Every Drop for Sale
is a great resource to help awaken readers to the dire straits of
water, currently under siege by a combination of industrial pollution,
overpopulation, excessive development and corporate greed. But even as
Jeffrey Rothfeder sounds the alarm, he falls
short on solutions.
Rothfeder says he's laying the groundwork for further study. Editor of PC Magazine and co-author of The People vs. Big Tobacco , he synthesizes a lot of devastating information. He credits former writing partner Robert Ratner, now a professor at Florida International University, with providing the research and impetus that makes the book possible.
``Water may be the single most critical element of life,'' he observes, ``but we don't have a clue about its true nature.''
Half the book is a tour of water woes around the world, suggesting that man's interference with nature contributes more than anything else to the rapid demise of water resources. In that premise seems to lie a solution: Develop sustainable communities built around rivers, lakes and aquifers, as ancient Egyptians learned to live and work with the Nile, instead of trying to control them with expensive, often ineffective dams.
But in most cultures, controlling water seemed a necessity to societies devoted to growth, development and expanding economies. In the past, as in the case of the Everglades flood-control project of the 1940s, environmental impact was never considered.
Today the Everglades are subject to a massive restoration project; at $8 billion, the largest undertaking of its kind. Rothfeder notes that the River of Grass has been cut in half by development and agriculture. He visits Lake Okeechobee and delves into the political aspects of the sugar industry and its support from the federal government, one of the Everglades' greatest threats due to the run-off of polluted waters and the resistance to releasing some of those lands back to water storage areas.
Rothfeder also references the political debacle last summer when leaders in Tallahassee attempted to force through a regulation change that would allow polluted water to be stored in underground wells for later filtration and use.
``In desperation, the state considered measures that otherwise would have seemed unthinkable, such as pumping untreated waste water into underground aquifers, hoping that an experimental treatment process could clean and filter the water before it did permanent harm to water supplies, farm lands and rivers,'' he writes.
That plan was shelved because of environmentalists' opposition, but Gov. Jeb Bush has suggested the issue will likely come up in the future. Yet Rothfeder fails to mention that pumping water into the aquifer is part of the current restoration plan, even though hydrologists warn of water seepage through cracks in the limestone, which could contaminate freshwater supplies nearby.
Having defined the problem in detail and concluded that the management of water contributes to its decline, Rothfeder supports such technological approaches as transfers (moving huge amounts of water from source to need) and desalination, noting that some scientists are concerned that tampering with the oceans could lead to subtle changes in sea water and threaten sea life.
One wonders if he has read the first half of his own book. Even the Army Corps of Engineers admits that its handling of the Everglades in the 1940s was guided by ignorance. Rothfeder's research makes it abundantly clear that even if we do not discern the potential environmental impact of our actions, there are always consequences. If desalination increases the salinity of sea water, it will disturb the balance of nature. In view of all the evidence Rothfeder presents, how can he wonder whether that's a good idea?
Every Drop For Sale is not for leisure reading, but if your idea of water conservation is turning on the lawn sprinklers less frequently, Rothfeder can bring you up to speed on the water crisis. If you are concerned for the future, you may want to read this book to gain an understanding of what needs to be done now.
Trish Riley is a South Florida writer and member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.