Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water is a book full of things that will make you say "Wow . . ." or "My God!" or whatever phrase you use as shorthand for "I can't believe that's the way things really are!" Unless you work in water systems, you will probably find out a lot of surprising things -- maybe even if you do. Because here in the USA, and I expect in most developed areas, we just don't think about our water supply. You turn on the water and out it comes. (When Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne knocked out our electricity here in Tampa for two days each, the water was still fine. Despite the warnings when a hurricane is expected that people should stock up on bottled water, it has rarely been needed.)

The Big Thirst shows how quickly, as history goes, we've stopped thinking about water, and how many problems that lack of thought can cause. In 2008, droughts caused Barcelona, Spain, sufficient water shortage that the city arranged to have supertankers full of water delivered to the city regularly. In the same year, the much smaller Orme, Tennessee, had to have fire trucks deliver its drinking (and bathing, and washing) water. Neither city is located in a desert, either. Las Vegas, Nevada, is in a desert, but 60,000 people move there annually anyway, never thinking about where the water they'll use comes from. Much of Australia has similar problems, particularly given the recent years of drought that have nearly shut down the Murray-Darling river system, which both southeastern cities and farmers rely on. On the other hand, most of India's largest cities only manage to pump water through their municipal systems for at most a couple of hours each day. Fishman talks to both the people in charge of some of these urban water systems throughout the world, and those who have to figure out workarounds or cope with not getting the water they need. It's a real wake-up call for people who have always had water available.