"Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis"

April 15, 2012



Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis

By Cynthia Barnett
Beacon Press, $26.95

Reviewed by TOM HENRY

I'm a self-professed water geek, with a strong Great Lakes focus. My friend Cynthia Barnett is also a self-professed water geek, with a strong Florida focus. Now that we've got that messy little disclosure out of the way, I have to hand it to her: Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis blows me away.

Can you be envious and proud at the same time? Cynthia takes readers on a highly ambitious worldwide search not only for evidence of water conflicts and tension, but also in search of a water ethic. Sadly, she finds little evidence of one, at least not consistently enough and in areas that most need them, especially the United States.

Her book is a call to action, imploring readers to see the potential of applying Aldo Leopold's land ethic to water management.

She’s right. There are water management districts everywhere. But a unified, systematic approach to conserving and using water more wisely in all walks of life, from producing energy to flushing toilets, is lacking. That's happening even as the crisis worsens, with more people here and abroad lacking access to clean water.

Barnett makes the point that water abundance is a myth we’ve all grown up with and come to accept.

I'd go a step further and say water management is, bad pun intended, an incredibly dry subject to way too many people. Much of the public’s interest in water is, like air, crisis-driven. Too often, discussions are left to policy wonks and lawyers until there's an oilspill of the magnitude of those associated with BP’s in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Most people today are unaware that one of the key driving forces behind the first Earth Day in 1970 was the massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif.

But I digress. This book isn’t about spills. It’s about the deepening crisis over sheer volume, from Atlanta to the Colorado River and across the globe.

Blue Revolution is hardly the first to sound the alarm over excessive and misplaced water usage. But in this book you get into the mindset of one of the West’s biggest power brokers, Las Vegas water authority chief Patricia Mulroy. You also get a greater appreciation of people and issues from Milwaukee to San Antonio to Singapore to Holland.

The book provides vivid examples of what works, what doesn't and why people should care.

Through her keen observations and impassioned quest for what drives society’s collective thoughts about water, Barnett taps into the psyche of apathy, neglect, and indifference that has pervaded generations. She shows why, fundamentally, that must change.

Fellow SEJer Bruce Ritchie, another of Cynthia’s friends, wrote in a review on his blog, Florida Environments, "She paints no one as saints or villains, just players in a system where too much authority has been turned over to utilities, power companies and engineers. We use water with wasteful abundance in some areas when it is tragically lacking in other areas."

Blue Revolution is a compelling read and an incredibly well-researched book capable of whetting your thirst about one of the world's driest — yet most vitally important — topics.

Tom Henry is an editorial writer and columnist for The (Toledo) Blade. He is a member of SEJ's board of directors, SEJournal's editorial board and is SEJournal's book editor.

* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Spring 2012. Each new issue of SEJournal is available to members and subscribers only; find subscription information here or learn how to join SEJ. Past issues are archived for the public here.

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