July 2012, Vol. 24, No.7

Water Volumes

Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It

Robert Glennon, Island Press, 2009, 1718 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009-1148, 414 pp., $27.95, softcover, ISBN-13: 978-1-59726-436-5

Looking for an inspiring and critical book about water? You’ve found it.

America’s water crisis is evident, but do we know how complex this problem really is? Robert Glennon gives a comprehensive overview of what is going wrong and the historical, cultural, demographic, and legal reasons for it. He points out that we often are unaware of the huge quantities of water needed to sustain such things as Google’s server farms, biofuel production, and electricity production. These claims are not loose statements; the book is well-documented and comes with facts and figures. He recognizes population growth as the real cause of the water crisis.

Some of the most important water conflicts between states are explained, but it’s an incomplete list, since 35 states are in conflict with one another over water.

Glennon digs deeper than the bare facts — he weighs potential approaches to solve the water crisis. He clearly explains why drilling wells and building dams are not good solutions: That era is over. Desalination seems attractive but requires a lot of energy. And energy not only requires water but also contributes to global warming, which, in turn, makes the water crisis even worse. Cloud seeding is considered, but the lack of evidence that it actually works, combined with its use of toxic silver iodide, kills this method.

Glennon then asks, “Shall we drink pee?” He says that this is part of the solution, since wastewater is a renewable supply that literally increases as the population increases.

Municipal water conservation is another. Looking at America’s water crisis from a European point of view, I can only advise to read and reread this book. It should be remembered that water consumption per capita in Europe typically is four times lower than in the United States.

Glennon writes about America, not about Europe, but it is remarkable that his recommendations combine the best of both worlds. For example, unmetered water consumption would be unthinkable in Europe, and water rights or considering water as a commodity seems totally strange. The latter is defended by Glennon but in such a way that this liberal system can be beneficial for all stakeholders.

The former is just one of the recommendations, but there is much more in this book. A new approach is proposed that is logical and reasonable but at the same time does not avoid challenging or even controversial ideas.

Read the book. Get inspired by these ideas.

This is a visionary book, accessible for everyone related to water — and aren’t we all?


Bart Van der Bruggen is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Leuven (Belgium).


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