Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America


Whether or not your water looks muddy when you turn on your faucet, Susan J. Marks’ book, Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America, will give you a scare. The book is chockfull of facts, statistics, quotes, and data from sources such as the National Weather Service, United Nations, U.S. Geological Survey, and NOAA, among many other. Marks makes a well documented case for the acute water crisis facing the world.

From Florida to Alaska, North to South Poles, South America to Africa, Iceland to Australia, and not leaving out the oceans, the author tells of the lost of drinking water and changes in precipitation patterns. Shortage and source depletion is already a major cause of border fights and legal disputes as countries, big cites, and farmland spar over water rights.

Water, water, everywhere; but not a drop to drink – Just where is the water? Marks reports:

Oceans – 97%

Glaciers, polar ice caps, and inaccessible groundwater – 2%

Only 0.8% – accessible to satisfy freshwater needs that include energy, agriculture, and industrial and personal use.” (p. 8)

The easiest way to describe the world water problems is that a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion don’t have access to adequate sanitation services, which leads to 2 million or so preventable deaths every year from water-related diseases, says Peter Gleick – (33)

Contributors to the water shortage include the growth of population, particularly were people are settling. Other factors are climate changes, pollution from long term industrial practices, just plain over/unnecessary waste, along with poor planning and maintenance of dams and infrastructure.

Get the lead out – One correctable cause is a potent man made problem: pollution. Another part of the problem is that for many years the standard pipe used to transport drinking water throughout the United States was made of lead. (68) Marks points out that: A big part of the solution would seem to be a no-brainer: replace the pipes. The only problem is that the cost to do that is gargantuan. (67)

Climate is another major factor. The change in weather patterns cause significant floods and drought and permanent shifts in geographic landscape. The end result of climate change is that its macro-level influence on agriculture-the big picture-could well be muted, says Richards (Frank): ‘But locally, the impact on individual farmers may be catastrophic in the drier areas, and it may be beneficial in those that start to get wetter or warmer as a result of changing climate.’ (61)

Water rights? You own the property, you get what’s falls on, flows in, through, or under it, right? Wrong. Water on your property may belong to some other entity: “fifty to one hundred miles away or more,” particularly in the western part of the United States.. Rights to the water, like oil, may be sold separately from the land in some cases.

Suggestions for recover? Marks list the following key points, and quotes Peter Gleick: ‘We have serious water problems, but unlike the global water problem, we have the money, the resources, the technology, and institutions to manage these problems, he says, I’m not saying we do manage them, but we could’. (182)

e Recognizing the problem exists.

e No Simple Solution: Issues that must be addressed to cope with water shortages range from protecting the environment and global warming to fair pricing of water services and equitable distribution of water for irrigation, industry, and household use, Diouf (Jacques) says. (184)

e Conservation, including water reuse.

e Crackdown on Pollution – Nonpoint source pollution (runoff), whether from farm fields or urban landscapes, taints much of the water we have. (201)

e Land Development – The drenching rain turns to a flood that runs off or a lake that evaporates, instead of returning the water to the ground, due to impervious surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and the like. (196,7)

e Government – ‘We’re having a hard time figuring out how to get a handle on this water issue, especially when we have more than twenty different federal agencies managing water (Mike Hightower).’ (203)

e Individuals Can Make a Difference – If in a single day everyone across the country saved one gallon of water that would mean saving a quarter-billion gallons of water. (206) [(The average American uses one hundred gallons of water a day (9)]

In many ways, Aqua Shock, reads more like a textbook than a book intended for the general public . With all the citations and documentation the chapters would have benefited from an objective list and text outline. Included at the end, there is an excellent glossary and list of recommended resources. The book makes an important contribution to raising the awareness of the water crisis, and has many real-life conflicts and situations which will both convince the reader of the problem and in the urgency to find a solution.

Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America

Susan J. Marks

Bloomberg Press, NY 2009

226 pages