Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin

Most peoples of the world have taken water for granted, even when they realize it may be poisoning them and they are the reason for the poor quality in the first place.  The first U.S. clean water law in the late 19th century was passed not because the Hudson River was a cesspool, but because there were so many dead animals dumped into it that it became a hazard to navigation.

We've gotten better at protecting the environment enough that we don't harm ourselves as much as in the past, but the author makes the case that water will be the cause of some of the great political conflicts in this century.  Whenever it is cheaper to get fresh water from somewhere else rather than clean up the situation nearby, the local solution always is to get that other water. The Great Lakes contain about 1/5th of the world's fresh water and is an ongoing target for those schemes .

A recent example was a proposal in 2005 to take a large ocean-going tanker ship into Lake Superior, fill it with water, and transport the water to S.E. Asia.  There have been attempts to divert water out of the lakes for local and not so local consumption in the states bordering the Great Lakes and those efforts have resulted in a compact between the states and provinces bordering the lakes that is flawed and needs improvement to truly protect the Great Lakes over time.  Mr. Annin details the history of those efforts and the resulting compact(s) in a way that is very readable.  It's a fairly quick read and is a topic that is current in each area of the U.S. Current examples include Florida and Alabama fighting with Georgia over water for Atlanta, the Great Plains running out of water for agriculture, all of the Southwest, water diversion in the Northwest, and issues with supplying the greater New York City area. 

I'm glad I read this book, even though I would not normally have done so except it was my local book club's selection.  The environment is important but many environmental writers are so earnest and rigid that it takes away from the message.  That is not the case with this book. 

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