
The team went into this book with the idea that
they wanted to help readers connect the dots on how water affects human
health, the food crisis, human dignity and so on.
The team also clearly spent a lot of time on the design of the book. No
matter your learning style or reading preference - if you like infographics
or long essays, photographs or maps - you will be able to get a ton of
information from this book.
Lohan's dream with this book is not only to help spark understanding and
awareness around water issues, but also to insert water into more of the
conversation within the environmental movement. Energy and pollution, for
example, get a ton of attention from advocates but water - our most precious
and necessary resource for daily life - gets relatively little attention.
Lohan noted that she hopes the book will help
get politicians to pay more attention to water infrastructure and regulation
so that we can see an improvement in our consumption and systems, and
balance of supplies overall.
The information packed into the relatively small Water Matters book is
surprising. It is intriguing for anyone who is just learning about the
extent of water issues in the US and globally, and yet is still entirely
compelling for those who are well versed in the topic.
From prose to graphs, from art to explanatory essays, from activism tips to
a quiz on improving conservation at home, the book has everything...