Running Out of Water by Peter Rogers and Susan Leal
It is no secret that humankind is facing several environmental crises. Greenhouse gases are slowly cooking the earth, several of our natural resources are nearing depletion, and impending water shortages threaten our way of life.
Friends, news sources, and the Internet bombard us with facts like this every day. It’s hard to make sense of it all, and too easy to feel that there is no hope.
But, as the cliché states, knowledge is power. When you understand a crisis, you can do something about it. This idea is the driving force behind Peter Rogers and Susan Leal’s book, Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource.
Rogers is Professor of Environmental Engineering and City Planning at Harvard University, and Leal is a consultant and former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. They’ve co-authored this book to empower the average water-user with knowledge and hope.
The book contains nine chapters, the first of which explains why we are approaching a water crisis.
Rogers and Leal keep the language simple and break their explanation into several key points, including:
- Less than one percent of all water on the planet is fresh water.
- Most fresh water is unavailable because it’s stored in glaciers and ice.
- Ocean water can be converted into fresh water through a process called desalination, but it is very expensive.
- Much of our water is contaminated. Restaurants and households dump grease and food waste into sewers, and treated and untreated sewage is dumped into lakes and rivers.
- Climate change plays a large role. The authors explain, “The water world is caught in a vicious cycle: Climatic change is reducing our [fresh] water supply, and the systems we use to deliver clean water and treat wastewater produce the same greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”
Each of the next seven chapters book focuses on a solution to one of the many issues surrounding water waste. Rogers and Leal explain these solutions by providing case studies. In the book’s second chapter, they use Orange County, California and its reliance on the Colorado River as a case study.
The Colorado provides water for eight states as well as Mexico, and the combination of overuse and drought is causing it to slowly dry up. In addition, importing water is expensive, and because the process often involves fighting gravity, it uses a lot of energy.
Fortunately, Orange County found a nearby, steady source of water to reduce their reliance on the Colorado River: the sewers. The concept is unappealing, but recycled water is actually cleaner than river water.
The recycling process begins with three steps: microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light treatment. Rogers and Leal explain these processes, so I won’t make an attempt. But, these three steps filter out pollutants like pesticides and pharmaceuticals.
Next, the water is injected into a local groundwater basin and treated again to become drinkable. The entire process uses much less energy than importing water, and reduces the strain on the Colorado River.
A Fascinating, Accessible Book
The authors go on to tackle agricultural water use, the importance of public involvement in instituting large-scale change, converting waste water into energy, and much more. The concluding chapter of the book tells the reader how s/he can take action.
When you reach the final chapter, you will have all the information you need to follow the authors’ suggestions. I can’t say that I completely understand the water treatment and sewage systems the authors describe. But, it’s easy to see which systems conserve water and which do not.
The authors have a very clear message: These solutions work, and they are available and affordable. So, what can we, the average water-using citizens, do to deal with the impending water crisis?
Changing the way our society handles water begins with the most basic of steps: awareness. A good start would be reading this book. It will give you a sense of how much power you have as a voting, tax-paying citizen. And, most importantly, it will give you hope.
The Fine Print
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