I decided that the plane ride to the wedding this past weekend was the perfect time to start a book I've been wanting to read: When the Rivers Run Dry: Water - The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century. I haven't finished it yet, but it's already given me a lot to think about, and I highly recommend it. It discusses the sources of water, the ways in which many of these sources are being over tapped, and the consequences when that happens. As the author points out, these consequences effect the climate, agriculture, the success of civilizations, the likelihood of war. It was especially interesting to read on my way to Duluth, Minnesota - a city which sits on the edge of Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world (by surface area).
Duluth is a beautiful city built on the steep hills overlooking the lake, and the lake looks more like an ocean - it has tides, waves, and ship wrecks. But while Phoenix, Arizona is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, Duluth's population was about 105,000 in the 1960s and is now down to about 85,000. Yet Arizona's water resources can't naturally support its population (Phoenix now has a population of about 1.5 million). By classical standards, this pattern of growth is incredibly stupid. Of course, modern strategies allow water to be moved, which is why the Great Lakes states are legislating to ensure the water stays in the region. When the Rivers Run Dry discusses how Arizona is helping the Colorado river to run dry, so while Lake Superior still looks like an ocean, I'm glad the lake states are taking action.
Closer to home, I received the 2007 Drinking Water Quality Report from the DC Water and Sewer Authority today. The water here comes from the Potomac river, which I can walk to. As suspected from the smell of the water in the shower, the water is sometimes over the EPA limit for chlorine. Significantly over. After all, I can smell it. And I wonder - if the water I receive in my posh, white, NW neighborhood is this chlorinated, what's it like in neighborhoods where the residents don't have water filters in their fridges?
Still, the arsenic levels are well under EPA regulations, which is more than can be said for much of the water in India and Bangladesh where millions of people are being slowly poisoned by the water they drink.