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The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

Review by Doug Pushard

The Big Thirst - The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water is a good read for those interested in learning more about our global water crisis. It offers stories from around the globe of both water shortages as well as water successes. From Las Vegas to Australia to Spain to Italy to Atlanta; engaging stories on how water is being used and how municipalities are struggling to meet surging water demands.

The book is jammed with interesting factoids on water. Some of these include:

  • Nationally, the electricity we spend to process and transport our drinking water consumes about 250 gallons of water a day!
  • Farmers use 15% less water today as a group than they did in 1980
  • Orange County residents use 57 million gallons a day of drinking water and 51 million gallons a day of treated effluent
  • Las Vegas water use has dropped by 108 gallons per person per day since Patricia Mulroy took over the Southern Nevada Water Authority
  • Measuring water usage alone, creates an imperative for curiosity and innovation
  • Every state in Australia now has a cabinet level minister for either water or climate change or both and there is a new cabinet minister for water, the same level as the defense minister

The book is written in a very readable, conversational style. The author has researched and documented water stories from around the globe and it is extremely well foot-noted; allowing the interested reader ample sources to drive deeper if desired, and yet keeping the story flowing from one locale to another.

He points out that companies have recognized the value of water and are jumping into the market at an astounding rate bringing innovations with them. It is not just for profit, it is the increased awareness that water should no longer be treated as a readily available resource. Communities and companies are looking for a Plan B. What happens when the worse happens? In locating new plants, water access and availability is a new question added to selecting a locale. Water is increasingly becoming front and center for corporations and cities around the globe.

As has been pointed out elsewhere and he reiterates - the world will add 2.4 billion people between 2010 and 2050, where will the water come from? We need to wean ourselves from abundant water. We are literally floating into the future without a plan.

The last chapter of the book – The Fate of Water – offers wonderful optimism that this is a solvable problem. Unlike Climate Change or the War on Poverty, water is local. Solutions can be built locally. Technologies exists that can have dramatic impact on our current water shortages. The author is very high on greywater, pointing out that it could almost double our current water supply. Making it mandatory in new housing and commercial developments would add only slightly to the costs of these projects, but greatly reduce the demand for potable water over time.

He summarizes that it is the void of political will, our own water illiteracy, and the failure of our water managers to push us out of our comfort zone and into the future that is the problem. “Everything about water is about to change”.

The Big Thirst is a good water read with a final chapter that will you hopeful that at the very least this problem is solvable; unlike some of the other complex issues of the day.

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