Jul 102011
Published in Rolling Stone National Affairs SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images We take water for granted. And why not? We turn a tap and out it comes. But that’s going to have to change, says author Alex Prud’homme. As he explains in a new book, The Ripple Effect, the basic problem is this: the quantity of water in the world is finite, but demand is everywhere on the rise. As oil was in the 20th century – the key resource, a focus of tension, even conflict – so water will be of the 21st, as states, countries, and industries compete over the ever-more-precious resource. So we need to figure out how to use it more sustainably. But that’s not all. In the United States fresh water is under threat from new kinds of barely understood pollutants, from pesticides to pharmaceuticals, and from a last-century infrastructure of pipes, dams, levees, sewage plants that urgently needs upgrading. All this and (much) more you’ll learn from The Ripple Effect, a book that will forever change the way you think about what comes out of your faucet. (A film based on the book, titled Last Call at the Oasis, produced by the same folks who brought us An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc., is in preparation.) Rolling Stone recently got Prud’homme on the phone to talk about thirst, waste and the fate of fresh water. Reading the book, I was really struck by how fundamental water is to so many processes. Right. Water is considered an “axis resource,” meaning it’s the resource that underlies all others. So whether you’re building a computer chip, or growing crops, or generating power, all these things require lots of water. But there’s only a finite amount of water, and now resources are butting up against each other. America’s Water: The Looming Crisis (Book Excerpt: The Ripple Effect) At the same time, you point out, we waste a lot of water. We’re using our water supplies unsustainably. In America, we can turn the tap on at any time of day and get as much water as we want at any temperature for as long as we want. And, consequently, we take it for granted. Which is unusual: In most places in the world it’s very difficult to get water on a regular basis. Water is virtually free. Is that a big part of why we take it for granted? Yes. There’s not a great economic incentive (more…)