environmental science exercise and need support to help me learn.

Students will write and submit an original book review (1500-2000) words) of Peter Gleick (2023), The Three Ages of Water. NY: Public Affairs.
Any references to outside sources (though none are required!) must be properly cited using an acceptable reference notation style (such as Chicago or APA). Students are free to choose any such style – but must stick to it, and state on the title page which style has been chosen, along with the word count.
The review must begin with an introductory paragraph, laying out your initial, overall assessment of the book. The point of a review is not just to offer your opinion of the book, but to persuade the reader whether or not they should purchase and read it for themselves. Whatever you think about the book, outline your reasons at the start – this is the thesis of your argument, which is developed and supported in the body of the review.
The second paragraph (no more than 150 words) must provide a summary of the contents of the book and the argument that the author make. This part is essential – your own reader is not likely to accept your opinion unless you can demonstrate, objectively, that you understand the argument the author tries to make.
For the rest of your review, offer a more detailed analysis and reflection on what the author sets out in Part 3 as “the third Age of Water.” What fundamental, underlying ethical issues are being discussed/handled here? Are you convinced? Why or why not?
Whatever you write in this section, make sure your opinions are supported by references to the text, and by good reasoning (your own!).
Requirements: 1700

Copyright © 2023 by Peter GleickCover design by Pete GarceauCover photograph © iStock/Getty ImagesCover copyright © 2023 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value ofcopyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists toproduce the creative works that enrich our culture.The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permissionis a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permissionto use material from the book (other than for review purposes), pleasecontact permissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of theauthor’s rights.PublicAffairsHachette Book Group1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104www.publicaffairsbooks.com@Public_AffairsFirst Edition: June 2023Published by PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiaryof Hachette Book Group, Inc. The PublicAffairs name and logo is atrademark of the Hachette Book Group.The Hachette Speakers Bureau provides a wide range of authors forspeaking events. To find out more, go to www.hachettespeakersbureau.comor email HachetteSpeakers@hbgusa.com.PublicAffairs books may be purchased in bulk for business, educational, orpromotional use. For more information, please contact your local bookseller
or the Hachette Book Group Special Markets Department atspecial.markets@hbgusa.com.The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are notowned by the publisher.“Burn On,” words and music by Randy Newman. © 1970 (Renewed)Unichappell Music, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission of AlfredMusic.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for.ISBNs: 9781541702271 (hardcover), 9781541702295 (ebook)E3-20230504-JV-NF-ORI
ContentsCoverTitle PageCopyrightDedicationPrefaceIntroductionPART ONE: THE FIRST AGE OF WATER1 A Universe of Water2 The Miracle of Life3 The Evolution of Humanity4 The Beginning of Agriculture5 The Great Flood6 Controlling Water7 The First Water War8 Laws and Institutions9 From the First to the Second AgePART TWO: THE SECOND AGE OF WATER10 Scientific Revolutions11 Tackling the Scourge of Water-Related Diseases12 The Science of Safe Water13 Building Modern Systems
14 Water Poverty15 Commercializing and Privatizing Water16 Water and Conflict17 The Blue-Green Revolution18 Industrial Growth and Environmental Disasters19 The Loss of Nature20 Floods and Droughts21 Climate Change22 From the Second to the Third AgePART THREE: THE THIRD AGE OF WATER23 A New Way Forward24 Meet Basic Human Needs25 Recognize the True Value of Water26 Protect and Restore27 Tackle Climate Change28 Avoid Waste29 Recycle and Reuse30 Desalt31 A Vision for the Future32 Getting from Here to ThereAcknowledgmentsDiscover MoreNotesAbout the AuthorPraise for The Three Ages of Water
To Nicki Norman, who makes it all worthwhile
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PrefaceIT HAS BECOME FASHIONABLE TO THINK OF THE ERA IN WHICH we live as theAnthropocene—the epoch when humans have become the dominant forceon Earth driving changes in habitats and the survival of species, rewritinggenetic codes, transforming landscapes and the oceans, and altering thevery climate of the planet. Some say the Anthropocene began with the firsthuman agriculture, others with the exploding of the first atomic bomb—events separated by 10,000 years. It’s a fuzzy concept. But at its heart is theacknowledgment that humans, for better or worse, now control their ownfate and the fate of countless other species.The story of water that I tell in this book follows a similar arc, fromprehistoric times to a vision of a possible positive future. But water isspecial, and we need to understand it differently from other aspects of thenatural world. It is at once a basic natural resource that our ancestorsdepended on for survival, but also literally a part of our biology andevolutionary history, shaping human civilization’s religions and art andcultures, while simultaneously nurturing the environment that surrounds us.We are not at one remove from the waters of our planet: we are part ofthem. Without water, you and I wouldn’t exist. As the crystalline life-formin the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Home Soil” put it, humansare really just “ugly giant bags of mostly water.” Water made us, longbefore we tried to control, manage, and manipulate it. It has a special placein our hearts and minds, literally and figuratively—the heart and brain areboth more than 73 percent water—but water is also central to the story ofhuman development.While every era is unique, I believe humanity today stands at the brinkof a new age, at a fork in the road of our own survival. In the span of lessthan two centuries, with a speed few foresaw, humans have become a globalforce on the verge of expanding out into space while simultaneously
undermining the very life-support systems of our own planet. Ourinterference is evident everywhere—from the tiny particles of plastic foundin the remotest rivers and deepest oceans; to the traces of industrialchemicals in the blood and tissues of fish, amphibians, and birds; to themodification of the climate and the amplification of the floods and droughtsthat have long plagued an expanding civilization.It’s an awkward time: the awesome power to reshape the planet hascome before we’ve fully embraced the idea that we must live sustainably onEarth; matured enough politically and socially to put aside prejudices,hatreds, cultural differences, and the baser instincts that threaten our veryexistence; or truly mastered the technologies that can both destroy and saveus.Humanity has a decision to make. We can become another extinctspecies, a blink in time in the natural history of the earth, or we canrecognize that water is so vital to our continued existence that we must finda new way to live with it, manage it, and protect it. A bad future is possible;it’s just not the future we would choose if we had a choice. The good newsis we have that choice: we can envision a positive future, a path to get there,and we can take the steps along that path. Along with the air that we breathe(to which it also contributes fundamentally), water is us. We are a minorcharacter in the scientific epic of water—and we’re at a moment in timewhen we must decide whether to recognize that fact and all itsconsequences and move to a sustainable and equitable future or to barrelforward in catastrophic denial. In the story of The Three Ages of Watereverything is at stake.—Peter GleickBerkeley, California, 2023
INTRODUCTIONWater is the best of all things.—PINDARIN THE BEGINNING, OR AT LEAST IN A BLINK OF A COSMIC EYE after the Big Bang,there was water. And it was good.Well, not always good. There were also exploding stars. Swirling cloudsof interstellar dust and blistering cosmic radiation. Rogue planets andgalactic collisions. Plunging, destroying, life-killing asteroids. Explodingvolcanoes and torrents of acid rain. Eons of brutally cold ice ages andraging floods.But from the birth of the universe long before the formation of ourgalaxy, our solar system, or our planet, there was always water, aremarkably simple mix of two basic elements, hydrogen and oxygen.Scientists estimate that stable hydrogen atoms could have formed withinmere minutes or perhaps a few thousands of years after the Big Bang.1Oxygen took a little longer—a few hundred million years for the first starsto coalesce, ignite, fuse the lightest elements of hydrogen and helium intoheavier elements like oxygen and carbon, and then explode, spreading thoseatoms into the expanding universe.2 From these early elements came thefirst water, the remarkable molecule that forms the basis for life as we knowit. H2O. Two small hydrogen atoms bonded to a single larger oxygen atom.It is said that without water there would be no life. Maybe. We have onlyone example to draw from. But certainly, without water you, the reader,wouldn’t exist, nor would life on Earth as we know and understand it. Thestory of water and the history of humanity are entangled in what I describeas the Three Ages of Water, from our early evolution to the dystopian orsustainable future that is coming.
The First Age of Water on Earth encompassed the billions of years fromthe formation of our planet through the extinction of the dinosaurs 65million years ago, the long transition from mammals that survived thatkiller asteroid, to the ultimate evolution of Homo sapiens. The planet’swater has flowed and shifted from the atmosphere to the land to the oceansto the vast ice caps that waxed and waned over eons. The First Agecontinued on through the end of the last ice age around 12,000 years ago,when humans emerged from the dark and cold and began to create the firstpreindustrial cultures, religion, language, art, and empires.In the First Age of Water, the earliest human relationship to water wasboth central and unplanned—but always intimate. The oldest evidence ofHomo sapiens has been found along the banks of ancient rivers in wetwoodland habitats of eastern Africa. Humans depended on nature to providewater; without fresh water, humans had to move until they found it, or theydied. Rivers, streams, and springs were both the sources of water supplyand the sinks for detritus and human waste. While the population of theplanet was small and dispersed, this worked well. Life was short and brutishfor most anyway, dominated by the challenges of finding food and shelter,avoiding predators, enduring extreme weather, contending with the terribleconsequences of malnutrition and disease, suffering the complications ofchildbirth, and surviving in an environment our ancestors had little abilityto manipulate or modify.In these early years, human populations grew from thousands to the firstfew millions spread over the continents, in Mesopotamia and Egypt, on thefloodplains of the Indus Valley in southern Asia, along the great rivers ofChina, across to Australia, and ultimately in the vast rain forests,grasslands, and savannas of the Americas. The First Age saw the transitionfrom bands of hunter-gatherers to fixed communities and organizedcultures. It saw the creation of writing, religion, and agriculture. Theearliest empires began to manipulate the world—and the water around them—building rudimentary dams and aqueducts, inventing intentionalirrigation, creating the first water laws and institutions, and fighting warsover water.This age came to an end when rising human populations, expandingcities, the local depletion of wild plants and animals, the spread of water-related diseases, and growing pressures on natural resources demanded
humanity forge a new relationship with water. The answer to thesechallenges was to be found in the science, engineering, and social advancesthat define the Second Age of Water.The Second Age of Water encompasses the intellectual, cultural, andphilosophical blossoming of civilization. It saw the hydraulic marvels of theancient Greeks and Romans; the philosophical, artistic, and scientificadvances of the Islamic Golden Age and the Renaissance; and ultimatelythe intellectual and technological revolutions of modern times. Humanpopulation in this period exploded from a few million to more than 8 billiontoday. During the Second Age, we learned to manipulate the naturalhydrologic cycle for our benefit; unlocked the biological, chemical, andphysical properties of water; created the tools to take advantage of our newscientific understandings; and replumbed the entire planet. We are allchildren of the Second Age of Water.The Second Age flourished in the seventeenth and eighteenth centurieswhen cities around the world were reaching critical size—outgrowing andcontaminating their water supplies. The Black Death had devastatedEurope, Africa, and Asia a few centuries before, worsened by growingpopulations without safe water or adequate sanitation and by a society withlimited knowledge of medicine. The subsequent Renaissance included notjust a blossoming of art and music, but a revolution in our understanding ofnature and the world around us.An important part of this revolution was the development of the“scientific method” with its emphasis on empirical evidence and theformation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. Early proponents ofthese ideas faced opposition from ideological corners, as Galileoexperienced when he was condemned and placed under house arrest by theRoman Catholic Inquisition for his insistence that Earth was not the centerof the universe. But the scientific method led to great advances in medicine,astronomy, biology, and physics, accompanied by growing skills inplanning, engineering, and construction. And humanity applied theseadvances to water.During the Second Age, humans built the first dams of gigantic scale tohold back floodwaters, store water for dry periods, and produce reliableclean electricity. We learned about germs and diseases and their links todirty water. We invented the first physical, chemical, and biological systems
to treat large volumes of wastewater. We built aqueducts not tens ofkilometers long of dirt and stone like our Mesopotamian and Romanancestors, but thousands of kilometers long, through or over mountains,from glaciers to deserts. We deployed large-scale irrigation systems and thetechnologies to pump water from deep underground so farmers could growfood in places and at times never before possible. And we began casting oureyes, instruments, and then mechanical avatars outward to other planets andstars, looking for water and other evidence that we’re not alone in theuniverse.Modern civilization is built on the advances of the Second Age, andwe’ve benefited from those advances in countless ways. We, mostly, livelonger, healthier lives. We’re, mostly, richer economically, socially, andculturally. Technology and access to information have exploded, as has ourability to understand and manipulate the world around us. Cholera, typhoid,and dysentery have been vanquished in the richer nations. We’re feeding 8billion people because of the Green Revolution and advances in irrigatedagriculture. Sophisticated water systems protect us, somewhat, from floodsand drought, and deliver, usually, safe drinking water and take awaywastewater. And we take most of it for granted.But we’re also now facing adverse, unintended consequences of thoseadvances. By the middle of the twentieth century, we started to see andunderstand the first evidence of the loss of nature, the rise of environmentalproblems as the Industrial Revolution accelerated and populations grewexponentially, the first world wars, and skyrocketing pressures on naturalresources. Rivers treated as dumps for our wastes began to catch fire anddie. Despite advances in medical knowledge, many water-related diseasespersist, including new illnesses associated with pollutants like mercury,lead, pesticides, and complex agricultural and industrial chemicals.Violence associated with competition for access and control of waterresources has worsened, as have intentional attacks on water systems duringregional, religious, economic, and ideological conflicts around the world.Peak water limits are being reached as rivers run dry, aquifers are depleted,and ecosystems are destroyed.The Second Age of Water has also brought the first global threats. Therisk of nuclear annihilation followed the advances in physics and thesplitting of the atom. Industrial and household chemicals are dissolving the
atmospheric ozone layer protecting life from damaging solar radiation.Pollution from power plants and factories can be found in the ice caps andmountaintops in the most remote corners of the globe and in the tissues ofnewborn babies, plants, and animals. We are strip-mining the land of forestsand the oceans of fish, driving uncounted species of plants and animals toextinction. We are spreading nearly indestructible plastic wastes throughoutthe environment in layers that will be evident to any future archaeologiststhousands of years from now. Most worrisome to the future of waterresources—and humanity—is climate change. As the twentieth centuryended, scientists found irrefutable scientific evidence that the combustion offossil fuels and the destruction of forests are altering the very climate of theplanet, with accelerating impacts in every community and for every naturalresource, especially water resources, changing flood and drought risks;melting ice caps, glaciers, and mountain snow; increasing the demand forwater needed to grow food; and damaging aquatic ecosystems.These signs of ecological and social deterioration are being magnifiedby the growing tensions between those political ideologies intent onmaintaining economic power and hegemony over resources and nature andthose promoting democracy, human rights, and a sustainable future. Inshort, the end of the Second Age of Water is a race between the growingrisks of ecological collapse, massive economic inequality, and politicalconflict and the growing efforts to apply our hard-earned knowledge andtechnologies to prevent global disaster.Early environmental writers like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, AldoLeopold, Rachel Carson, and George Perkins Marsh lamented the loss ofnature and the mental and physical disconnection of modern humans fromthe world around us. Nineteenth-century scientists like Eunice NewtonFoote, John Tyndall, Svante Arrhenius, and others began to see the potentialrisks in widespread human alteration of the atmosphere. It should be nosurprise that the first literature of global apocalypse appeared during thisperiod, along with the first science fiction of dystopian futures. Thesedystopian visions are portrayed relentlessly in entertainment media of allforms, with worlds spiraling down to ecological collapse, starvation,disease, political instability, and chaos.But as the threats of the Second Age have accelerated, we have also seenthe first inklings of a better future. In the twentieth century, scientists and
academics from multiple disciplines began to piece together solutions to theseparate challenges of energy, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, climate, and,underlying all of it, water, and to offer a different vision—a vision of a wayforward to a positive future. It is time to acknowledge both the benefits ofthe Second Age of Water and the need to make a transition to the Third Ageof Water where we address the growing failures surrounding us and makethe technological and social transition to sustainability. That transitionwon’t be easy, but it is both necessary and possible.Two divergent paths lie before us: one to that dystopian future, the otherto a positive, sustainable world. Just as we can imagine a disastrous future,we can imagine a positive one, with a balance between humans and nature,growing equality and social cohesion, and healthy, stable societies. That’sthe future I focus on in the Third Age of Water, one that includes a set ofsmart, successful, sustainable solutions to our water problems. We arelearning how to weave together a tapestry of actions, decisions, and policiesof individuals, communities, and countries around the world, sometimes insurprising places and surprising ways, to address the unresolved waterchallenges of the Second Age. We know how to provide safe water andsanitation to everyone on the planet. We know how to use water moreproductively and efficiently to do the things we want. We know how toclean up and reuse the most contaminated wastewater. We are learning howto restore and protect natural ecosystems that have suffered from our pastabuse. We are slowly coming to grips with the need to resolve disputes overwater peacefully and diplomatically, rather than with violence. We arestarting to put in place energy and water policies that can reduce theemissions of climate-altering gases while making our water systems moreresilient to those climate impacts we can no longer avoid.The final chapters of this book present a positive vision of the Third Ageof Water. The coming years will determine how we choose to make thetransition to the Third Age—where we can either slip down into a grim anddismal future or solve the crises that afflict us and make the shift to asustainable, just, and peaceful world. I am convinced a positive future ispossible. I’ve worked with individuals, communities, companies, andcountries to begin to put in place solutions to our water problems. There areno insurmountable technological or economic roadblocks to a positiveThird Age of Water. But whether we can overcome the political, social, and
cultural obstacles that remain depends on the choices we make and howquickly we act.
[ PART ONE ]THE FIRST AGE OF WATERStudy the past if you would define the future.—CONFUCIUS
1A UNIVERSE OF WATERHow inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.—ATTRIBUTED TO ARTHUR C. CLARKEEARTH CIRCLES THE SUN IN WHAT ASTRONOMERS CALL THE habitable zone—thenarrow region of space where the temperature is just right for the forms ofwater necessary for life.i Without this water, life as we know it would beimpossible. Our planet is covered in water in many different forms—itsurrounds us in the oceans, rivers, lakes, ice caps, soils, the cells of allliving things, and even the air we breathe. But where did our water comefrom? We aren’t entirely sure. Scientists have some good hypotheses—several, in fact—and as we learn more and more about the universe and ourown solar system, new evidence is emerging that is helping provide a moredefinitive answer. Today we know that there is water throughout theuniverse, observable in far-distant galaxies, interstellar space, and even theatmospheres of some of the exoplanets discovered circling distant stars. In2021 astronomers reported discovering water in one of the most remotegalaxies ever observed1—nearly 13 billion light-years away.ii Water is alsoubiquitous in our own solar system, and there are planets and moons wherethe fraction of water by mass is even larger than Earth’s. For example, evenif rough estimates of the water locked up in Earth’s inner mantle and coreare included, water accounts for only about 2 percent of the mass of ourplanet. In contrast, Uranus and Neptune—the solar system’s outermost icegiants—are thought to be 60 to 70 percent water and ice.There are three main theories about the origin of water on Earth. Thefirst presumes that water has been here the whole time: the Solar Nebula
Theory. Our solar system was formed around 4.5 billion years ago from ahuge cloud of interstellar gas and dust that slowly condensed and combinedinto the sun and planets (and all the smaller stuff floating around inbetween). The abundance of hydrogen and oxygen in that primordial cloudguaranteed that water would be present throughout the solar system,including in the swirling gas and dust that became Earth. A difficulty withthe Solar Nebula Theory is that close to the sun, water vaporizes anddissipates. Farther away (past what is called the “snow” or “frost” linebetween the orbits of Mars and Jupiter), water condenses and icyplanetesimals form. Earth lies closer to the sun than the snow line andhence may have been too hot to retain much water during its formation.New studies looking at the composition of inner solar-system asteroids andthe isotopic composition of our own water, however, support the theory thatEarth’s water was here from the very start, formed from the gaseousmaterials that created the inner planets.2In the past few years, evidence has emerged supporting another idea:that a highly dynamic set of events brought water to a young “dry,” rockyEarth. In this Dry Earth/Wet Asteroid Theory, the inner solar system wastoo hot at first to support the creation or retention of water. Evidence fromradionuclides in Earth’s crust and mantle suggests that water was notretained until the planet had reached 60 to 90 percent of its current size. Atthis point, water was brought to Earth by collisions with water-rich bodiesformed in the colder outer reaches of the solar system.3 Some of the oldestmeteorites in the solar system, called carbonaceous chondrites, formed atthe same time as the planets and have water with chemical compositionssimilar to our ocean water. In 2018 additional support for this idea waspublished suggesting that Earth’s water was largely provided by the impactof billions of water-bearing asteroids with only a minor contribution fromthe original interstellar gases that condensed into the planets at the creationof our solar system.4An alternate version of the Dry Earth/Wet Asteroid Theory also arguesthat most of the water on Earth arrived after its formation, but all at once inthe same massive collision with a planetary body that also created themoon, around 4.5 billion years ago.5 A challenge for this hypothesis is to
explain why this other giant body, presumably formed around the same timeas the rest of the solar system’s planets, had large amounts of water whileEarth was dry, but the assumption is it originated from beyond the snowline in the outer solar system.A third hypothesis is that Earth has been systematically bombardedsince creation by water-carrying comets, bit by bit bringing the water wesee here today—the Wet Comet Theory. Comets are large bodies of dustand ice and other molecules created when the solar system was formed.Many comets circulate in the outer reaches of the solar system in the KuiperBelt beyond the orbit of Neptune and in the more distant Oort Cloud farbeyond the orbit of Pluto. Collisions between Earth and these comets in thefirst few billions of years of our planet’s existence could have brought ourwater.One early challenge to this theory was that the chemical composition ofthe water found in comets was thought to be sufficiently different from ourown to rule them out as the major sources of Earth’s water. But a set ofobservations and analyses in 2018 and 2019 of a Kuiper Belt comet (named46P/Wirtanen) found water with the same chemical signature as Earth’soceans. Researchers suggest there could be a large population of similar ice-rich comets that brought water here over time after the formation of thesolar system.6Just as interesting as the origin of the water on Earth is why it is stillhere in such large amounts when there is no comparable sign of it on ournearest neighboring planets. Where are the oceans of Mercury or Venus orMars? While water, evidence of water, or the hydrogen and oxygen neededfor water have been found on all the other inner-system planets, much of thewater they may have had has been lost to space over time. Earth hasmanaged to keep most of its water for two major reasons: first, Earth circlesthe sun in that sweet spot in the solar system far enough from the sun toprevent it from boiling off the water, yet close enough to keep the planetfrom being a frozen ball; and second, Earth has a strong magnetic field thatprotects it from solar winds that have blasted much of the water away fromthe other inner-system planets.Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is blisteringly hot and lacks anatmosphere that could help retain water. Any significant amounts of water
there would have vaporized and been blown into space by relentless solarwinds billions of years ago. Yet even on Mercury, scientists have discoveredsome traces of remaining water. In 2012 and 2017, NASA’s Messengersatellite detected the presence of water ice deep in craters and on surfacesfacing away from the sun near Mercury’s northern pole, where sunlightnever shines.7Venus, too, is a hellishly hot world today. Unlike Mercury, Venus has adense atmosphere, with carbon dioxide and other gases at crushingpressures. Temperatures at the surface can exceed 450 degrees C (over 800degrees F), hot enough to melt lead. The surface and atmosphere are far toohot to retain water as a liquid, but Venus has hydrogen and oxygen atomsthat could form water if the conditions permitted. Because Venus lacks aprotective magnetic field, those atoms are slowly being stripped to space byrelentless solar winds. The European Space Agency “Venus Express”mission has measured streams of hydrogen and oxygen atoms being blownaway from the planet.8Compared to Mercury and Venus, Mars is positively damp. Speculationabout water on Mars goes back centuries to the 1700s when telescopicobservations by Sir William Herschel suggested that Mars had visible icecaps and seasons, noted by the waxing and waning of what is now known tobe frozen carbon dioxide and water at the Martian north and south poles. Inthe late 1870s, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli began mappingareas on Mars with improved telescopes and observed what appeared to bechannels.iii In the 1890s, Percival Lowell made more detailed observationsfrom an observatory in Arizona and concluded that the channels wereartificial, implying the presence of life. He even proposed they were canalsbuilt by an intelligent, advanced civilization, capable of moving water fromthe poles to the drier equatorial regions. In his 1906 book Mars and ItsCanals, he wrote: “From the fact, therefore, that the reticulated canalsystem is an elaborate entity embracing the whole planet from one pole tothe other, we have not only proof of the world-wide sagacity of its builders,but a very suggestive sidelight, to the fact that only a universal necessitysuch as water could well be its underlying cause.… To find, therefore, uponMars highly intelligent life is what the planet’s state would lead one to
expect.”9 Schiaparelli’s canals and Lowell’s intelligent Martian buildersweren’t real but were artifacts of the poor-quality optics available at thetime, the chance alignment of artificial features, and fanciful thinking. Butthe water that Schiaparelli, Lowell, and others thought they observed is real.Today, sophisticated instruments on Earth, in orbit around Mars, andliterally roving around on the Martian surface have found significantamounts of water as surface and subsurface ice, water vapor in theatmosphere, liquid brines in soils, and deeper subsurface aquifers. Snow hasbeen observed to fall from Martian clouds. In 2018 radar measurementsfrom the Mars Express satellite orbiting Mars saw hints of what could be asubterranean lake containing liquid water 1.5 kilometers below the southernpolar ice cap, though the evidence for this is still ambiguous.10In the distant past, Mars had a denser atmosphere, higher surfacepressures and temperatures, and almost certainly oceans of water. There isgeophysical evidence of surface flood channels, river valleys, deltas, andseabeds, as well as specific rocks and minerals that form only in thepresence of liquid water. In 2022 Chinese scientists analyzing data fromtheir Zhurong rover found evidence that large volumes of surface watermay have been present as recently as 700 million years ago.11 But billionsof years ago Mars lost its protective magnetic field, and much of its freewater was stripped away by asteroid impacts that ejected atmosphere intospace and by the same solar winds that sweep atoms of hydrogen and othergases away from other planets.12Unlike the inner planets, the solar system beyond the orbit of Mars isremarkably wet. It contains a great variety of planetary bodies, from themassive gas and ice giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune; to therocky and icy asteroid belts; to a truly stunning and sometimes bizarre set ofmoons, planetary rings, and more. As telescopes have improved and moreand more satellites and probes have been launched to explore the outersystem, scientists have discovered tremendous amounts of water: currentestimates of the amount of water in the solar system outside of Earth aretwenty-five to fifty times the volume of water here, just counting estimatesof liquid or frozen water, not the water vapor that can be found in theatmospheres of the outer planets.13 Much of this liquid or frozen water is
found in the largest of the solar system’s moons, sometimes called “oceanworlds”: bodies with large volumes of liquid water underneath insulatingshells of ice on Ganymede, Titan, Callisto, Enceladus, and Europa.14The gas-giant Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system andprobably formed before the other planets. Scientists have long wonderedhow much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Recent observations reveal thatJupiter’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen with some oxygen in the form ofwater vapor in clouds. In 2016 the Juno satellite reached Jupiter, andonboard instruments showed that water makes up about 0.25 percent of themolecules in Jupiter’s atmosphere around the equator.15 Measurements arestill being taken of the water content in other parts of the atmosphere.More tantalizing, however, has been the discovery of vast amounts ofwater on several of the dozens of moons of Jupiter. Europa, one of the fourlarge moons discovered by Galileo, is bigger than Pluto, but slightly smallerthan Earth’s moon. It is covered in a frozen shell of ice tens of kilometersthick, over a massive ocean of water around a hundred kilometers deepcontaining perhaps twice as much water as Earth. This has raised theprovocative question among astrobiologists whether life could have formedthere, and new missions to Europa are being planned to take a closer look.Jupiter’s moons Ganymede—the largest moon in the solar system—andCallisto may also have subsurface oceans one hundred kilometers deep.ivSaturn, like Jupiter, is a massive gas planet. It has a dense metal androcky core and an atmosphere largely composed of hydrogen and helium,and water has been detected in its upper atmosphere. Saturn has a visuallystunning set of rings, composed mostly of water ice, pieces of shatteredasteroids and comets, and particles of dust. And like Jupiter, Saturn has animpressive collection of large and small moons—more than eighty at thetime of this writing—including some of the largest and smallest in the solarsystem. Much of the water in the Saturn system lies within these moons,especially Titan and Enceladus.Titan—the solar system’s second-largest moon—and Enceladus are bothwater rich. Titan is the only moon with a thick atmosphere and evidence ofliquids (hydrocarbons) on the surface. It is thought to have a rocky coresurrounded by ice layers and a hundred-kilometer-deep subsurface ocean ofwater and ammonia. Enceladus’s water ocean is perhaps ten kilometers
deep, covered by a thick, fractured shell of water ice. During the flyby ofEnceladus by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, vast plumes of warm mineral-richwater vapor, carbon dioxide, and organic materials were seen venting tospace, and this water actually creates one of Saturn’s rings (see Figure 1).Scientists have concluded Enceladus’s ocean is global, salty, and mostlikely warmed by hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. Dr. Linda Spilker, theproject science director for Cassini at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, saysthese characteristics “all point to the possibility of a habitable ocean worldwell beyond Earth’s habitable zone. Planetary scientists now haveEnceladus to consider as a possible habitat for life.”16The two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giantscontaining vast amounts of frozen water in their mantles, rings, and moons.Neither Uranus nor Neptune has been closely explored by spacecraft, andmuch remains to be learned about them.The interest in the solar system’s water goes beyond simple scientificcuriosity. The formation of life, as we currently understand it, requireswater, raising the possibility that places like Mars or Europa or Enceladus,with their stocks and flows of water, could at some point in the past, or evennow, support forms of life however different from those that evolved hereon Earth.
FIGURE 1. Water ice particles erupting from the surface ofEnceladus, moon of Saturn. In November 2009, NASA’sCassini spacecraft took this beautiful image of icy waterparticles and gas erupting from the surface of Enceladus,creating a halo of ice dust around the moon and feedingmaterial to Saturn’s E-ring. Credit: NASA/JPL/SpaceScience Institute, released February 23, 2010 (PIA 11688),http://ciclops.org/view/7908 /Bursting-at-the-Seams-the-Geyser-Basin-of-Enceladus.html.Water on Earth is present in all three common forms, solid, liquid, andgas. Most of the water—97 percent of it—is saltwater in the oceanscovering two-thirds of the planet’s surface. The world’s more limitedfreshwater stocks are found frozen in glaciers and ice caps on Antarcticaand Greenland, in snow cover in mountains or high latitudes, in deepgroundwater inaccessible for practical reasons,v and in the atmosphere aswater vapor, with only small fractions available to humans from rivers,surface lakes, shallow groundwater, soil moisture, or rainfall.17 Earth’swater is constantly flowing through the natural hydrologic cycle ofevaporation, condensation, and precipitation, moving from one stock toanother in an endless movement powered by the sun and influenced by theclimate, a composite of temperature, humidity, precipitation patterns,
cloudiness, and winds averaged over long periods of time. Earth’s climateand water conditions have been critical to the formation of life and theevolution of humanity, but they have been ever changing over the eons,shifting through ice ages and warm phases as the continents have slowlymoved, the composition of the atmosphere has fluctuated, mountain rangeshave risen and been eroded away, and Earth’s orbital dynamics havechanged.viThe sciences of reconstructing past climate and water conditions arecalled paleoclimatology and paleohydrology, where scientists decode layersof ocean and lake sediments, ancient air recovered from ice cores, thechemical composition of fossil shells and bones, isotopic analyses ofstalactites or stalagmites, samples of plant matter and pollens, and evenvariations in Earth’s orbit, tilt, and spin to determine past temperatures; thecomposition of the atmosphere; water availability in the form of ice,rainfall, and runoff; and periods of water abundance or scarcity.The causes of the slow natural variations in climate are wellunderstood.vii They primarily result from changes in the amount of sunlightreceived by Earth driven by the interaction of three time-varying orbitalcycles of the spinning planet itself—called Milankovitch cycles after theSerbian scientist who founded planetary climatology. These cosmic cyclesinfluence the length and severity of seasons, the composition of theatmosphere, the ebb and flow of ice ages and warmer interglacial periods,the distribution of water, and ultimately the characteristics of the biosphereand the conditions for life itself.Footnotesi Sometimes nicknamed “the Goldilocks Zone.” Not too hot, not too cold,but just right.ii In a bit of riony, the observation was made by a radio telescope (theAtacama Large Millimeter Array) located in perhaps the driest spot onEarth.iii Schiaparelli’s use of the Italian term canali meant natural channels, but itwas mistranslated into English as “canals,” sparking an excited public to
think Mars was inhabited by intelligent beings.iv For comparison, the average depth of Earth’s oceans is under fourkilometers, and the deepest part—the Challenger Deep—is just elevenkilometers deep.v Even larger amounts of water may be locked up deep in Earth’s mantleand core, bonded to minerals, but completely inaccessible to us.vi Water has even been discovered on our moon, frozen deep in craters andin the composition of surface minerals.vii As are the causes of rapid human-driven climate change, but I’ll get tothat later.
2THE MIRACLE OF LIFEIf there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.—LOREN EISELEYTHE CREATION OF LIFE ON EARTH IS BOUND TOGETHER WITH the story of waterin both science and culture. Whether one accepts the scientific evidence forevolution or subscribes to one of the many beautiful and mystical creationstories shared by different cultures and religious traditions, all societieshave sought explanations of the mysterious beginning of things, how theworld was formed, and how humans were created. Some of these storiesdescribe creation through the thought, word, or action of a divine being.Others rely on a sacred animal sent by a creator to draw land and life from aprimordial ocean. In some of these accounts, a cosmic egg is cracked, or apiece breaks off from a divine being to bring order from chaos and create allliving things. But in all of them, water plays a central role.In 4,000-year-old Sumerian creation myths, heaven and earth wereformed from a watery chaos by the goddess Nammu. The Enuma elish, a3,000-year-old Babylonian religious text, describes how the god Mardukcreated heaven and earth after a merging of Apsu, the god of fresh water,and Tiamat, the god of saltwater. Egyptian creation stories describe theemergence of earth from a watery flood, perhaps inspired by the seasonalinundation by the Nile River followed by the receding of the waters andreemergence of land.1 Versions of the Egyptian Book of the Dead datingfrom around 3,600 years ago describe the creation of the world from aninfinite expanse of water.2In the Orphic tradition of ancient Greece, Hydros was the god of watersand one of the firstborn gods of creation. In this tradition, in the beginning
there were only Hydros, Thesis, and Mud. Gaia was created when Mudsolidified into earth and together with Hydros produced Chronos (time) andAnanke (necessity). Chronos and Ananke in turn brought forth Phanes (life)from the cosmic egg, bringing order from chaos.3 Other Greek traditionsascribe the origin of the universe to Okeanos, a river that circles the flatearth. Homer describes Okeanos as “the generator of all.”4The three main Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, allborrowed themes from Mesopotamian cultures and describe a god creatingthe heavens and the earth including the first waters and bringing order andlight from chaos. Water is mentioned in the very first verse of Genesis, thefirst chapter of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament: before therewas light, or sky, or the first day, there was water. “In the beginning whenGod created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void anddarkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept overthe face of the waters.”5In Islam water is also the primary element and the origin of all life:“And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and hisThrone was upon the waters.… We made from water every living thing.”6“Earth-diver” creation stories, common in Native American and easternAsiatic mythologies, often have a supreme being that sends an animal intoprimeval waters to find sand and mud to create a habitable earth. ManyAustralian Aboriginal dreamtime stories, among the oldest surviving storiesin the world, have water at their heart, like those of Wandjina, Weowie, andthe Rainbow Serpent, spirits who brought the rains and created the riversand waterways.7Water also lies at the heart of our scientific understanding of the originof life. If, as evidence shows, the universe began with the Big Bang around13.8 billion years ago, then life must have started from some combinationof nonliving matter, what biologists call abiogenesis. The planet Earthcoalesced around 4.5 billion years ago, and shortly thereafter water wasformed from the primordial materials that created the planet or was broughthere by water-bearing comets or asteroids. Without that water, life as weknow it would never have happened.
Yet it did happen, and quickly in geophysical terms. The earliest knownforms of life are at least 3.7-billion- (and possibly 4.28-billion-) year-oldmicroorganisms associated with early underwater hydrothermal vents thathave been found fossilized in ancient rock formations in Canada.8 Fossilsof ancient microbes that produced or consumed methane, including twospecies that were primitive photosynthesizers, have been found in Australiadated to around 3.5 billion years ago.9 Another 2 billion years went bybefore complex multicellular organisms evolved, and another billion orbillion and a half years passed before the larger plants and animalsappeared. Only 540 million years ago, in what is known as the CambrianExplosion, Earth underwent an extraordinarily rapid evolution of marinelife. Before this, most life on Earth consisted of simple single- or multi-celled organisms. During the Cambrian Explosion, both oceans andfreshwater environments produced the forms of life from which almost allof today’s birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians evolved. Two hundredmillion years ago saw the emergence of the first mammals, whichflourished only after a massive asteroid impact 66 million years ago killedoff the dinosaurs. The great apes and other hominins began to appear 20million years ago. And our own species, Homo sapiens, first appeared onlya few hundred thousand years ago—not long ago in the long history ofEarth (Figure 2).For nearly a century, scientists have tried to test the hypothesis that a“primordial soup” of simple elements and molecules from the planet’s earlydays, including water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen, exposed to energyfrom electrical storms or volcanoes or the sun, could produce the conditionsnecessary to create living organisms. Stanley Miller and Harold Ureyperformed a now-famous experiment at the University of Chicago in 1952that confirmed that amino acids needed for life could have been produced inchemical reactions that occurred billions of years ago in water. Experimentsconducted since then have shown Earth’s early atmosphere could produceother key molecules necessary for building the RNA and DNA strands oflife, and a study released in 2020 showed that a key protein for theformation of ancient DNA could be produced from amino acids thatemerged from Earth’s early chemical processes.10
FIGURE 2. Four and a half billion years of Earth’shistory, with the recent evolution of humans.It is also possible that the conditions for producing life-formingchemicals are common throughout the universe and that these chemicalswere brought here in the comets and meteorites that bombarded Earth in itsearly years, lending credence to the hypothesis that life-forming elementson Earth originated elsewhere in the cosmos—a hypothesis known aspanspermia. A large meteorite that fell near Murchison, Australia, in 1969contained dozens of amino acids created by chemical processes in a water-rich environment far distant from Earth.i Materials on the meteorite havebeen dated as old as 7 billion years, far older than Earth itself. In 2010 areanalysis of pristine materials from this meteorite found more than 14,000molecular compounds, including 70 different amino acids,11 and aminoacids have also now been observed on distant icy comets.12Additional evidence that the complex chemistry important for thecreation of life is occurring elsewhere in the solar system has come frommeteorites with evidence of liquid brines with complex soluble andinsoluble organic compounds. The Dawn spacecraft mission to the dwarfplanet Ceres found carbonate chemicals important for the formation of lifethat could only have been formed through processes involving water
brines,13 and such water brines have been found in two 4.5-billion-year-oldmeteorites recovered from Morocco and Texas. These meteorites containsalt crystals with brine along with complex organic substances that areprecursor ingredients for life.14 Both meteorites are thought to originatefrom the same parent body—a very large asteroid named 6 Hebe—orbitingthe sun between Mars and Jupiter.iiWhile we do not yet have a definitive understanding of the complexchemical steps leading to the emergence of life on Earth, new experimentsand new evidence continue to add to our knowledge. And there is no doubtthat the earliest forms of life leading to humans emerged in water. Thosefirst single-celled organisms started the long, slow evolutionary journey thatled, in fits and starts, parallel lines, and many dead ends, to humans today.Footnotesi Some of the meteorite’s amino acids—critical to the formation of proteinsand other materials essential for life—are found on Earth, but many are not.K. Kvenvolden et al., “Evidence for Extraterrestrial Amino-Acids andHydrocarbons in the Murchison Meteorite,” Nature 228 (1970): 923–926.ii Hebe was discovered in 1847 by Karl Ludwig Hencke, a German amateurastronomer, and is the sixth asteroid ever discovered.
3THE EVOLUTION OF HUMANITYWe are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar finanatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures;because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because asmall and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a millionyears ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook.—STEPHEN JAY GOULDIN JULY 2004, MY WIFE, SONS, AND I CLIMBED DOWN STEEP STEPS carved intothe dark limestone caves in Sterkfontein, South Africa. In April 1947,paleontologist Robert Broom and his assistant John Talbot Robinsonclimbed into these same caves and found the remains of one of the firstknown examples of Australopithecus africanus, a now-extinct speciesconsidered to be a close cousin, if not a direct ancestor, of humans that livedmore than 2 million years ago. This region of South Africa today is hot anddry—water resources are scarce. But 2 million years ago, the area was farwetter and the conditions far more favorable for the survival of earlyhominins.i As we’ve come to learn, water and climate have played a centralrole in the long evolution of humanity.At the entrance to the caves today is a bronze bust of Broom cradling theskull of “Mrs. Ples” (Figure 3), the remains of one of the individuals hediscovered. This discovery, together with other finds in excavationsthroughout the area—like the Taung Child found by Raymond Dart in 1924—provided some of the first physical evidence that hominins arose inAfrica, an idea put forward decades earlier by Charles Darwin and ThomasHuxley. Walking through the caves evoked strong and strange emotions inme, with a feeling perhaps as close to time travel as possible. There I was,
where communities of prehumans had lived and died more than 2 millionyears ago and left evidence of their lives for us to find and decode, hintsand glimpses of the long evolution of our species.FIGURE 3. Bust of Robert Broom holding the skullof Mrs. Ples at the Sterkfontein Caves in SouthAfrica. Photo by Jeremy Seto (2017). Used withpermission.Fossil evidence of early humans is scarce. Time, nature, entropy, andhuman activities erode and erase remains of the distant past. Yet painstakingefforts on the part of paleontologists and archaeologists have successfullyfound enough evidence in the form of bones, tools, and even art to begin to
fill in many of the steps in the long dawning of modern humans and thespread of our ancestors out of Africa to the rest of the planet. Many of thearchaeological and fossil finds of our early ancestors have become famous—individuals from hundreds of thousands or even millions of years agowho may not have lived more than a few short decades, or even a few shortyears, but whose remains are now helping piece together the emergence ofhumanity through time.The oldest human remains found so far have all been discovered inAfrica, now commonly accepted as the birthplace of humanity, includingArdi, a female Ardipithecus ramidus, found by paleoanthropologistYohannes Haile-Selassie in the Middle Awash, Ethiopia, and dated to 4.4million years ago; Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old female Australopithecusafarensis, also discovered in Ethiopia, found by Donald Johanson; the 2-million-year-old Mrs. Ples discovered by Broom and Robinson in SouthAfrica; Zinj, a 1.75-million-year-old Australopithecus (or Paranthropus)boisei, discovered by Mary Leakey in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania; andTurkana Boy, a young Homo erectus who lived 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago,found by Kamoya Kimeu near Lake Turkana, Kenya.iiThe next-oldest remains begin to show the dispersal of early homininsoutside of Africa and offer hints of the timing and distribution of differentwaves of human migration, especially the migration of Homo erectus out ofAfrica around 1.5 to 1.8 million years ago,1 such as the remains of theMojokerto Child, found in Java, dated to around 1.4 million years ago; JavaMan, estimated to be 700,000 to 1 million years old, also found inIndonesia; and Peking Man, found in China, dated to between 400,000 and800,000 years ago.The fossil record is constantly being updated with new discoveries andnew theories about the many steps and splits and species of hominins, butwhat it suggests so far are four main stages in the evolution of modernhumans that can be tied to past climate and water conditions. During theperiod between 7 and 2.7 million years ago, species from the generaSahelanthropus and Ardipithecus—somewhat similar to today’schimpanzees in size, brain capacity, and physical ability—may haveevolved into the genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus, with largerbrain capacity and the ability to walk upright on two feet and to use tools.
Fossils showing these transitions are all found in what were wetter regionsof eastern and central Africa.A second important stage in human evolution occurred 2 to 3 millionyears ago, when the first truly humanlike species to live in hunter-gatherersocieties and manipulate fire—Homo erectus (upright man)—evolved andspread from Africa through parts of Europe and Asia. Homo erectus was adramatic evolutionary step from earlier hominins, with increased brain size,adaptation to long-distance running, the ability to throw projectiles, and theflexibility to survive in diverse habitats.2In the third stage, around 800,000 years ago, Homo erectus likely splitinto several subspecies, including Homo heidelbergensis, which in turnevolved into Homo neanderthalensis, Denisovans, and precursor subspeciesof Homo sapiens, and became established, apart from Africa, in mainlandEurope, parts of Asia, and Britain. In the final stage, our own species,Homo sapiens, evolved between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago, againdispersing in waves out from Africa and outcompeting and displacingNeanderthals and Denisovans and ultimately populating the world.3If Earth’s entire history is condensed to a single twenty-four-hour day,humans have been around for only a little more than a minute, barely a blipin time. In the millions of years humans took to evolve from earlier formsof life, Earth’s climate and water and natural ecosystems also evolved, andit is now widely accepted that environmental conditions helped drive majorevolutionary events such as the appearance, disappearance, and dispersal ofdifferent hominin species out of the ancestral home in East Africa. Newtechniques for more accurately dating fossils, tracing genetic records, andreconstructing past climate and water conditions have improved ourunderstanding of the evolution of humans in the context of a changingworld.There are several competing theories to explain how climate and waterfactors influenced human evolution and migration. The most compellingshare two main ideas: first, that environmental conditions, including cyclesof climate change and shifts in water availability, contributed to theselection process that favored an increased ability to survive in a widerrange of habitats, including expanded cognitive skills, the ability to createand use tools, greater nutritional flexibility, and social behaviors that
support longevity and breeding success; and second, that these adaptationsallowed some populations to survive changing environmental conditions byimproving their ability to move or disperse to reach habitats and resourcescritical for survival.In recent years, improvements in interpreting and classifying the fossilrecord, advances in high-resolution reconstructions and models of pastclimates, and the expanding science of ancient genetics have made itpossible to test hypotheses about the links between environmentalconditions and the evolution and distribution of our early ancestors. Arecent research project by Axel Timmermann, director of the IBS Center forClimate Physics at Pusan National University in Korea, and his colleaguesdeveloped a sophisticated global climate model that reproduced the climatehistory of the past 2 million years. Combining their model simulations withfossil and archaeological evidence, their results suggest that natural climaticshifts were a key influence in both the success or failure of hominin speciesand the timing of dispersal of species out of Africa, and that over timespecies generally able to adapt and survive in diverse hydrologic conditionsoutcompeted those reliant on water sources vulnerable to severe climaticchanges.4During the transition from the great apes to the line of species thatincludes our own around 7 to 2.5 million years ago, eastern Africa was arelatively flat tropical forest that gradually shifted to a more varied terrainwith high mountains, forests, and desert, including the creation of the EastAfrican Rift Lakes—deep, large bodies of water that both influenced localclimate and would eventually enable the ability of populations to migrate.5In most of this period, the climate of eastern Africa was warm and wet.Several million years ago, when the climate began to shift from thePliocene era to the colder and drier Pleistocene,iii there were at least sixdifferent early hominin species, including the highly successful Homoerectus. As the climate and weather evolved, the early specialized homininpopulations would have experienced environmental pressures of changingfood and water sources. These pressures would start to favor characteristicsand behaviors that allowed individuals and populations to survive newconditions or move to better habitats. By 2 million years ago, early Africanpopulations of Homo species were established in suitable habitats in a
narrow corridor following water courses from southern Africa, through theEast African Rift Valleys, and northwest up toward the Levant. Some ofthese populations were highly specialized for their environments and wereconsequently vulnerable to climatic extremes.The third step of hominin evolution is tied to cycles of ice ages thatfavored populations of Homo erectus, considered a more adaptablegeneralist species that survived for almost 2 million years and moved northin habitats throughout Eurasia. Reconstructions of the climate show thatbetween 800,000 and 200,000 years ago, extensive drying and increasedaridity in the Rift Valley of Africa occurred, as did the transition fromHomo erectus to several different subspecies,6 with further increases inbrain and body size, improved mobility, more successful reproductivestrategies, the ability to adapt to environmental changes, and increasinglycomplex social behaviors, including controlled use of fire, ritual burialpractices, the creation of art, and the invention and use of sophisticatedtools. Between 850,000 and 600,000 years ago, populations of Homoheidelbergensis (perhaps evolved from a form of Homo erectus in easternAfrica known as Homo ergaster) split into southern African and northernAfrican/Eurasian populations, aided by periods of favorable climate. TheEurasian populations under pressure from cycles of ice ages bifurcatedaround 400,000 years ago into Denisovans in parts of central and easternAsia and Homo neanderthalensis in Europe.7Finally, around 300,000 years ago, the hydrologic conditions in easternAfrica underwent another profound shift, thought to be the result of acombination of Milankovitch cycles and changes in ocean circulation andtemperature, increasing the unpredictability of water resources, vegetation,and weather. This increased climatic variability may have then accelerated atransition of the African population of Homo heidelbergensis and relatedspecies into Homo sapiens.iv This new species had characteristics thatincreased their ability to adapt to diverse climate and water conditionsfavoring their long-term success while also playing a role in the ultimatedisappearance of at least three other Homo species, H. erectus, H.heidelbergensis, and H. neanderthalensis.8
In addition to influencing evolution itself, evidence supports the ideathat climate played an important role in the migrations of early homininsout of Africa. A key to the ability to successfully migrate, like that of Homoerectus and eventually Homo sapiens, seems to be the ability to takeadvantage of favorable water conditions and to adapt, biologically orculturally, to wider climate conditions. Ultimately, our own species wasable to expand to progressively harsher climates because of the ability tocope with master fire, improve clothing, construct shelters, developtechnological innovations, and manage both wet and dry extremes.9Huw Groucutt from the University of Malta and his colleagues suggestthat at least five separate waves of migration out of Africa occurred duringwetter periods (400, 300, 200, 75–130, and 55–65 thousand years ago) thatfollowed drier eras and opened up new environments suitable forhabitation.10 Robert Beyer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate ImpactResearch and the University of Cambridge, with his colleagues, used ahigh-resolution climate model that simulated the hydrologic conditions overthe past 300,000 years to reconstruct the timing of climatic windowsfavorable for migration. Their analysis also shows that the timing ofdispersals suggested by archaeological and genetic evidence coincides withthe presence of wet corridors into Eurasia.11 While the details of suchexpansions will almost certainly continue to be refined and modified, it isclear that groups of Homo sapiens successfully exited Africa in waves overthousands of years when water, climate, and vegetation conditions werefavorable.Around 70,000 years ago, the climate across much of tropical Africashifted to much more consistent, stable, and wetter conditions—a periodthat also coincides with a dramatic growth of early human populations andanother exodus out of Africa. The last major outmigration, perhaps 47,000to 60,000 years ago, was more successful than previous waves.12Somewhat wetter conditions prevailed, coinciding with low sea levels thatopened up migration routes across the Red Sea and permitted the dispersalof populations along both inland routes and around the shores of the IndianOcean and across to southern Asia. Some migrants traveled along tropicalcoasts, reaching Australia and Papua New Guinea by 45,000 to 60,000
years ago or even earlier.13 By 30,000 years ago, early humans arrived inJapan and the Siberian Arctic. Those moving north encountered colderconditions, more mountainous terrain, distinct seasons, and, fatefully,Neanderthals—the surviving populations of migrations of early humans stillstruggling to survive the ice-age climates.14 For a while, Homo sapiens andNeanderthals coexisted and even occasionally mingled and interbred, butmodern human populations expanded and spread, while the Neanderthalswent extinct, outcompeted by more adaptable and innovative Homosapiens, even though these early human cousins had survived for hundredsof thousands of years, developed language, lived in family and socialcommunities, and created art and jewelry. Some of their DNA remainsintertwined with ours.As humanity spread out over the planet from its birthplace in Africa, ittook longer to reach the Americas than anywhere else, slowed by thebarriers of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the massive ice capscovering the northern connections between Asia and the Americas. As theice caps waxed and waned, humans eventually crossed to North Americaand spread inland and down the coasts to the southern continent.Archaeological evidence shows that humans took advantage of lower sealevels at least 15,000 years ago to cross the northern land bridge or saildown the coasts between Asia and America before massive ice caps of thelast glacial maximum closed off the land bridge, isolating an initialpopulation of humans who colonized parts of the Yukon, the southwesternUnited States, Mexico, and perhaps as far south as Brazil. As Eartheventually warmed at the end of the Pleistocene, the ice caps melted, sealevels rose, and the Asia-America land bridge once again was submerged,but by then humans had migrated south and were established on all thecontinents except Antarctica.15The same characteristics that led to the ultimate success of Homosapiens as a species—the ability to develop and use tools, transform socialstructures, occupy and adapt to diverse habitats and climates, and developlanguage—also contributed to one of the most important transitions of theFirst Age of Water to occur after the spread of humans out of Africa: the
invention of agriculture and the manipulation of the water resources neededto successfully grow food for expanding populations.vFootnotesi The term hominins (formerly hominids) refers to the primates of the tribeHominini, including Australopithecus, Ardipithecus, and the several Homospecies, including our own.ii As I was writing this book, Kamoya Kimeu passed away. In an obituarypublished in the New York Times, he was described as “a legend…responsible for some of the most significant fossil finds that shaped ourunderstanding of our evolutionary past.” C. Risen, “Kamoya Kimeu, Fossil-Hunting ‘Legend’ in East Africa, Is Dead,” New York Times, August 11,2022.iii The Pliocene era is considered to have lasted from 5.3 to 2.6 millionyears ago. The Pleistocene lasted from the end of the Pliocene to around12,000 years ago, when the last ice age began to recede, and the currentHolocene era began.iv A recent analysis evaluating the diversity of the fossil record, geneticinformation, and reconstructions of climatic and ecological conditionschallenges the view that Homo sapiens evolved from a single populationand/or region of Africa and suggests that diverse populations of H. sapienslived throughout Africa and interacted, interbred, and coevolved over longperiods of time. E. M. L. Scerri et al., “Did Our Species Evolve inSubdivided Populations Across Africa, and Why Does It Matter?,” Trendsin Ecology and Evolution 33 (2018): 582–594.v The current hypotheses about the role of water and climate in humanevolution and the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa are a work inprogress, relying on interpretations of archaeological finds, the ability todate those finds, current categorizations of fossils, and our reconstructionsof environmental conditions on Earth. New genetic studies, morearchaeological and paleontological discoveries, and improved hydrologicand climatologic modeling will certainly shed new light on the form andtiming of the evolution and migration of different populations.

4THE BEGINNING OF AGRICULTUREWho are the farmer’s servants?… Geology and Chemistry, the quarryof the air, the water of the brook, the lightning of the cloud, thecastings of the worm, the plough of the frost.—RALPH WALDO EMERSONOUR EARLY ANCESTORS LIVED OFF THE LAND, SURVIVING ON the abundant gamein the forests and the open savannas; harvesting fish from rivers, lakes, andcoastal waters; and gathering wild grains, fruits, and vegetables. When theentire population on Earth was just hundreds of thousands or perhaps a fewmillion widely dispersed people, this was easy—to the extent that any partof survival for early Homo sapiens was easy when sickness, accidents, andthe challenges of the natural environment made life short. One day longago, early ancestors of ours foraging for edible plants must have wonderedif it would be possible to intentionally grow the grains or fruits they wereharvesting from the wild. Maybe they collected seeds and plants andreplanted them near their home. Maybe they watered wild plants during dryperiods and learned it gave them an advantage in making it through difficulttimes. All we know is that thousands of years ago in the First Age of Water,human communities around the world began to harness the water needed todomesticate and grow crops, inventing agriculture. This transition from thehunter-gatherer lifestyle to sedentary communities with the intentionalcultivation of food marks one of the most important shifts away from theStone Age and toward modern society.As the climate warmed from the last ice age and the ice caps retreated tothe poles, human populations began to expand, leading to pressures to findmore—and more consistent—sources of food. Scientists have discovered
evidence that as far back as 32,000 years ago, early humans ate wildversions of oats, barley, wheat, yams, beans, and other foods that ultimatelybecame the domesticated versions harvested today. While there is nodefinitive answer to why intentional agriculture developed, a variety ofdifferent reasons have been proposed: to meet the needs of growingpopulations, to provide surpluses of resources that could be traded for othervalued items, to replace food sources that were becoming scarce due tooverharvesting or environmental changes, or to improve the efficiency ofliving by producing more reliable calories per unit of energy spent.1Successful agriculture requires understanding and manipulating water.Cultivation of crops thousands of years ago was possible only whererainfall was consistent and reliable or alongside great rivers where flowswere regular, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Nile, Indus, Tigris, andEuphrates. The ultimate success or failure of early agriculture was thusfundamentally tied to the ability of humans to adapt to the vagaries ofweather by learning how to time planting and harvesting to match seasonalrains, store water in rudimentary reservoirs and catch basins, level land toretain moisture in the soils, and dig canals to divert water from rivers toagricultural fields. This ancient reality still holds true: 80 percent of thewater humans use today goes to grow food. No water, no food.Humans evolved over millions of years, yet there is a remarkablesynchronicity in when the first intentional cultivation of crops occurred indifferent, widely separated regions around the world over the remarkablyshort span of a few thousand years. As Earth emerged from the last ice ageand global temperatures rose, a wide range of crops that even today formthe heart of our agricultural system, including wheat, barley, rice, millet,squashes, potatoes, beans, and maize, started to be domesticated in theMiddle East, China, the Indus Valley, and the New World cultures ofCentral and South America between 9,000 and 12,000 years ago.2Around 12,000 years ago, communities in the Middle East along themajor rivers of the region began to actively tend wild stands of einkorn andemmer wheat, barley, and rye, eventually bringing wild plants underdomestication.3 Evidence for the cultivation of grains has been found in theupper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates watersheds, dated to 10,000 to
12,000 years ago.i Discoveries on Cyprus suggest that as far back as 10,500years ago, domesticated cereals were imported by boat from the mainland,with more and more diverse and abundant domesticated crops appearing inMiddle Eastern archaeological sites over the next 2,000 years.4Accompanying the expansion of intentional agriculture in the MiddleEast was the expansion of intentional water management, especially theconstruction of canal and irrigation systems to bring water from theEuphrates and Tigris Rivers to fields. Because of the arid climate andunreliable and seasonal rainfall, these advances permitted the firstSumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian Empires to grow the food needed fortheir expanding societies.Grinding stones found in the Yellow River region of China and datedfrom 19,500 to 23,000 years ago show that hunter-gatherers were foragingfor, and exploiting, native grasses, roots and tubers, beans, and other naturalfood sources long before domestication,5 but after the end of the last iceage and at the beginning of the warmer Holocene, intentional agriculturestarted to evolve to meet growing population needs. Early communities inChina developed where rivers or rainfall were reliable, and early agriculturein China followed a similar pattern to that seen in the Middle East: thecollection and modest cultivation of wild plants followed by the expansionand wide planting of domesticated versions. In China two separate forms ofagriculture appear to have developed independently, under different waterconditions: wet rice agriculture alongside large river systems and drylandmillet cultivation where reliable rains provided the water required.Wild rice dated to 9,000 to 12,000 years ago has been discovered alongthe middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and a combination ofgenetic and archaeological evidence points to the initial domestication ofrice in this region 10,000 years ago. Evidence also shows that thedomestication of rice required the development of sophisticated watermanagement in the form of leveling of land and controlling water flows.Rice domestication has also been found in 9,000-year-old sites in the Jiahusite in the Huai River basin, and rice appears to have been completelydomesticated by 8,000 years ago, spreading to other regions in China. Areview of more than 280 rice archaeological sites reported that 40 of themare more than 7,000 years old. Recent evidence, also from Jiahu, now
indicates that the first domesticated soybeans originated in this area and canbe dated to before 8,000 years ago.6Farther north in China, dryland grains like millet were starting to bedomesticated in areas along the Yellow River as far back as 9,500 to 11,000years ago, with evidence of full dryland cultivation of millet by 7,000 to8,000 years ago.7 An assessment of around 900 archaeological sites whereevidence of early millet farming has been seen found 31 sites older than7,000 years.8While the evidence currently supports the theory that wet rice in theYangtze River basin and dryland millet cultivation farther north in drylandecosystems evolved separately, He Keyang and colleagues from theInstitute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciencesalso identified a mixed rice/grain farming region in the middle and lowerYellow River valley that persisted from 7,000 to 9,000 years ago and asimilar region in the Central Plains of China from 8,100 to 8,400 yearsago.9The Indus River originates high in the Himalayan plateau among thesnows and mountain glaciers remaining from the last ice age and is fed bythe seasonal monsoon rains that sweep across southern Asia. The riverflows through what is now called western Tibet, through India, and acrossthe length of Pakistan through the Indo-Gangetic Plain into the ArabianSea. Its flow is highly variable, and the river typically carries about a thirdas much water as the Mississippi and three times the flow of the Nile. Overthousands of years, soils and minerals eroding out of the Himalayanmountains were carried down the region’s rivers and settled out in vastfertile plains encompassing hundreds of thousands of square kilometers. Atleast 9,000 years ago, humans began cultivating this land, selecting,planting, and harvesting wild grains as well as establishing settledagricultural communities.10In 1974 French archaeological teams directed by Jean-François andCatherine Jarrige discovered what is one of the earliest known Stone Agesites in southern Asia, named Mehrgarh. The settlement excavated so far isaround two square kilometers, and most of it has been dated between 7,500and 9,000 years ago. Residents lived in mud-brick houses, used stone tools,
produced art and jewelry, and practiced some of the earliest known animalhusbandry and intentional agriculture in South Asia.11 The forms offarming found there include cultivation of wheat, dates, and barley as wellas the herding of sheep, goats, and cattle. Some of the buildings excavatedinclude bricks with the imprints of barley, suggesting they were granariesfor storing cereals.12The early agricultural practices documented at Mehrgarh spreadthroughout the Indus Valley and were adopted by the larger Indus ValleyCivilization that lasted from around 3,800 to 5,200 years ago. At its height,this culture, also known as the Harappan civilization,ii may have accountedfor a tenth of the planet’s entire population, extending over an area largerthan Mesopotamia and Egypt combined, with urban centers and tradereaching west more than 3,000 kilometers to the Middle East. TheHarappans, like the community at Mehrgarh, were agrarian, and almost allof the main Harappan sites are in close proximity to fertile soils regularlywatered by monsoon rains and relatively benign flood flows from ice andsnow melting off the Himalayas.13Uncertainty about the reliability of water in this highly variableenvironment was a challenge for the Harappans, as it is today for largepopulations of northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, but unlike theSumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian Empires in the Middle East, there isno evidence they developed the sophisticated artificial irrigation systemsneeded to deal with a variable and changing climate, relying instead oncrops grown during the wet season.14The Harappan culture lasted for nearly 2,000 years with growing socialsophistication and urbanism, culminating in the city of Mohenjo-daro, oneof the largest cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, with sophisticatedcentralized sewers, extensive water-supply wells, and defenses againstflooding from the Indus River. But reconstructions of the climate nowsuggest that changes in the favorable conditions that supported the originalexpansion of Harappan civilization contributed to its ultimate collapse. Themonsoons that brought reliable rains and flood flows slowly shifted east,and permanent lakes and streams that had been present for eons dried upand disappeared.15 By around 4,000 years ago, precipitation and river
flows dropped to a low point, leading to prolonged droughts that pushedfarmers to shift from barley and wheat farming to more drought-tolerantmillet-based crops.16 Even these efforts ultimately failed, and the inabilityto maintain successful flood- and rain-fed agriculture contributed to theoutmigration of populations east to more favorable environments and theeventual abandonment and collapse of the Harappan cities.17By at least 15,000 years ago, humans had become established in NorthAmerica and reached most of western South America and even southernChile, most likely by moving down the Pacific coast.18 As in the MiddleEast, when the Pleistocene ice age ended and the warmer, wetter, and morestable climate of the Holocene began, hunter-gatherer societies began thetransition to more permanent settlements, clearing land and intentionallyexploiting and cultivating wild root and seed crops found in the tropicalforests.19In parallel with the developing civilizations in Mesopotamia, earlyhumans in Mesoamerica were developing complex societies, domesticatedagriculture, language and writing, and monumental architecture in a periodhistorians call the Mesoamerican Archaic. The improving climateultimately allowed early Mesoamericans to domesticate and cultivatevarious crops still eaten today, including maize, chilies, squash, and beans,and to establish permanent communities.20Farming implements in the form of stone mills and hoes have beenfound in Colombia and Peru and dated to between 7,000 and 9,500 yearsago. Remains of cultivated grains, squashes, and early forms of maize fromthe same period have been found in excavated sites, in teeth recovered fromburial sites, and on early tools. Both squash and maize appear to have beendomesticated between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago in the Central Balsasregion of what is today Mexico and then spread through trade and migrationof human populations. This evidence, together with the patterns ofsettlements and landscape modification found in Mexico and farther southin Panama and Peru, suggests that a significant portion of early diets inthese communities came from intentional agriculture.21Even more significant, irrigation canals and other signs of intensiveagriculture have been uncovered in the Zaña Valley of Peru in the foothills
of the Andes, dated to at least 6,000 years ago and perhaps as far back as8,500 years ago. These are the earliest known irrigation canals in SouthAmerica22 and were followed by an increase in the number of occupiedsites and the density of artifacts, perhaps made possible by the ability togrow more food and support more people. By at least 4,000 years ago,intentional irrigation practices were widespread in the central Andes,supporting large permanent settlements.23Without the invention of intentional agriculture, and the manipulation ofwater to go along with it, humanity wouldn’t have expanded as widely andquickly as it did. We wouldn’t have seen the creation and growth ofpermanent villages and towns, often built alongside the major rivers wherereliable water resources could be found. The great empires of Mesopotamiaand the Indus Valley wouldn’t have formed or lasted as long as they did.The explosion of population culminating in today’s 8 billion wouldn’t havebeen possible. At the same time, the expansion of these communities andthe growth of populations along major rivers and floodplains increasinglyexposed early humans to the vagaries of weather and extreme hydrologicevents, including both long-term droughts that brought some early culturesto their knees and massive floods that became part of myth, legend, andhistory.Footnotesi Domestication of some prey and work animals in the Middle East alsoseems to have occurred around 10,000–11,000 years ago, first with goats,sheep, pigs, and cattle and then over the next several thousand years withhorses, chickens, llamas, ducks, and other animals in the Middle East, Asia,and South America. E. K. Irving-Pease et al., “Paleogenomics of AnimalDomestication,” in Paleogenomics: Genome-Scale Analysis of AncientDNA, ed. C. Lindqvist and O. P. Rajora, 225–272, Population Genomics(Dordrecht: Springer International, 2019).ii Named after the first major archaeological site of this civilization,excavated in the early twentieth century in what is now Pakistan.
5THE GREAT FLOODO man of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-tutu, demolish the house, build aboat. Abandon riches and seek survival. Spurn property and save life.Put on board the boat the seed of all living creatures.—THE FLOOD NARRATIVE FROM THE EPIC OF GILGAMESHTHE FIRST AGE OF WATER WAS A TIME WHEN EARLY HUMANS were slowlyemerging from the natural chaos of evolution to become a species capableof commanding the essentials for life. But their survival was still vulnerableto the vicissitudes of nature. Over time, the development of language andwriting enabled early cultures to pass down lessons from their experiencesin the form of stories. With only a limited understanding of science andnature, it is no surprise that among the oldest surviving stories are narrativesabout hidden forces and vengeful gods meting out punishments to sinfulhumans in the form of devastating, uncontrollable events. Most originmyths contain fierce water gods and an epic flood.Every child of the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islamhears the story of the Great Flood sent by God. We learn how Noah, therighteous man or holy prophet, is warned by God of a coming deluge asdivine punishment for human corruption and sin. Noah is told to build aboat to save his family and the animals, and he tells his neighbors of God’swrath and coming judgment, only to be ignored or mocked. He builds theark, loads the animals two by two, survives the flood of forty days andnights, and after the scouring waters recede becomes a second Adam torepopulate Earth.What most of us didn’t learn as children is that the origins of this storypredate the Bible by as much as 2,000 years, appearing in some of the
oldest writings recovered from the ruins of more ancient Mesopotamianempires. All of these narratives share common elements: the creation ofhumans by the gods, growing divine anger at human failings, the decisionof the gods to send a cleansing flood sweeping across the face of Earth, anda single human warned to build a boat and save his family and the animals.What we also don’t learn is that these stories may have their roots inactual floods that devastated early civilizations, and especially in onedisastrous flood in the ancient Middle East that occurred around 5,000 yearsago. During the First Age of Water, humans had no control over nature.They either survived on their ability to live with nature or died when eventsout of their control overwhelmed them. Truly extreme events wereremembered and woven into cultural and religious stories, becoming firstoral histories and eventually written records to be passed on to followinggenerations. And over time, communities sought ways to decrease theirvulnerability to such events and to increase their control over nature—whatultimately led to the Second Age of Water.In the mid- to late 1800s, archaeologists from Europe, England, and theUnited States flocked to the Middle East during a period of intensiveresearch. Expeditions uncovered lost cities and temples, remnants of earlyhand-dug irrigation canals, vast libraries of clay tablets inscribed withunknown symbols and languages, and weapons, pottery, and art—allevidence from civilizations previously unknown or hinted at only throughbiblical stories, legends, and folklore. The remains of the cities of Nineveh,Jericho, Babylon, Kish, Ur, Eridu, and Shuruppak were found andexcavated. The empires of Sumeria, Akkadia, Assyria, and Babyloniaemerged from the mists of time and myth to become real places. Fabledkings like Nebuchadnezzar, Sargon the Great, Hammurabi, and Gilgameshturned out to be flesh-and-blood individuals.Many of these early expeditions were funded by Western religiousgroups seeking evidence supporting their traditional views of the Old andNew Testaments. Instead, what they found buried by time was evidence ofcivilizations predating the Bible by thousands of years. As layer after layerof ancient cultures was uncovered, archaeologists and historians learnedabout the evolution of early humans from the Stone Age to the Copper Ageto the Bronze Age, the creation of the first written languages and
mathematics, the rise and fall of empires, and evidence that water—both toomuch and too little—was central to it all.Many of the earliest archaeologists had little idea what they werefinding. By today’s standards and tools, their primitive digs were little morethan mining expeditions to dig up, box, and ship back to Western museums,universities, and private collections piles of materials that were not properlydocumented, dated, or protected. One of their most important discoverieswas tens of thousands of baked clay tablets with marks they couldn’t, atfirst, even read. But once early linguists began to decipher the cuneiformwriting and translate the texts, thousands of years of human history wererevealed, including records of daily life, economic transactions, religioustexts, political edicts, and epic stories.In the 1830s, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, a British army officer, latertrustee of the British Museum, and considered the “father of Assyriology,”was one of the first to successfully transliterate and then translateMesopotamian texts. In the 1840s, he and archaeologist Austen HenryLayard led teams that excavated the ancient city of Nineveh and uncoveredwhat has become known as the Library of Ashurbanipal (ca. 668–627BCE)i with thousands of cuneiform tablets that were crated and shipped offto the British Museum. In 1872 George Smith, a young scholar who workedwith Rawlinson, pieced together and deciphered a set of previouslyunstudied tablets from this collection. One of these tablets (Figure 4), datedfrom the seventh century BCE, contains what has become known as theFlood Story of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Smith presented that story to theworld on December 3, 1872, in a public lecture at the Society of BiblicalArchaeology in London. Smith told a packed audience of his translation ofthe epic with its vengeful Assyrian gods, their warning to the Flood HeroUtnapishtim, and the unleashing of a world-cleansing deluge, all predatingthe Jewish and Christian accounts of Noah. “For six days and seven nights,there blew the wind and the Deluge, the gale flattened the land. When theseventh day arrived, the gale relented. The sea that had fought like a womanin labour grew calm, the tempest grew still, the Deluge ended. I looked atthe weather and there was quiet, but all the people had turned to clay.”1
FIGURE 4. The eleventh tablet of The Epicof Gilgamesh, from the seventh centuryBCE, discovered and translated by GeorgeSmith in 1872. Known as the Flood Tablet,it was recovered in the Library ofAshurbanipal in the ruins of Nineveh anddescribes how the gods sent a flood todestroy the world. The Flood HeroUtnapishtim, like Noah in later biblicalstories, was forewarned and built an ark tosave his family and the animals. The tabletis in the British Museum. Photo byBabelStone, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10755114.George Smith’s lecture electrified the world, simultaneously opening thedoor to a deeper understanding of the roots of human civilization anddisturbing and contradicting the beliefs of biblical literalists, already
struggling with the challenges posed by Charles Darwin’s theory ofevolution published thirteen years earlier. Accounts of Smith’s talkappeared over the following days in nearly every newspaper in England,Scotland, and Wales, and two weeks later in the New York Times, describinga large and distinguished audience, including British prime ministerWilliam Gladstone, Smith’s mentor Sir Henry Rawlinson, and the dean ofWestminsterii with his wife, Lady Augusta Stanley.2 Smith, at theconclusion of his lecture, said:All these accounts, together with considerable portions of the ancientmythologies, have, I believe, a common origin in the plains of Chaldea.This country, the cradle of civilization, the birth place of the arts andsciences, for 2,000 years has been in ruins; its literature, containing themost precious records of antiquity, is scarcely known to us, except fromthe texts the Assyrians copied, but beneath its mounds and ruinedcities, now awaiting exploration, lay, together with older copies of thisDeluge text, other legends and histories of the earliest civilization inthe world.3Following Smith’s talk, Prime Minister Gladstone—known for hisability to orate,iii got up and spoke, raising the issue that must have been onthe minds of many:I do not know whether it is supposed that inquiries into archaeologicaland other sciences are to have the effect of unsettling many minds inthis our generation, but I must say that for me, as to the very few pointson which I am able to examine them, they have a totally differenteffect, and much of ancient tradition and record which we wereformerly obliged to accept as of a purely indeterminate character,though we believed it contained a seed and nucleus of truth, we areabout to see gradually taking up its form, that there will be adisinterring and building up of what was conceived to be buriedforever, and not merely the recollections of that world, but its actualhistory is about to undergo a great process of great retrospectiveenlargement. “Hear, hear” the audience responded.4
Smith’s find opened the door to a whole world of research on the Flood.Smith himself made many more important discoveries, but in sad irony, hislife was cut short by dysentery from contaminated water, and he died in1876 in a small village near Nineveh at the age of thirty-six.Western institutions continued to send expeditions to Mesopotamia andto ship back archaeological finds excavated from ruins throughout theregion. In the late 1800s, a series of digs funded by the University ofPennsylvania discovered cuneiform tablets in the ruins of the ancient city ofNippur and shipped them back to the United States where they layuntranslated for decades, poorly stored, poorly maintained, and oftendisintegrating in damp basement storerooms. In 1910 Professor HermanHilprecht of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Archaeologyannounced he had found in this collection a tablet with a portion of the“Babylonian Deluge Story,” written in the Akkadian language.5 Hilprecht’sfind is now understood to be part of the Atrahasis Flood Epic, an even oldernarrative of the Flood than The Epic of Gilgamesh. The fragment, datedfrom between 1400 and 1100 BCE, tells the story of the Flood HeroAtrahasis and the Deluge, with strong parallels to The Epic of Gilgameshand Western Bibles written later.Just two years after Hilprecht’s announcement, German AssyriologistArno Poebel found and deciphered an even older tablet written in Sumerianfrom this same collection from Nippur that tells another and even olderversion of the story of a Great Flood and its hero, Ziusudra. That tablet isnow dated to around 1700 BCE and tells what has become known as theSumerian Flood Story, with hints it too may have evolved from even olderSumerian stories.The Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia lasted from around 6500 toaround 2300 BCE along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in thecity-states of Uruk, Ur, Eridu, Kish, Sippar, Nippur, Umma, Lagash, andLarsa. As Sumer expanded, it made the transition from the Copper Age tothe Bronze Age with increasingly sophisticated metallurgy; created the firstknown writing, math, and astronomy; cultivated crops with artificialirrigation; and developed widespread trade with people in central Asia, theIndus Valley, and the Caucasus Mountains.6 The Akkadian, Assyrian, andBabylonian Empires that followed were founded by a different race of
Semitic peoples believed to have come to the northern Tigris-Euphrateswatershed (in what are today Syria and northern Iraq) sometime between3500 and 3000 BCE.In 1912, when Poebel found the Sumerian Flood Story in the tablet fromNippur, it was the oldest surviving narrative of a Great Flood sent by thegods, but even that version offered hints of stories with a far older origin. Inthe 1960s, a Sumerian text from around 2600–2500 BCE was recoveredabout twenty kilometers from Nippur at the ruins of Abu Salabikh during anexpedition led by Donald Hansen of the Oriental Institute of Chicago.7Called the Instructions of Shuruppak, Son of Ubara-tutu, it offerscommunity standards of wisdom, propriety, and behavior and hints of aGreat Flood. The text contains the “Sumerian King List,” a sequentialrecord of the early kings of Sumer, their locations, the length of their reigns,and the changes of political power. Most notably, the list is split into two:the kings before and after a great flood. Ubara-tutu is described in the KingList as the last king before the Deluge and the father ofZiusudra/Utnapishtim, the Flood Hero in the later Epic of Gilgamesh.8The Sumerian Flood Story is incomplete because the recovered tabletsare fragmentary and damaged, but the story begins with Sumerian godscreating humans, the animals, and the first cities of Eridu, Badtibira, Sippar,Shuruppak, and Larak, each with a king. The narrative describes how Enlil,the god of wind, earth, and storms, or Enki, the god of fresh water, secretlywarns humanity of its pending destruction by means of a flood. “A floodwill sweep over the land.… A decision that the seed of mankind is to bedestroyed.”9 The story’s hero, Ziusudra, is urged to heed the voice of thegods and build a boat. The storm with wind and water sweeps over the landfor seven days and nights, but Ziusudra and the animals are saved and hisboat returns to land. The gods spare him, grant him divine life, and sendhim to live in the Sumerians’ heavenly garden on earth.By around 2300 BCE, Sargon of Akkadia, also known as Sargon theGreat, conquered Sumeria and captured Lugalzagesi, the last Sumerianking, ushering in the Akkadian Empire, which lasted only a few shortcenturies, but whose influence over the region waxed and waned in theform of the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations for the next thousand
years.iv Each of these cultures absorbed stories, traditions, and practicesfrom their predecessors. The Akkadians recounted a version of the GreatFlood, in the form of the Atrahasis Flood Epic, described in a tablet datedto the middle of the seventeenth century BCE. Other versions recoveredfrom the ruins of Sippar on the banks of the Euphrates have been dated tothe reign of the king Ammi-Saduqa (1646–1626 BCE)—a grandson of theBabylonian king Hammurabi. The Atrahasis Flood Epic is told as a first-person narrative, and while it has elements virtually identical to the olderSumerian Flood Story, it also contains additional threads not found in theolder Sumerian epic.10In this story, the older gods divide the world into realms: heaven underthe god Anu, Earth under the god Enlil, and fresh water ruled by Enki. Thesenior gods order the lesser gods to create the world, and after the hardwork of digging the course of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the youngergods rebel,v and Enki asks for the creation of humans to do their bidding.Mami, the mother goddess, agrees to sacrifice a god and mix its flesh andblood with clay to create seven men and seven women.viOver time, as humans prospered and multiplied, their noise andultimately their very existence disturb Enlil,vii and he decides to lessen thepopulation by sending disasters in the form of drought, pestilence, andfamine.viii A human servant of Enki and the Flood Hero of this story,Atrahasis,ix pleads for relief, which is granted for a time, but the problemalways returns until Enlil, angered a final time, persuades the other gods towipe out humanity with a devastating flood.Enki takes pity on Atrahasis and as in the Sumerian story gives himadvance warning of the coming flood, telling him to build a boat.x Atrahasisdoes as he is commanded, and “For seven days and seven nights came thedownpour, the tempest, the flood”:The flood came out.… No one could see anyone elseThey could not be recognized in the catastropheThe Flood roared like a bullLike a wild ass screaming, the winds howled
The darkness was total, there was no sun.11After the waters subside, the boat returns to land, Atrahasis makesofferings to the gods, and the gods, realizing that some humans havesurvived, propose other ways of slowing human population growth,including creating less fertile women, demons who steal children and causemiscarriages, and women who remain virgins to serve the gods. LikeZiusudra in the Sumerian Flood Story, Atrahasis is carried away to paradiseand granted long life. Versions of the Atrahasis Flood Epic spread toneighboring regions and have now been found in archaeological digs inSyria, Palestine, and southern Turkey dated from the middle of the secondmillennium BCE.The third version of the Deluge story is the Babylonian Epic ofGilgamesh. Gilgamesh was first thought to be a character of myth orlegend, but we now know he was a real person who lived in the firstdynasty of the city of Uruk around 2700–2500 BCE. His name is includedon the Sumerian King List, and texts recovered from the period refer to himas a mighty king and ultimately a god—a status often conferred uponleaders of high renown.While many versions and copies of the epic have been uncovered andtranslated, archaeologists now believe the work was originally composed inAkkadian in the first part of the second millennium BCE, drawing on theearlier Sumerian and Akkadian stories.xi It then evolved over the nextthousand-plus years.12 The full Epic of Gilgamesh recounts adventures,battles, interactions of King Gilgamesh with gods and goddesses, and anawakening in Gilgamesh of his own mortality. That understanding leadshim to seek out Utnapishtim, a human who, with his wife, somehow learnedthe secret of immortality. Utnapishtim tells that his own immortality wasgranted only because of his deliverance from a Great Flood, and he recountsthe story to Gilgamesh.This is the Flood Story deciphered by George Smith in 1872 from thetablets recovered from the remains of the Library of Ashurbanipal, datedfrom between 600 and 700 BCE. Since then, older versions of The Epic ofGilgamesh have been found in excavations ranging from the far south ofBabylonia to the far north (southern Turkey today). It is possible that the
Flood Story was added to the stories about Gilgamesh by the Akkadiansand Babylonians from the legends handed down over previous centuriesthrough the Atrahasis Epic and the Sumerian Flood Story.13 Indeed,several lines in the Gilgamesh Flood Story are identical to those that appearin the older Atrahasis Epic.The evocative power of the story of a Great Flood is evident in itslongevity and durability. From 3000 BCE through the rise and fall ofempires, the story has persisted and been repeated in many forms,languages, and cultures—from an early Egyptian version in the Book of theHeavenly Cow found inscribed on tomb walls dated to the middle of thesecond millennium BCE to the Old Testament to versions that lasted intothe Hellenistic period.Flood stories were also adopted by Greek and Latin writers, includingOvid’s masterpiece Metamorphoses written in AD 8, in which Zeus (orJupiter) unleashes the world’s waters upon humanity because “Mankind’s amonster… sworn to crimes… involved in ill.”xiiLet loose the reins to all your watery store;Bear down the dams and open every door.The floods, by Nature enemies to the land,And proudly swelling with their new command,Remove the living stones that stopped their way,And gushing from the source augment the sea…Now seas and Earth were in confusion lost,A world of waters, and without a coast.14Again, a god (in this case Prometheus, the creator of humanity) warnsthe Flood Heroes Deucalion (often described as Prometheus’s son) and hiswife, Pyrrha, who are instructed to build a boat. When Zeus opens the skiesand brings forth the waters for nine days, they survive while the flooddestroys everything else. In the end, Deucalion and Pyrrha are the onlysurvivors, spared by their holiness and devotion to the gods, and they bringforth children to repopulate the world.High on the summit of this dubious cliff,Deucalion wafting, moor’d his little skiff.
He with his wife were only left behindOf perish’d Man—they two were human kind.15Flood stories also appear in ancient Hindu texts such as the SatapathaBrahmana, Vishnu Purana, and the Mahabharata. In versions of thesestories, roughly dated in various centuries of the first millennium BCE,Shraddhadeva Manu, the first man, protects and raises Matsya, the fishavatar of Vishnu (one of the supreme deities of Hinduism), from a smallvulnerable fish to a giant fish as large as the ocean. Matsya warns Manu ofan impending flood and advises him to build a boat to carry the sacredVedas,xiii seeds, animals, and the seven sages of ancient Hinduism to safety.During the flood, Matsya tows the boat to safety, and afterward the boatcomes to rest on a mountain. Manu, like Noah, Atrahasis, and Utnapishtim,is chosen by the gods to survive. And as in the Mesopotamian stories, afterthe ark comes to rest on a mountain, the Hero is rewarded by the gods andrepopulates the earth.The similarity between the Hindu stories and the Sumerian andAkkadian flood stories is not surprising. Evidence abounds of strong tradeand cultural exchange between Mesopotamia and the early Indus Valleycivilizations as early as the third millennium BCE, including sharing ofagriculture, art, precious minerals, timber, and ivory. Writings and sealswith Harappan inscriptions have been uncovered in Babylon and Kish, andcylinder seals with Mesopotamian writing and images have been found inthe Indus Valley, including images relating to Gilgamesh.Could these many ancient flood stories have a basis in actualgeophysical events—either individual devastating floods or some sort ofregional cataclysmic flood so severe that it led to the creation by thesurvivors first of an oral history and then, with the advent of writing,written accounts of an epic, punishing flood? Mesopotamian cities andcenters of power were all built on the banks of the Tigris or EuphratesRiver, to take advantage of the availability of water for agriculture andwater supply and the ability to move goods up and down the rivers. There isno doubt that these rivers, despite flowing through some of the mostparched and arid regions of the world, are capable of generating floodscapable of wiping out towns and devastating large areas. It is possible that
the flood narratives are all purely allegorical and apocryphal, with no basisin geophysical events, but there is also evidence they have roots incatastrophic geophysical events, recorded or remembered by ancientcultures, and woven into cultural and religious epics, legends, and moralitytales.We know now that many of the characters in the earliest Sumerian andAkkadian flood stories were real people relating real experiences. We arealso learning of real hydrologic events that could have been sufficientlycatastrophic to be remembered across time, worthy of telling and retellingfollowing generations. Three different kinds of actual events could haveformed the basis for epic flood stories in the Middle East: catastrophicregional flooding in the Black Sea basin, flooding from rapid sea-level risein the Persian/Arabian Gulf, and severe flooding along the Tigris-EuphratesRivers.Sea levels, rainfall patterns, and temperatures have all fluctuatednaturally over the past 20,000 years. Under some circumstances, the relativelevels of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea could have variedenough to raise the possibility of a rapid and sudden inflow or outflow ofvast quantities of water. In the late 1990s, a few researchers speculated thata catastrophic flood from the Mediterranean across the Bosphorus into theBlack Sea occurred around 5500 BCE (later revised to around 6800BCE).16 Under this “Black Sea Deluge” hypothesis, such a flood wouldhave affected prehistoric communities in the region, and those humans whofled and survived might have retained a dramatic flood narrative in theirtraditions. Current paleoclimatic evidence, however, suggests any possiblehydrologic exchanges between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea weregradual—on the order of centuries or even millennia—certainly not suddenenough to be considered catastrophic floods. In addition, the timing of thoseevents would have required retaining those stories within oral cultures forthousands of years before the invention of writing.17The end of the last glacial period that influenced the Black Sea scenarioalso led to large changes in sea level as the ice caps melted. Over a longperiod—perhaps 10,000 years—global sea level rose around 120 meters(390 feet), submerging coastal lands, including in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.Because early cultures in the region were located in the southern portion of
the Tigris-Euphrates watershed, they would have been exposed to theconsequences of any sea-level rise. It seems likely, however, that suchchanges would have been extremely slow, permitting a gradual retreat tohigher land over many years. In addition, the most significant rise in sealevels ended more than 6,000 years ago, making it an unlikely origin for theflood narratives, especially ones so definitively rooted in a rapid floodcaused by intense rains over a period of days.The possibility of severe flooding along the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers isthe most likely basis for epic flood stories in the Middle East. Like anymajor river system, both the Tigris and the Euphrates are capable ofproducing severe and rapidly evolving floods. Combined with theimportance of the rivers for irrigation and agriculture, the location of themajor cities on the rivers’ edges, and the flat nature of the lower watershedwhere the earliest Sumerian cities arose, the idea of storms causing rare butcatastrophic floods is both scientifically plausible and testable.The causes of floods in an arid or semiarid watershed can vary, from along and intense rainfall event to rapid upstream melting of snow stored inmountains to a physical failure of an upstream dam or lake to the rapidchange in the location of a riverbed—a process known as avulsion, when ariver breaks through a natural levee and suddenly shifts to a new streambedand floods new areas.xiv In low-lying regions where rivers carry a heavy siltload, these shifts are common, and there is clear evidence of many suchchanges in the courses of the Tigris and Euphrates. Ancient cities known tobe on the banks of these rivers were abandoned when the rivers shifted, andtheir ruins are now sometimes kilometers distant from the river’s modernlocation.Toward the end of the 1920s, archaeologists working in Mesopotamia atthe sites of the ancient Sumerian cities of Shuruppak, Ur, and Kish foundevidence of flooding on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the form oflayers of sediment sandwiched between the ruins of early cultures. StephenLangdon, an American Assyriologist and curator of the Babylonianarchives at the University of Pennsylvania, together with L. C. Watelin,encountered such sediments while excavating in the ruins of Kish, and theseflood deposits have been dated to around 2900 BCE, consistent with thenature and timing of the recovered flood narratives.18 Similar flood
deposits were discovered a few years later in the ruins of Shuruppak,downstream of Kish along the former riverbed of the Euphrates. Shuruppakis considered the home of Ziusudra, the Flood Hero of the Sumerian FloodEpic. Those deposits are also dated from around 2900 BCE, possibly fromthe same flooding that struck Kish. Other circumstantial evidence supportsthe possibility of a devastating flood around this time. The Sumerian KingList—the formal accounting of the rulers of Sumer—includes aroundeleven rulers between the epic flood and the rule of Gilgamesh (ca. 2600–2700 BCE), which would place the flood around 2900 BCE, fitting with thegeophysical evidence from Kish and Shuruppak.19Around the same time that Langdon and Watelin were digging in Kish,the famed British archaeologists Sir Charles Leonard Woolley and his wife,Katharine Woolley, together with teams from the British Museum and theUniversity of Pennsylvania, discovered the royal tombs of ancient Sumeriankings and queens in the ruins of Ur, to the south.xv Woolley dug a deep pitnear the tombs, revealing a chronological record of the civilizations datedfrom between 2900 BCE in the upper layers and 3500 BCE in the oldest. Inbetween, they also found a massive layer of silt three to four meters deepthey believed was laid down by a single massive flood event. As Woolleylater wrote: “By the time I had written up my notes I was quite convinced ofwhat it all meant; but I wanted to see whether others would come to thesame conclusion. So I brought up two of my staff and, after pointing out thefacts, asked for their explanation. They did not know what to say. My wifecame along and looked and was asked the same question, and she turnedaway remarking casually, ‘Well, of course, it’s the Flood.’”20Modern dating of these flood deposits shows this flood at Ur probablyoccurred around 3500 BCE, substantially earlier than the large flood eventsrecorded in the silt of Kish. While no contemporaneous written account ofthis event exists, oral histories could have survived. We do know that by themiddle of the second millennium BCE, the awareness of the risk of severeflooding along these rivers prompted cities along the region’s rivers to builddefensive levees and other infrastructure. Archaeologists have discoveredthat the city of Sippar, along the Euphrates River, was protected by akilometer-long earthen dike built during the reign of Hammurabi (ca. 1696–1654 BCE).
Similar flood events occurred in other cultures in Asia and the NewWorld. There is geological evidence for a massive catastrophic flood on theYellow River around 4,000 years ago. This flood is thought to have carriedmore than five hundred times the average flow of the river and is among thelargest freshwater floods recorded during the past 12,000 years. Someresearchers argue that the size of this flood and the efforts to prevent futurecatastrophes would have persisted in the oral stories of the time, eventuallybecoming the legend of the Great Yu recorded in written histories,21 similarto the Mesopotamian Flood Epics around the same time.We know that stories of great floods have survived through thousands ofyears, inspiring fear of the moral anger of the gods, and we know that therivers that lie at the heart of ancient cultures of the First Age of Water arecapable of generating massive floods. The archaeological work that broughtus these stories and hints of these early events also uncovered the remainsof the first significant water infrastructure and provided evidence of the firstefforts to learn how to live with, and ultimately control, the raging waters ofnature.Footnotesi Throughout the book, I try to use consistent wording for past periods,either “years ago” or the form “BCE: Before the Common Era,” where the“common era” began between the year 1 BC and AD 1 in the Gregoriancalendar; what the astronomical year-numbering system would call the yearzero. Thus, 1000 BCE is the same as 1000 BC, or approximately 3,000years ago.ii Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the dean of Westminster in 1872, cofounded thePalestine Exploration Fund, which supported many of the archaeologicalexpeditions to the Middle East. Their most famous expedition, led byCharles Warren in 1867, discovered the ancient water systems underJerusalem. Stanley‘s wife served as “lady in waiting” to Queen Victoria.iii Note that, as reported by the Times of London, this was a single sentence.Gladstone once gave a well-regarded speech on finance that lasted fivehours. His oratory skills included a mastery of facts and an ability to inspire
moral indignation, and he was known for his long rivalry with BenjaminDisraeli.iv There is a growing consensus that the first collapse of the AkkadianEmpire, just a few short centuries after Sargon, was the result of severedrought. E. Cookson, D. J. Hill, and D. Lawrence, “Impacts of Long TermClimate Change During the Collapse of the Akkadian Empire,” Journal ofArchaeological Science 106 (2019): 1–9.v This may be the first recorded labor dispute: “Heavy is our toil, excessivethe difficulty.”vi “You are the mother-womb, creatress of mankind; then create man, heshall bear the yoke.… The load of the gods man shall carry.”vii “The inhabited land had expanded, the people multiplied. The land wasbellowing like a bull.… Enlil had heard their din. He said to the great gods,‘grievous has grown the din of mankind.’”viii “Cut off sustenance from the people.… Let Adad withhold his rain, frombelow let there not rise the water from the spring, let the wind come andsweep the earth bare.… Let the field withdraw its yield.”ix Atrahasis means “exceedingly wise” in ancient Akkadian.x “Pull down the house, build a boat. Scorn goods, but save life.”xi Akkadian is the earliest known Semitic language and was used for 2,000years in ancient Babylonia and Assyria.xii There are many translations of Ovid. These sections come from Dryden‘sversion, translated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books, edited bySamuel Garth and published in 1717.xiii The Vedas are religious scriptures composed in ancient Sanskrit andrepresent some of the oldest texts of Hinduism.xiv Millions of dollars have been spent on control structures to try to preventthe Mississippi River from suddenly breaking through levees and shiftingits main flow down the Atchafalaya River, which would cause massivedisruption of shipping and commerce.xv In a historical aside, one of Woolley‘s top assistants was Max Mallowan,later to become the husband of author Agatha Christie, whose novel Murderin Mesopotamia was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs of Ur.
6CONTROLLING WATEREngineering is the art of directing the great sources of power innature for the use and convenience of man.—THOMAS TREDGOLD, PIONEERING ENGLISH CIVIL ENGINEER (1788–1829)PERHAPS THE MOST CRITICAL CHARACTERISTIC FOR THE SURVIVAL of our specieshas been the ability to manipulate the environment, including efforts tocontrol the waters around us. It is almost instinctive. Put kids in a creek or astream with a bunch of rocks and sticks, and there’s a good chance they willstart to build a dam. Suffer a devastating flood, and communities will startto build levees and dikes. Faced with a lack of rainfall, farmers will digditches to bring water to their field, drill wells, or build reservoirs to bankwater for dry periods. It should be no surprise that epic tales of floods anddroughts as well as the increasingly urgent need to provide food forgrowing populations helped inspire early humans to manipulate water totheir advantage.The evolution of modern humans involved more than the biologicaltransition to Homo sapiens. It required creating communities, developingengineering and technological skills, and transforming cultures. Asexpanding populations led to larger organized communities, there were alsosocial advances in the form of enhanced trade and economies, blossomingart and culture, and concentrated political power. The growth of towns andcities also drove the need to find larger and larger quantities of fresh waterthan ever before from greater and greater distances. Even with lowerpopulation densities than we find today, ancient cities outgrew their localwater supplies, especially in regions where river flows were unreliable andwhere groundwater was hard to find and collect. These challenges led to the
first efforts to build large-scale water infrastructure of the kinds we still relyon today: canals and aqueducts to move water from where nature providedit to where it was needed, dams and reservoirs to store water in wet periodsfor use in dry ones, and levees and diversions to reduce the destructivepower of floods.The ancient Sumerian city of Eridu was founded around 5200 BCE nearthe mouth of the Euphrates River and was the home of the Sumerian god offresh water, Enki. Archaeological digs have revealed the extensive use ofartificial irrigation in the form of a canal system to channel water fromrivers and streams to the city and surrounding farms. An ancient documentrecovered from the ruins talks about the role of one of the earliest knowngovernment officials, the canal inspector. Indeed, Sargon the Great, whoreigned from around 2334 to 2279 BCE and is known as the first ruler ofthe Akkadian Empire after conquering the Sumerian city-states, may havestarted his career as an irrigation official in the royal service of Sumeria,becoming the powerful administrator of the water system.1When Hammurabi founded the kingdom of Babylon (ca. 1792–1750BCE), he too understood the importance of reliable irrigation supplies forpolitical power. Letters and documents recovered from the time describe theconstruction of a canal called “Hammurabi is abundance for the people,”and this influential king is described in the Code of Hammurabi (uncoveredon a giant stone stele in Sura in 1901) as “he who establishes abundantwaters for its people.”2 Other early cultures also prized the ability tomanage and manipulate water for social benefit.A remarkable example of large-scale water management was discoveredin marshlands along China’s Yangtze River delta. The Liangzhu culture,dated to between 5,300 and 4,300 years ago, predated the historical Chinesedynasties and included a vast hydraulic system of large and small dams,cisterns, irrigation canals, and water temples built around 5,000 years ago ina region of early intensive rice farming. Archaeologists believe theconstruction of these projects at Liangzhu required thousands of people andthat the control of water supported tens of thousands more for centuriesbefore being abandoned around 4,200 to 4,300 years ago as the regionbecame drier.3
The Chinese also have an ancient legend about the “Great Yu WhoControlled the Waters” (⼤禹治⽔), a king remembered for his efforts tocontrol the floodwaters of the Yellow River more than 4,000 years ago. Thefirst record of his exploits comes from inscriptions and pottery created morethan a thousand years after his death. The legend tells of a figure who ate,slept, and worked with common workers to build diversions, canals, andlevees that allowed the Chinese civilization to flourish alongside a rivercapable of devastating floods. Because of his efforts, Yu was so popular thathe became the founding emperor of the Xia dynasty at the transition fromthe Stone Age to the Bronze Age. This dynasty is the first in Chinesehistory and considered by some to be the true beginning of Chinesecivilization. Due to a lack of direct evidence of his existence, somehistorians speculate that Yu symbolically represents the efforts of the earlycommunities struggling to tame devastating floods. However, the Great Yuis, even today, celebrated as a wise ruler who worked to help the commonpeople by conquering floods thousands of years ago.4Today, tens of thousands of dams—from tiny stone barriers to massivemodern marvels of earth, concrete, and steel—store, modify, channel, anddivert the waters of almost every major river. So much water has beenstored behind the world’s dams that it has measurably altered the veryrotation of the planet.i The length of a day on Earth is a few microsecondsshorter today because of the impoundment of thousands of cubic kilometersof water in artificial reservoirs in places water didn’t use to be.5While evidence of most ancient dams has long since been washed awayby the erosive powers of water and time, archaeologists have found remainsfrom thousands of years ago of some of the first efforts to control andmanage the flow of rivers for human use. The earliest evidence forrudimentary dams is the remains of small stone structures used to capturerainfall and hold water on agricultural fields for longer periods of time anddiversions to move water from a stream to a field or small reservoir. Butarchaeologists have also uncovered evidence of more ambitious efforts tocontrol large flows in Mesopotamia and Egypt, including true dams in thesense of a physical, permanent structure built across a river to create areservoir to store water, provide flood control, or divert water to anaqueduct for distant use.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Antoine Poidebard, a Jesuit missionary, formerFrench spy, and aviator, adapted the use of aerial photography developedduring the Great War to archaeological research. He flew his modifiedbiplane over the Middle East, taking pictures that revealed traces of ancientcivilizations buried under the sands. He published a series of photos and adetailed map in his 1934 book La trace de Rome dans le désert de Syrie thathe believed proved the existence of early Roman towns in regions along theEuphrates and Tigris Rivers.6 This work made him famous, in botharchaeological circles and with the general public eager for informationfrom the mysterious Levant.7One of the sites revealed in his photos was Jawa, in the western part ofthe black basalt desert a hundred kilometers northeast of Amman, Jordan. Itwas not until the 1970s, however, that a team of archaeologists, led bySvend Helms of the London University Institute of Archaeology, began toexcavate the remote site. What they found was not an old Roman town, buta far older Bronze Age settlement dated to around 5,600 years ago (around3600 BCE) along the Wadi Rajil, a waterway that drains the southeasternpart of the volcanic region of Jebel al-Druze.8 Helms described Jawa as“the best preserved fourth-millennium town yet discovered… paradoxicallybuilt in a place—the Black Desert—where it could hardly exist today andprobably hardly when it was built.”9 Even though it was founded when theclimate would have been somewhat wetter, the community would have hadto find ways to harness the irregular flows of the Wadi Rajil to survive.During their exploration of Jawa, Helms and his team uncovered theremains of elaborate water-collection and -distribution canals and channelsto collect rainwater to irrigate terraced gardens and fields. The channelswere fed by three dams constructed between 3500 and 3400 BCE. Twosmaller structures diverted water from the Wadi Rajil to the cultivatedfields, while the third, the Jawa Dam, is now considered the oldest knowndam designed to block the entire flow of the river and store water for dryperiods. Jawa Dam was about 50 meters long and 9 meters high, built fromgravel reinforced with rock fill, with dry masonry walls surrounding anearthen core. The dam ultimately failed, washed away by a high floodcharacteristic of the region and climate.
FIGURE 5. The remains of the Sadd el-Kafara Damin Egypt. Photo by Jean-Luc Frérotte (2008) andused with permission.The second-oldest large dam found by archaeologists is the Sadd el-Kafara in Egypt, built ca. 2700 to 2600 BCE, many centuries after the JawaDam. Located on the Wadi al-Garawi, a tributary to the Nile south of Cairo,the Sadd el-Kafara was a masonry-faced, rock- and earth-filled dam built tocontrol flooding and perhaps provide more reliable local water supply(Figure 5). It was substantially larger and more sophisticated than the damat Jawa, measuring over 110 meters (around 330 feet) long and 14 meters(over 40 feet) high. It is estimated that if it had been completed, it couldhave stored nearly a half-million cubic meters of water, or more than 120million gallons. Archaeological evidence suggests it was under constructionfor more than a decade, but it was destroyed before completion, alsooverwhelmed by a major flood.10 There is no sign that Egyptian engineerstried to build another dam for nearly a thousand years.11The most successful ancient dam found to date is the Great Marib Damnear the city of the same name, along the river Dhana in Yemen. Marib wasthe capital of the Sabaean kingdom, thought to be Sheba mentioned in theOld Testament and the Holy Koran. The Sabaeans were a Semitic peoplewho controlled trade in spice, silk, ivory, and other goods, includingfrankincense and myrrh, between the East and the West. The dam—anearth-filled and stone-fronted dam—was built by the Sabaeans around 800
to 700 BCE, though there is some tentative evidence that a smaller, earlierversion may have been built around 1750 BCE.12 The dam was more than650 meters long and 14 meters high and provided water supply andirrigation water, storing around 400 million cubic meters of water. It lastedfor more than a thousand years, with numerous breaches and repairsthrough the centuries. One stone inscription on the dam describes repairsrequiring 20,000 workers and 14,000 camels.13 The dam finally succumbedto a flood around AD 570 that breached the dam and destroyed itsfoundations.ii This flood was so damaging, it receives a mention in the HolyKoran, written a half century later, which describes a flood sent by God as apunishment for the Sabaeans turning away from Islam, destroying the dam,laying the countryside and fields to waste, and leaving behind only wildgrowth and “bitter fruits.” “But they [the Saba] turned away and so We letloose upon them a devastating flood that swept away the dams and replacedtheir gardens by two others bearing bitter fruits, tamarisks, and a few lotetrees” (Koran 34:16; translation from the Islamic Foundation, UnitedKingdom).Remarkably, some of the oldest dams are still in use, repaired, updated,and modified over the centuries. The Kallanai or Grand Anicut Dam wasbuilt on the Kaveri River in Tamil Nadu, India, sometime between 100 BCEand AD 100 during the reign of King Karikalan. It was somewhatmodernized in the nineteenth century by the British and still providesirrigation water. The Kaerumataike Dam was built in AD 162 on the YodoRiver below Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. Many dams builtby the Roman Empire are still in operation, including the Proserpina andCornalvo Dams near Merida, Spain, built between the late first and earlysecond century AD. They were built originally as earthen dams but havebeen refurbished and reinforced with concrete in recent years, and both stillprovide local water supply. The Quatinah Barrage (or Lake Homs Dam) inSyria on the Orontes River was built for irrigation purposes around AD 284by the Roman emperor Diocletian. At that time, it was almost certainly thelargest dam ever built, extending two kilometers long with a concrete corebuttressed by basalt blocks. A more modern and larger version was builtbetween 1934 and 1938 and still supplies water for the city of Homs.
During the First Age of Water, the energy needed to move water longdistances or pump it from wells could come from only three places: humanmuscle, animal power, or gravity. Yet the importance of water and the needfor large quantities of it for growing cities and irrigated agriculture spurredtechnological innovation. By around 3000 BCE, irrigation canals had beendug throughout Mesopotamia to divert water from the Tigris or EuphratesRiver to nearby fields for agriculture. The shadoof—a rudimentary cranewith a long pole and bucket and a counterweight—was invented, permittinga worker to efficiently lift water out of a river to an irrigation channel orvillage water supply (Figure 6). By 2000 BCE, the shadoof was in use inancient Egypt, and versions have been seen in many other early cultures.FIGURE 6. A shadoof, or water crane, NorthAfrica: men are shown operating the water-raisingmachine. Photograph, 1870/1886? Public domain.https://wellcomecollection.org /works/s7dvjsfw.Archaeologists have also uncovered evidence that by around 700 BCE,mechanical screw pumps were being used, lifting water inside a cylinder.An Akkadian clay tablet recovered from the ruins of Nineveh describes in
detail bronze machines in the form of a water screw for raising water topalace gardens. Archimedes (287–212 BCE) later described this technology—and its invention is sometimes mistakenly attributed to him—and similardevices are described in writings of the Greek author Strabo (ca. 64 BCE toAD 24) (Figure 7).14Both the shadoof and the more efficient water screws still require hugeamounts of human or animal energy to operate over long periods and, evenso, deliver only modest amounts of water for gardens or personal use or forirrigating small agricultural fields. Far better for moving large quantities ofwater is to take advantage of gravity: find a water source uphill of yourdemand and engineer a gently sloping channel that brings water downhill toyou. Such aqueducts required a great deal of planning and carefulconstruction. Even today, when massive mechanical pumps powered bymodern sources of energy are available to lift water over mountains,engineers design aqueducts to take as much advantage of gravity aspossible. For these early cultures, there was no other option.FIGURE 7. Water-lifting devices, including whathas become known as the Archimedes Screw (onthe left), drawn by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519).Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy, 1480. AtlanticCodex (Codex Atlanticus), f. 26 verso. Publicdomain.Three to four thousand years ago, ancient builders began diggingthrough rock and soil to create underground channels to bring water frommountain aquifers to the arid and semiarid villages of what are today Iranand the Arabian Peninsula. Over time, they dug thousands of thesesubsurface canals, called qanats in Iran and karez in Afghanistan and
China, and even today qanats provide substantial amounts of water forsome communities. A survey by the Iranian government in 2014 identified37,000 active qanats delivering more than 10 percent of the country’sgroundwater supply.15 Until the 1960s and the construction of the KarajDam and other water systems, Iran’s capital city, Tehran, depended on anancient qanat system bringing water more than twenty kilometers from theElburz Mountains.Qanats are gravity-fed underground stone pipelines or aqueducts. Theyare often kilometers long, with access points at regular intervals where localworkers can remove sand, silt, and debris and ensure continued flow ofwater. Dating of the remains of an ancient qanat at Miam in northeasternIran suggests that it could have been built 3,500 to 4,200 years ago (2200 to1500 BCE), but the exact dates for the earliest construction of qanats areprobably lost.16 The Ghasabe qanat in Gonabad, northeastern Iran, wasbuilt between 700 and 500 BCE by the Achaemenid Empire, runs more thanthirty-three kilometers, and still carries water today. Water for the cities ofHagmatana, established around 620 BCE, and Persepolis, founded in 520BCE, was supplied by qanats.17 Between 560 and 330 BCE, thePersian/Achaemenid Empire expanded to Egypt and as far away as India,introducing qanats to cultures far from the Middle East.18The earliest written record of qanats comes from fragments of acuneiform tablet describing the eighth military campaign of the Assyrianking Sargon II in Persia in 714 BCE. Sargon II ruled Assyria from around722 BCE until his death in battle in 705 in a reign marked by endlessmilitary campaigns against the kingdoms of Carchemish and Urartu in thenorth and west, Babylon in the south, Samaria and the Kingdom of Israel inthe south and west, and Persia in the east.iii Translations of the tabletdescribing Sargon’s Persian campaign show that he found surprising“secret” subterranean canals providing water to the city of Ulhu anddestroyed them to force the city to surrender. “I blocked the outlet of thecanal [qanat], the stream (which was) his reservoir, and turned the freshwaters into mud.… With the widespreading armies of Assyria Ioverwhelmed all of their cities, like locusts.”19
The lessons Sargon learned about water supply were passed on to hisson Sennacherib. Sennacherib ascended to the throne in 705 BCE and ruleduntil he died in 681 BCE, murdered by two of his own sons attempting totake the throne. Of all the ancient rulers of Mesopotamia, from the earliestSumerians to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and all the laterempires, Sennacherib was the most committed to building, expanding, andmaintaining a complex hydraulic society. Details of his reign are describedin the Old Testament and in tens of thousands of cuneiform tabletsrecovered from the ruins scattered throughout the region. He is known forhis attack on Jerusalem and King Hezekiah, his capture and destruction ofthe city of Babylon in 689 BCE, and his construction and expansion of thecity of Nineveh as the capital of Assyria on the eastern banks of the TigrisRiver. At the peak of his power, Sennacherib ruled over lands from southernTurkey to Egypt.Throughout his empire, Sennacherib applied and expanded on thelessons learned from his father about water. Around 700 BCE his workersbuilt a twenty-kilometer qanat to provide water to the city of Erbil from theWadi Bastura.20 He massively expanded Assyria’s use of sophisticatedcanals and built mechanical hand-powered pumps, artificial wetlands, and,ultimately, the massive Jerwan Aqueduct project, part of a remarkablesuccession of water engineering projects that succeeded in transforming thelong-neglected city of Nineveh into a garden that some argue may havebeen the model for, or even the actual location of, what has come to beknown as the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.21In April 1932, Thorkild Jacobsen, a renowned Danish historian andarchaeologist and later professor of Assyriology at Harvard University,heard rumors of ancient ruins in the foothills of Iraq while working toexcavate the remains of Sargon II’s capital city, Dur-Sharrukin.iv He set outto explore the site, known as Jerwan, north of the present-day city of Mosul,and realized the significance of the ruins after coming upon cuneiforminscriptions and evidence of a colossal structure long buried in silt and dirt.Earlier archaeologists had noted ruins, cut stone, and inscriptions in thearea. In the 1840s and 1850s, English archaeologist and historian Sir AustenHenry Layard, known for his work uncovering the ruins of Nineveh andNimrud and discovering the Library of Ashurbanipal, visited the village and
noted the remains of a “well-built raised causeway of stone.” Otherarchaeologists passing through the area around the turn of the century notedevidence of what they thought was a roadway or bridge, but it was Jacobsenwho literally and figuratively put all the pieces together. He realized that theruins were the remains of a large water aqueduct more than a quarter of akilometer in length and fifteen meters wide, built with millions of stonescarefully cut and assembled with waterproof cement, designed to carrywater from the mountains across the Khenis River gorge to the Atrush canaland then another fifty kilometers to the Khosr River and Sennacherib’scapital, Nineveh. This aqueduct, dated from around 700 BCE, is nowconsidered to be the oldest known, predating Roman aqueducts by fivecenturies.Jacobsen translated inscriptions found at the site, including one carvedinto the foundation of the aqueduct that reads: “Sennacherib king of theworld, king of Assyria. Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed tothe environs of Nineveh, joining together the waters.… Over steep-sidedvalleys I spanned an aqueduct of white limestone blocks, I made thosewaters flow over it.”22The Jerwan Aqueduct was one piece of a larger set of hydraulic systemsthat Sennacherib built in his lifetime. After expanding the canal system toprovide water for his new capital of Nineveh, he developed flood-protectionsystems in the form of wetlands and marshes to absorb high winter flowsand irrigation systems to provide water in the summers for the agriculturalfields of his expanding empire. As was true of kings and emperorsthroughout Mesopotamian history, he was not shy about boasting about hisaccomplishments, carving them into stone and baking them into clay tabletsthat today provide a historical record.I saw streams and enlarged their narrow sources and turned them intorivers. To give these waters a course through the steep mountains I cutthrough the difficult places with pickaxes and directed their outflow onto the plains of Nineveh. I strengthened their channels, heaping up(their banks) mountain high, and secured those waters within them.… Iadded them to the Khosr’s waters forever. I had all of the orchardswatered in the hot season. In winter, a thousand fields of alluvium
above and below the city I had them water every year. To arrest theflow of these waters, I made a swamp and set out a canebrake within it.Sennacherib continued to build water systems throughout his reign. Intablets recovered from the ruins of Nineveh dated between 694 and 690BCE, he boasted,I greatly enlarged the site of Nineveh. Its wall and outer wall thereof,which had not existed before, I built anew and raised mountain high. Itsfields, which through lack of water had fallen into neglect and… whileits people, ignorant of artificial irrigation, turned their eyes heavenwardfor showers of rain—those fields I watered.… Eighteen canals I dugand directed their course into the Khosr River. From the border of thetown of Kisiri to the midst of Nineveh I dug a canal… Sennacherib’sChannel I called its name.… I, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, firstamong all princes, who marched safely from the rising sun to thesetting sun, by means of the waters from the canals which I had causedto be dug… I irrigated annually to cultivate grain and sesame.23Ironically, and perhaps unintentionally, Sennacherib inspired anothermajor early feat of water engineering. The first known water tunnel dugfrom two ends simultaneously was carved from the rocks during the reignof King Hezekiah of Judah beneath the City of David in Jerusalem toprotect the city’s water source from an impending siege by Sennacherib andto deny water to the besieging Assyrian armies.24 This undergroundaqueduct—now known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel—runs a half kilometer anddiverts the waters from the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam withinJerusalem’s ancient walls. This tunnel corresponds to the waterworksmentioned in the Old Testament: “And the rest of the events of Hezekiahand all his mighty deeds, and how he made the conduit and the pool, and hebrought the water into the city, they are written in the book of the chroniclesof the kings of Judah” (2 Kings 20:20).25By the time of his death, Sennacherib had built more than 150kilometers of canals and channels, together with tunnels, dams, reservoirs,and extensive gardens, permitting irrigation of lands well beyond theborders of Nineveh.26
Thus began the era of large-scale water engineering, with succeedingempires learning from and advancing the practice of moving, storing, andmanipulating the hydrologic cycle. The Romans improved and expanded onthese concepts, building extensive and complex water networks across thevast territories they controlled to bring fresh water to Roman cities. Aswater flowed into Roman cities, it was used for drinking and irrigation andto supply hundreds of public fountains and baths, many of which stillfunction today. Early Rome alone had eleven aqueduct systems supplyingfresh water from sources as far as 92 kilometers away supporting whatmight have been a million people. The Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructedby Agrippa in 19 BCE during Augustus’s reign, still supplies water toRome’s famous Trevi Fountain in the heart of the city.The most recognizable feature of Roman aqueducts may be thosemodeled after the Jerwan Aqueduct, the bridges constructed using roundedstone arches, carrying water in channels at the top, crossing rivers andvalleys along the hundreds of kilometers of aqueducts throughout theempire. In 2018 my wife and I explored the massive Pont du Gard, aremarkably well-preserved ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the firstcentury AD across the Gardon River in southern France (Figure 8), andevidence of Roman aqueducts built between 310 BCE and AD 225 can stillbe found in France, Spain, Greece, North Africa, the United Kingdom, andTurkey. The engineering and construction skills needed to build andmaintain these structures presaged the advances that occurred worldwide inthe Second Age of Water.
FIGURE 8. The Pont du Gard, built in the firstcentury AD across the Gardon River in southernFrance. Water was carried in the aqueduct at the topof the bridge. Photo by Peter Gleick, 2018.The ability to manipulate and control water resources was recognized byeven the earliest empires as crucial for political and economic power, as theefforts of Sargon the Great, Hammurabi, and Sennacherib attest. In the earlytwentieth century, Gertrude Bell,v a tremendously influential Britishpolitical adviser, historian, and part-time archaeologist in the Middle East,said of Iraq that “he who holds the irrigation canals, holds the country.”27 Itshould therefore be no surprise that the First Age of Water also broughtviolent conflict directly associated with the control of vital water resources—the first water war, 4,500 years ago.Footnotesi Like a spinning skater who shifts her weight distribution by drawing herarms toward her body to speed up her spin.ii The Great Marib Dam is considered one of the great feats of ancientengineering, but it recently suffered extensive damage from multiple airstrikes by Saudi Arabian military actions in Yemen. G. Carvajal, “The GreatMarib Dam, One of the Engineering Wonders of Antiquity,” LBVMagazine, June 29, 2020; “UNESCO Director-General Condemns
Airstrikes on Yemen’s Cultural Heritage,” UNESCO, June 2, 2015.iii Sargon II adopted the name of Sargon the Great, who founded theAkkadian Empire 1,700 years earlier.iv Dur-Sharrukin is the present-day city of Khorsabad, Iraq.v When Bell died, King Faisal of Iraq wrote, “Gertrude Bell is a name thatis written indelibly on Arab history—a name which is spoken with awe.…One might say she was the greatest woman of her time.” K. E. Meyer and S.B. Brysac, Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East (NewYork: W. W. Norton, 2008). Werner Herzog’s movie Queen of the Desert(starring Nicole Kidman as Bell) chronicles her life.
7THE FIRST WATER WARLet the man of Umma never cross the border of Ningirsu! Let himnever damage the dyke or the ditch! Let him not move the stele! If hecrosses the border, may the great net of Enlil, king of heaven andearth, by whom he has made oath, fall upon Umma!—FROM THE STELE OF THE VULTURES, CA. 2450 BCEAS INTENTIONAL AGRICULTURE EXPANDED, AND AS THE NEED to manage andmanipulate water for the benefit of early communities grew, the control ofwater became increasingly important for economic and political power.With the desire to control water came violence and conflict. In nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century excavations on the floodplains of the Tigris andEuphrates Rivers, French and British archaeologists uncovered clay tabletsand limestone monuments describing the world’s first known war overwater nearly 4,500 years ago between the ancient Sumerian city-states ofLagash and Umma, about thirty kilometers apart in what is today southernIraq. This conflict persisted for more than a hundred years, over multiplegenerations, as the cities fought over access to water, the control ofirrigation canals, and possession of fertile lands.The two most important documents describing the conflict, literallycarved in stone, are the Stele of the Vultures and the Cone of Enmetena,both now in the Louvre Museum in Paris (Figures 9 and 10).i The Stele ofthe Vultures has been partially restored from limestone pieces found in theruins of the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu of the city-state of Lagash, and itis named for the carvings of vultures carrying the severed heads of enemywarriors at the top of the relief. Some historians consider it to be the oldestknown historical document, dated to ca. 2450 BCE. The sections that have
been recovered describe how Eannatum, ruler of Lagash around 2460 BCE,commissioned the stele after one of Lagash’s victories over Umma. Thesecond key document is Lagash’s Enmetena foundation cone, a terra-cottatext that lays out the detailed history of the Lagash-Umma water dispute—carved perhaps fifty years after the Stele of the Vultures during the reign ofKing Enmetena, Eannatum’s grandson.FIGURE 9. Stele of the Vultures.Used with permission of PhilippeMattmann, louvrebible.com.Around 2550 BCE, Mesalim, king of the Sumerian city-state of Kishand ruler of most of Sumer, intervened to settle a dispute between theneighboring city-states of Lagash and Umma over water. As part of thesettlement, Mesalim built a canal carrying water from the Tigris River, laidout a border, and created the Treaty of Mesalim—the oldest known legaltreaty, found inscribed on clay cylinders and also described on thefoundation cone of Enmetena. This treaty required Umma to relinquishclaims over water and irrigated land and to pay tribute to Lagash in the
form of grain. A stone monument describing the terms of the agreementwas erected on the border between the two cities. “By the immutable wordof Enlil, king of the lands, father of the gods, Ningirsu and Shara set aboundary to their lands. Mesalim, King of Kish, at the command of hisdeity Kadi, set up a stele in the plantation of that field.”1
FIGURE 10. The Cone ofEnmetena, a clay and terra-cotta artifact created around2400 BCE. Currently in theLouvre Museum, Paris.Public domain.https://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/the-ancient-world/mesopotamia/cone-of-enmetena/.Eighty years after the treaty, around 2470 BCE, the agreement collapsed,and Umma, under the rule of King Ush, fought to recover control over the
disputed lands, sparking the first known war over water. Ush removed theboundary stones and invaded Lagash, ruled by King Eannatum. Enmetena’saccount of the conflict states Ush “smashed the stele and marched on theplain of Lagash. Ningirsu, the warrior of Enlil [the gods of Lagash], at hisjust command, did battle with Umma.… Eannatum defeated him. Umma’s3600 corpses reached the base of heaven.”2In this initial conflict, Lagash successfully reestablished the border andrebuilt the monuments and markers that had been destroyed.3 King Ush ofUmma was killed or fled. The Stele of the Vultures depicts Eannatumleading his army against Umma and vultures devouring slain warriors.4Umma’s next leader, Enakale, signed an agreement with Eannatum, offeringa tribute of grain and swearing to respect the waters, canals, boundaries,monuments, and territory of Lagash. He acknowledged that violating thetreaty would bring down the wrath of Enlil, the god of heaven and earth:I shall operate the levees up to the spring,and forever and ever over the boundary territory of Ningirsu [thepatron god of Lagash] I shall not cross.To its levees and irrigation ditches I shall not make changes.Its steles I shall not smash to bits.On a day when I may cross over it, the great casting-net of Enlil,king of heaven and earth,by which I have sworn, upon Umma may it fall from the sky!The peace between Umma and Lagash was fleeting. Enakale ruled foreight years before being succeeded by his son Ur-Lumma, who soonlaunched new hostilities against Lagash.5 Unwilling to pay the grain tributeowed by his father’s treaty, Ur-Lumma invaded Lagash, now ruled byEnannatum, who had succeeded to the throne after the death of his brotherEannatum. Once again, Ur-Lumma destroyed the stone markers laying outthe border and diverted water from the irrigation canals. In a series ofbattles, Enannatum and his son Enmetena again drove Umma back behindthe original borders around 2430 BCE.6 Ur-Lumma was killed, perhaps byhis own people, and replaced on the throne by his nephew Il. As the Coneof Enmetena relates:
Ur-Lumma, the governor of Umma, diverted the water from theboundary channel of Ningirsu (and) the boundary channel of Nanshe.He set fire to their stelae and smashed them. He destroyed the daises ofthe gods that were erected at Namnundakigara. He recruited all thehostile lands and transgressed the boundary channel of Ningirsu.Enannatum, the governor of Lagash, fought with him in the Ugigafield, the field of Ningirsu. Enmetena, the beloved son of Enannatum,defeated him. Ur-Lumma escaped, but Eannatum forced him back toUmma. He abandoned his asses—they were 60 teams—at the bank ofthe Lummagirnunta canal and left the bones of their men scattered inthe plain. He [Enmetena] made burial mounds in five places for them.7King Il continued the conflict a few years later, again destroying fieldsand canals, stealing grain and water from Lagash, and flooding cropland.Enmetena sent envoys to Umma, but Il, described in the recoveredhistorical documents as “the governor of Umma, who steals fields andspeaks evil,”ii sent them away, saying, “The boundary-channel of Ningirsuand the boundary-channel of Nanshe are mine.”8 The war continued, andagain Il and Umma were driven back in defeat.9 After Enmetena’s death afew years later, Il once again attacked Lagash and this time successfullyseized control and flooded some of the disputed lands—the first militaryvictory by Umma. A generation later, the then king of Umma, Lugalzagesi,successfully captured and sacked Lagash, only to quickly fall in defeatbefore the rising regional power of the Akkadians under Sargon the Great.Violence over water in lands along the Tigris and Euphrates has neverreally stopped as the rivers and political powers there have waxed andwaned. Sargon II, the Assyrian king from 720 to 705 BCE, destroyed asophisticated irrigation system of the Chaldeans during a militarycampaign.iii When the walls and temples of Babylon were razed bySennacherib around 690 BCE, the waters of the Euphrates were used towash away the ruins. In 612 BCE, a coalition of Egyptian, Persian, andBabylonian forces attacked and destroyed Nineveh, the capital of Assyria,by diverting the Khosr River to create a flood.10 Ancient historian Berossusdescribes the efforts of King Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 BCE) to defend
Babylon by digging canals and preventing the diversion of the Euphrates,11while Herodotus describes how, just a few decades later, in 539 BCE, Cyrusthe Great successfully invaded Babylon by diverting the Euphrates into thedesert above the city and marching his troops down the dry riverbed andinto the city.12 Today, water in the region remains both scarce and a criticalresource for food, economies, and power, and more than 4,500 years afterthe first recorded water war in history, violence over access to and controlof water and the use of water as a tool of war continues.13Conflicts over water or the use of water as a weapon have also beenreported in other ancient cultures. In 204 BCE during a civil war in Chinabetween the Han dynasty and feuding local warlords from the recent fall ofthe Qin dynasty, the Wei River was used as a weapon by the Han. A damacross the river was built, and then breached, in order to destroy anopposing army. A century later, water was again used as a weapon duringthe war between the Han dynasty and the country of the Dayuan in theFerghana Valley of central Asia,iv when the Chinese forced Ferghana tosurrender by cutting off its water supply. “In the city of the king of Yuan[Ferghana] there were no wells and the people had to obtain water from ariver outside the city, whereupon experts in hydraulics were sent to divertthe course of the river, thus depriving the city of water.”14With the growing cities and empires of the First Age of Water, disputesover water ultimately drove the need to create the first rules and institutionsdevoted to regulating and adjudicating disputes over access to, control of,and management of water.Footnotesi While this is sometimes spelled Entemena, scholars now believe Enmetenais more correct. Both versions are commonly found in the literature.ii It is worth noting that this perspective on the Lagash-Umma water warcomes only from the recovered documents of Lagash, bringing to mind theadage “History is written by the victors.”iii The Chaldeans were a group that dominated parts of southeastern
Mesopotamia and Babylonia from around 950 to 536 BCE, when it wasabsorbed into the Persian Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great.iv Settled by descendants of Greek colonists from the Persian Empire andAlexander the Great.
8LAWS AND INSTITUTIONSLaw is born from despair of human nature.—JOSÉ ORTEGA Y GASSETA MID THE DRYNESS OF ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA, THE ERRATIC nature of therivers and the need for construction and management skills beyond thecapability of small villages drove the creation of explicit rules to govern themanagement, ownership, and use of water. Mismanagement or conflict overwater meant crop failure, starvation, and social unrest. The rise ofcivilizations and empires brought the need for laws to guide social behaviorand codify moral and ethical principles. Sometimes these laws weredescribed as gifts from the gods; sometimes they evolved through socialand community interactions; sometimes they were written by rulers tryingto bring—or impose—order on chaos.In the western United States today, there is a classic quip that while wemay run out of water, we’ll never run out of water lawyers. The ancientSumerians had water lawyers too. The oldest known legal code is the Codeof Ur-Nammu, dated to around 2100 BCE, uncovered in cuneiform tabletsfound in the ruins of the Sumerian city of Nippur. Only a portion of thecode has been found.1 The laws describe a set of crimes followed byspecific punishments, including the crimes of murder, theft, rape, andadultery, but also the first known instance of a law related to liability for themismanagement of water: “If a man floods the field of a man with water, heshall measure out three kur of grain per iku of field.” Very roughly, basedon what we know about early Mesopotamian units of measure, this is
equivalent to around two metric tons per hectare, remarkably similar tocurrent grain yields in the modern Middle East.iFour centuries later, during Hammurabi’s rule in Babylon (ca. 1810–1750 BCE), more comprehensive laws relating to water were published aspart of the “Code of Hammurabi”—laws known from clay tablets and astone stele, now in the Louvre Museum. Babylon began as a town on thebanks of the Euphrates around 2300 BCE. It remained small for hundreds ofyears, surrounded by the more powerful states of Assyria, Larsa, Nippur,Lagash, and Kish, until the rise of Hammurabi (1792–1750 BCE), who in afew short years conquered all of southern Mesopotamia and created the firstBabylonian kingdom. At the peak of its power, first under Hammurabi andagain a thousand years later under Nebuchadnezzar (who ruled from around605 to 562 BCE), Babylon may have been the largest city in the world, witha population of as many as 200,000.2 Its influence was so strong thatAlexander the Great of Macedonia attempted to rebuild the city and make itthe heart of his own empire, which stretched from the Middle East to Indiaand central Asia, and he died in Babylon in 323 BCE.Like all empires, Babylon’s fortunes waxed and waned under Akkadian,Assyrian, Chaldean, Achaemenid, and even Roman influences, eventuallyfading in power and succumbing to the literal and figurative sands of timein the Middle East. Today, only a small fraction of the remains of ancientBabylon have been found, excavated, and studied. Much of what remainslies unexcavated under the bed of the Euphrates River, which has shiftedcourse over millennia, but archaeologists have uncovered water-distributioncanals for both water supply and sewage beneath the ruins, along with wellsfor accessing river water, and possibly a rotating bucket system to providecontinuous water supplies.3Written records recovered from archaeological digs describe howHammurabi devoted great effort to developing and expanding the region’sirrigation canals and water-distribution systems, understanding that accessto water provided the food and prosperity necessary for binding hiskingdom together. His construction efforts brought water to parts ofsouthern Mesopotamia that previously lacked reliable access to water fromthe Euphrates, including digging and improving major canals that extendedfor more than 150 kilometers from Babylon and providing “the everlasting
waters of abundance” for the cities of Isin, Nippur, Uruk, Larsa, Eridu,Sippar, and Ur.4 The most important of Hammurabi’s canals is the Nuhush-nishi, or “the abundance of the people” canal. “When Anu and Bel gave methe land of Sumer and Akkad to rule… I dug out the Hammurabi canalnamed Nuhush-nishi which bringeth abundance of water unto the lands ofSumer and Akkad. Both the banks thereof I changed to fields for cultivationand I garnered piles of grain and I procured unfailing water for the land ofSumer and Akkad.”5In another recovered document, he writes to a local irrigation official,Sin-idinnam, complaining about the slow progress in clearing silt out of acanal in the city of Erech, saying, “When, therefore, thou shalt behold thistablet, with the company of men at thy disposal thou shalt clear within thecity of Erech in three days. After thou has cleared out that canal, thou shaltdo the work concerning which I have written unto thee.”6Hammurabi’s greatest legacy, however, is the Code of Hammurabi—themost comprehensive of the earliest known laws regulating family andhousehold behavior, commercial transactions, and social transgressions.While the code built upon earlier legal systems, such as the laws of Ur-Nammu, it is the most detailed ancient legal document uncovered to date.The code is known from several copies and versions from around 1790BCE, including the most famous—a carved 2.25-meter- (7.4-foot-) tall graybasalt stele found in 1901 in Susa, Iran, now on display in the Louvre inParis (Figure 11). None of the recovered versions are complete, but expertsbelieve there were around 282 laws in total, addressing a wide range oftransgressions and setting punishments based on the severity of the crimeand the social position, gender, and economic status of both the victim andthe perpetrator. These laws are literally the origin of the classic concept ofan eye for an eye: one of the laws is translated as “If a man destroy the eyeof another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one breaks a man’s bone, theyshall break his bone.” It is also the first known legal code to address accessto and management of fresh water. The Code of Hammurabi includes sevenlaws related to water and water infrastructure, including one that could beconsidered the first known instance of flood and drought insurance, several
related to the neglect of water infrastructure, and two that address the theftof irrigation equipment.7

FIGURE 11. The Code of Hammurabi, from the Louvre Museum,Paris. CC by 3.0 (under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0Unported license).According to the text preceding the laws themselves, these laws werehanded down to Hammurabi by the gods. The gods “called by name me,Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule ofrighteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so thatthe strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash [the Babylonian god of judgment andrighteousness], and enlighten the land, to further the well-being ofmankind.” While many of the crimes and punishments seem harsh orunusual by today’s standards of jurisprudence, the Code of Hammurabiprovided the first examples of the presumption of innocence, the right topresent evidence, and the concept of liability.8Several of the laws address water in the context of irrigation andfarming, not surprisingly, since in ancient Babylon (as is true in the MiddleEast today) low rainfall and high temperatures demanded the use ofirrigation to grow food for the burgeoning empires.9 These laws laid theground for the first broad concepts of agricultural water management inthree areas: the distribution of water proportionally based on area irrigated,the responsibility of farmers to safely maintain canals and reservoirs, andrules on liability and compensation for mismanagement.Hammurabi’s Law 48 offers a kind of crop insurance: if storms ordroughts destroy a crop, the farmer is excused from paying that year’s debt:If anyone owes a debt for a loan, and the storm gods ruin the grain, orthe harvest fail, or the grain does not grow for lack of water; in thatyear he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tabletand pays no rent for the year.Laws 53 and 54 punish landowners if a flood results from their failure toproperly maintain irrigation systems and requires them to reimburse farmerswho lost crops:
If a man fails to maintain his levees/reservoirs in proper condition andthe levee fails and all the fields be flooded and crops carried away, thenthe man whose levee failed shall repay the damaged grain.If he is not able to repay the grain, then he and his possessions shall besold, and the proceeds divided among the farmers whose crops wereswept away.Similarly, Laws 55 and 56 require farmers who mismanage water supplyand cause flooding to reimburse crop losses, setting explicit damageamounts:If anyone open his ditches to water his crop but is careless and thewater floods the field of his neighbor, then he shall pay his neighborgrain for his loss.If a man lets in the water, and the water destroys the plantings of hisneighbor, he shall pay ten gur of grain for every ten gan of land.Two additional laws, 259 and 260, set forth economic penalties for thetheft of waterwheels, shadoofs, or plows:If anyone steal a waterwheel from the field, he shall pay five shekels inmoney to its owner.If anyone steal a shadoof or a plow, he shall pay three shekels inmoney.Water and the tradition of water gods was so central in Hammurabi’stime that it was even used to determine guilt or innocence (as it would belater in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain and America during thepersecution of “witches”). Several of Hammurabi’s laws prescribe being“thrown into the water” as punishment for a wide range of transgressions,including various forms of sexual (mis)behavior as defined at the time. Law2 notes this:If anyone bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to theriver and leap into the river, if he sinks in the river his accuser shalltake possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused isnot guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the
accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the rivershall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.iiTo the rulers of Babylon who would come after Hammurabi, the codepraises those who would keep and follow the laws, while cursing those whowould ignore or disavow them. Many of the curses involve calling down thewrath of the water gods to wreak hydrologic havoc on transgressors: “Maythe condemnation of Shamash overtake him forthwith; may he be deprivedof water above among the living, and his spirit below in the earth.… MayAdad, the lord of fruitfulness, ruler of heaven and earth, my helper,withhold from him rain from heaven, and the flood of water from thesprings, destroying his land by famine and want; may he rage mightily overhis city, and make his land into flood-hills.”10Tablets recovered from the time of Hammurabi also offer some insightinto the development of institutions and rules for managing water resourcesfor irrigation. One tablet notes that only those landowners who contribute tothe work of bringing water for irrigation are entitled to use that water. Thesame tablet indicates that the owner of a field can petition the cityauthorities to flog a neighbor who fails to cooperate in harnessing surfacewaters for irrigation. An official called a gugallum was in charge ofmaintaining canals and allocating irrigation water among users, as well ascollecting fees to support irrigation systems. Several letters fromHammurabi have been found emphasizing the importance of maintainingthe water system. In one, Hammurabi instructs a local official to see “thatthe elders of the city [and] the tenants of the water-lands hold a court” todetermine the facts in an irrigation dispute. In another, he sends instructionsto local leaders to clear irrigation channels, prepare for floods, and build adam.11Despite Hammurabi’s success and the creation of the first realBabylonian Empire, his dynasty fell in the years after his death. In 1595BCE, Hittite tribes swept down from Asia Minor and captured Babylon,opening the door to four centuries of control by Kassites from the Zagrosmountain region in what is now Iran, but water laws and rules continued toevolve over centuries throughout the Mediterranean region in Greece,Rome, Crete, and Persia based on local water conditions, the form and
nature of governments, and the needs and demands of the times. Greekphilosopher and historian Plutarch describes how Solon, Athenian leaderaround 590 BCE, introduced regulations for the construction and operationof public and private wells. Plato’s Laws included rules for elected publicworkers and officials—such as the “superintendent of fountains”—responsible for maintaining waterworks in the fifth century BCE. Aninscription from ca. 440 BCE prohibits tanners from dumping wastes in theIlissos River.12The earliest known Chinese water laws and principles for watermanagement come from interpretations of the philosophy of Confucius andthe concepts of harmony and unity applied to individual behavior. Forwater, this meant that water ownership, distribution, use, and managementshould reflect a balance between moral and ethical influences and legalrules governing humans. Dante Caponera and Marcella Nanni describe thefirst reliable records of Chinese water laws, found in the Li-Ji, a listing ofceremonial rules from ca. 300 BCE: “let the waters run and irrigate thefields… build dams and dykes and store the water for later consumption…let inspection of works and collection of water rates and taxes beundertaken.” In these early records, there was no private ownership ofwater, and local governments were responsible for the construction, repair,and maintenance of waterworks. By the Han dynasty around 111 BCE, landand water were under the authority of a director of agriculture, and a specialcourt was responsible for resolving water disputes.13Footnotesi These were measures of volume and area, among the earliest attempts tostandardize units. A “kur” is a unit of grain volume, equal to around 300“sila.” A sila is around 1 liter. “Iku” is a unit of area, equal to around 100“sar.” A sar is the area containing 720 bricks, around 36 square meters. J.M. Sasson, “Metrology and Mathematics in Ancient Mesopotamia,” inCivilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. J. M. Sasson (New York: CharlesScribner’s Sons, 1995), 1955. So 3 kur of grain per iku is equivalent toaround 900 liters of grain per 3,600 square meters, or around 2 tons per
hectare.ii There appears to be a judgment of innocence if one survives being thrownor jumping into the river, suggesting a real premium on learning to swim inancient Mesopotamia.
9FROM THE FIRST TO THE SECOND AGESometimes, you get to what you thought was the end and you find it’sa whole new beginning.—ANNE TYLERWITH THE DECLINE OF THE GREAT MESOPOTAMIAN CIVILIZATIONS and the rise ofthe Greek and Roman Empires to the west, China to the east, and eventuallythe expansion of diverse cultures in Europe and the Americas, the First Ageof Water was coming to an end. This age had been a relatively simple one.The ebbs and flows of early civilizations were tuned to the ebbs and flowsof nature’s hydrologic cycle. Disastrous floods and droughts were believedto be punishments from distant, omnipotent, and vengeful deities. Culturesflourished or collapsed if they failed to provide safety, food, water, andpurpose. Water-related diseases, like disease and illness in general, were aninescapable part of life and death. Towns and cities alongside great riverstook advantage of gravity and simple infrastructure to provide water fromlocal sources. The first agriculture relied on rainfall or simple irrigationsystems that permitted communities to grow food that supported a transitionfrom hunting and gathering to settled villages, towns, and, ultimately,empires.The end of the First Age of Water and the transition to the Second Agewas a consequence of many factors. The very nature of water was stillpoorly understood, an almost mystical resource, controlled by the whims ofthe gods, and capable of delivering enormous destruction on still fragile andvulnerable populations. Society was still tied to the courses of the rivers andsprings and unprepared for the coming exponential rise in population andthe related need for natural resources and competent social and political
systems. When the last ice age receded around 12,000 years ago andintentional agriculture began to appear, the entire global population ofhumans was thought to have been between just 1 and 5 million. Fivethousand years later, as the first empires emerged in Mesopotamia, theIndus Valley, China, and South America, human population wasn’t muchlarger—perhaps between 5 and 20 million worldwide. Another 5,000 yearswould pass before it reached 100 million. But like exponential curveseverywhere, the growth in population began to accelerate, exploding in thepast few centuries. We’ve now reached 8 billion people, and the numberscontinue to rise (Figure 12). With this dramatic growth in humanpopulations would come a dramatic expansion of the science, engineering,art, and culture needed to meet humanity’s water needs, providing both vastbenefits and, as we will see, unintended and sometimes toxic consequences.If the First Age of Water was one of survival and the development of thefirst cultures and societies, the Second Age of Water was the flowering ofscience, art, technology, and knowledge. The evolution of Homo sapiensfrom the earliest forms of life required billions of years, and the physicalforms and abilities of modern humans are little different from those of ourancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago, indeed little different fromour immediate extinct forerunners, the Neanderthals and Denisovans.Comparatively, however, the evolution of intelligence and the acquisitionand manipulation of knowledge have been blindingly fast. The ability toreason, learn, problem-solve, and consider abstract concepts, and to passthose abilities on to the next generation, has permitted advances in humancivilization that mark the difference between today’s modernity and theearly cultures just a few hundred generations ago.No single event marks the boundary between the First and Second Agesof Water. Instead, history reveals a transition over centuries driven by theability to remember and learn from the historians who recorded accounts ofevents, the philosophers and scientists with the ability and intellect tospeculate about nature itself, and the inventors and experimenters whosought to manipulate the world around them. Ultimately, the need tounderstand and control nature, and especially fresh water, helped drive themelding of art and science, engineering and technology, and law andeconomics that defined the advances of the Second Age of Water.
FIGURE 12. World human population estimates from 10,000 BCE tomid-2021. US Census Bureau, “Historical Estimates of WorldPopulation,” Census .gov (2021).Long before scientists unlocked the secrets of atoms, molecules, forces,chemical reactions, and ecological functions, the urgent need to collect anduse water and dispose of wastewater produced advances in the physicalcontrol of water in the form of rudimentary canals and aqueducts, dams,and reservoirs. When Greek and Roman water engineers needed more waterto supply the cities of Athens, Rome, and the outlying areas of theirempires, they built on knowledge passed down from the Sumerians,Akkadians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, but even then their scientific andengineering skills relied on observations of simply physics, trial, and error.Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Western civilizationexperienced centuries of stagnation and turmoil marked by a collapse of thegreat urban centers,i waves of epidemics that killed 100 million people ormore, a return to feudal agricultural systems, endless regional wars, adecrease in trade, and a loss of cultural and scientific heritage and learning.
Pockets of knowledge survived in monasteries, churches, and refuges likeConstantinople and the Byzantine and Macedonian Empires, but the periodup until the 1300s in Europe was one of stagnation and decay. Conversely,this period saw a flowering of culture and science in the Islamic MiddleEast and China.Islamic culture experienced a “Golden Age” of scientific, economic, andartistic advances from the eighth to fourteenth centuries. The polymath AbuAli ibn Sina (AD 980–1037), known in the West as Avicenna, is consideredone of the greatest thinkers and scholars of history. He expanded on theearlier philosophical works of Aristotle and Socrates and was also knownfor making major advances in medicine, astronomy, geology, and more.Mathematician Muh·ammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (ca.AD 780–850) iscredited with major innovations in trigonometry, algebra, geography, andastronomy as well as writing a mathematics textbook subsequently used forcenturies in Europe.ii The period also saw advances in medicine, chemistry,physics, and agriculture, with Islamic cultures in the Iberian Peninsularestoring Roman-era irrigation systems and urban aqueducts that can still beseen in Grenada and elsewhere and introducing new water systems likecommunity-managed acequias, a Spanish term that evolved from classicalArabic, as-sāqiya.iiiThe Tan and Song dynasties in China, from around AD 618 to 1279,also saw a flourishing of science, knowledge, and culture. During thisperiod, the Chinese made major advances in astronomy, mathematics, andagriculture; invented movable type and woodblock printing that facilitatedthe creation of books and the expansion of learning; recorded the firstchemical formulation of gunpowder; and underwent a great growth inpopulation. Chinese advances during this period included the invention ofthe first sophisticated canal lock system facilitating river transport andcontrollable irrigation gates to increase the reliability of food production.1Scientist Su Song (AD 1020–1101), among his many accomplishments,built accurate water-powered clocks, including a twelve-meter astronomicalmasterpiece that replicated the motions of the major celestial bodies. Ironproduction in China during this period expanded rapidly, with the help ofsmelters with bellows powered by large waterwheels.
As the Middle Ages ended, the advances of knowledge made by theseearly cultures laid the groundwork for dramatic and rapid progress inhuman understanding and control of water in the Second Age of Water.Propelling the rapid expansion of human population and supporting allmodern societies are almost unknown and underappreciated improvementsin our ability to manipulate, manage, and use natural resources, including,especially, fresh water. The Second Age of Water is the time when the verynature of the elements and molecules was revealed together with thecomposition, behavior, and character of water. Scientists decoded themysteries of water-related diseases and then invented and deployed water-purification technologies to provide safe water and sanitation for rapidlygrowing cities. A massive expansion of food production was made possibleby a revolution in irrigation technology and the ability to tap previouslyunreachable sources of water, and that revolution prevented—or at leastpostponed—the threat of massive starvation. Comparable industrialrevolutions in manufacturing have permitted society to turn materials,energy, and water into the goods and services of the modern age. Advancesin engineering led to the replumbing of the entire planet with hardinfrastructure that dammed, channelized, collected, treated, andredistributed almost every major freshwater source on Earth. And withthese advances came the unintended consequences of pollution, ecologicaldisruption, water poverty, social and political conflict, and global climatechange.This is the Second Age of Water. Our age.Footnotesi Rome, which may have had as many as 1 million inhabitants around 100BCE, shrank to as few as 35,000 in the Middle Ages.ii The very term algebra comes from the title of the textbook he wrote (Al-Jabr: The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion andBalancing).iii Meaning a conduit of water, or to irrigate.
[ PART TWO ]THE SECOND AGE OF WATERIn time and with water, everything changes.—LEONARDO DA VINCI
10SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONSIn science… novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested byresistance, against a background provided by expectation.—THOMAS S. KUHN, THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONSWHAT IS WATER? IN PARALLEL WITH THE EARLY GREEK AND Romanengineering efforts to control water resources, natural philosophers of thetime speculated about the very nature of matter, water, and the world aroundthem. A remarkably prescient ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, andperhaps his teacher Leucippus, proposed in the fifth century BCE that allmatter was made up of tiny, invisible particles and hypothesized that whilewe cannot see them, they have always existed, they are constantly in motionin an infinite world, and they are responsible for the physical reality of allobjects.This argument for the existence of atoms was not, of course, the result ofany discovery of atomic physics or physical instruments capable ofdetecting atomic particles, but rather the result of philosophical debatesamong early scholars seeking to understand and explain the world theyperceived. For Democritus, his theory of atoms was a response to thequestions of how matter could be created and exist, why there weredifferent forms of matter, and whether substances could be divided over andover infinitely—a version of Zeno’s famous paradox.i Some Greekphilosophers argued that matter could be divided into smaller and smallerparticles forever, with no limit. In response to these challenges, Democritusand others argued that different forms of existence could result from thesimple rearrangement of unchanged matter, and that this matter consisted offundamental particles—the “atomon”—that could no longer be divided to
produce smaller and smaller particles. For Democritus, matter could bedivided in half, and half again, but not ad infinitum. There had to be asmallest particle, infinite in number and of various kinds.Ancient societies also classified substances in groups to explain themakeup of the world around them. Early Hindu, Greek, Jewish, and Arabiccultures typically listed air (or wind), earth, fire, and water as the basicelements constituting all other materials,ii but it took another 2,000 yearsfor the advancing sciences of chemistry and physics in the Second Age ofWater to unravel the true nature of atoms, molecules, gases, and atomicparticles and reveal the true composition of water.English scientist Robert Boyle (1627–1691), one of the early founders ofmodern chemistry, put forward the hypothesis that matter is composed ofgroups of particles and that chemical changes occur when these groupsrearrange into different configurations—one of the first expositions of theconcept of molecules and similar to the basic theory described byDemocritus 2,000 years earlier. In 1671 Boyle combined acids and iron andproduced a gas that burned. This gas was eventually recognized as aseparate element when English scientist Henry Cavendish (1731–1810)conducted a similar series of experiments almost a hundred years later in1766. Cavendish called his discovery “inflammable air”—what wouldeventually be identified as hydrogen.1Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), a contemporary of Cavendish, conducteda separate set of experiments in early August 1774 that produced a colorlessand highly reactive gas.iii By burning mercuric oxide in a sealed container,he produced a gas that permitted flame to burn intensely and kept a mousealive much longer than a similar quantity of air. In a somewhat rash move,he then breathed the gas himself and reported that “my breast felt peculiarlylight and easy for some time afterwards. Who can tell but that in time, thispure air may become a fashionable article in luxury. Hitherto only two miceand myself have had the privilege of breathing it.”iv At the time, Priestleybelieved it was purer than the substances that produced it becausesomething, which he called phlogiston, had been removed. Hence, he calledit “dephlogisticated air”—what French chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794), who disproved phlogiston theory, would name “oxygen” in 1777.2
In another experiment, Priestley used a spark to burn his gas in ordinaryair, and he noticed that water was formed. He told Cavendish of theseexperiments, and in 1781 Cavendish repeated the experiment anddiscovered that when two volumes of his “inflammable air” was burnedwith one volume of Priestley’s “dephlogisticated air,” it produced water.Cavendish reported his results to Priestley, who shared them with CharlesBlagden, secretary of the Royal Society, who in turn told the Frenchchemist Lavoisier.3 In 1783 Lavoisier repeated Cavendish’s experimentsand named the flammable gas “hydrogen” from the Greek hydro, meaning“water,” and genes, meaning “creator.” The molecular composition ofwater, two hydrogen atoms plus one oxygen atom, had been discovered.At the same time that advances in chemistry and physics wereunraveling the very nature of water, parallel advances were being made inthe practical application of new technologies and machines to move waterand power an industrializing world. Two key inventions simultaneouslyhelped to provide water supply to the growing cities of Europe and the NewWorld: the steam engine and the water pump.Access to fresh water long bedeviled the residents of growing cities—achallenge tackled by ancient water providers using hand-dug wells; pumpspowered by wind, water, or muscle; local streams; and gravity-fedaqueducts. As populations in the New World grew and knowledgeadvanced, people needed new ways to provide water. New York City wasfounded in the 1620s by the Dutchv and by the seventeenth and eighteenthcenturies was a small island struggling to secure a reliable supply of cleanwater, with a rapidly growing population and little understanding about thescience of water and health or the safe disposal of human and industrialwastes.In 1760, Andrew Burnaby, an English writer visiting the youngAmerican colonies, described New York City as agreeable, pretty, andhealthy, but with a water problem. New York, he wrote, was “tolerably wellbuilt.… [T]he streets are paved, and very clean, but in general they arenarrow; there are two or three, indeed, which are spacious and airy,particularly the Broad Way… but it is subject to one great inconvenience,which is the want of fresh water; so that the inhabitants are obliged to haveit brought from springs at some distance out of town.”4 Like other
expanding cities, the island of Manhattan had outgrown its limited localwater supplies—a few small ponds and streams and shallow dug wellswhere water was collected in buckets or hand pumps, put in barrels, andsold around town by private vendors. By the early 1770s, New York wasgetting desperate for alternatives, and in 1774 Christopher Colles arrived tooffer one.Colles was born in Ireland in 1739 and raised by his uncle WilliamColles, who pursued a wide range of business endeavors, including sellingmarble water pipes, digging a canal for shipping, and building Green’sBridge over the River Nore near Kilkenny. As a young man, Christopherworked first for his uncle and then on his own as an architect, engineer,mapper, and inventor, and in 1772 he emigrated to Philadelphia seeking anew start from a series of business failures in Ireland.5 One of the ideas hebrought with him was the construction and use of “fire engines”—pumpspowered by steam. Early versions of Newcomen steam pumps had been inoperation to pump water out of tin and coal mines in England for a fewdecades, but English laws severely restricted the export of new technologiesthat might build up the strength and independence of the colonies.At the start of the 1770s, only one steam engine was operating inAmerica, pumping water from New Jersey copper mines owned bymembers of the Schuyler family.vi Two decades earlier, Benjamin Franklinhad visited the Schuyler mine and wrote: “I know of but one valuablecopper mine in this country, which is that of Schuylers in the Jerseys. Thisyields good copper, and has turned out vast wealth to the owners. I was at itlast fall, but they were not then at work. The water has grown too hard forthem, and they waited for a fire-engine from England to drain their pits. Isuppose they will have that at work next; it costs them one thousand poundssterling.”6 That engine, a version of the Newcomen pumps, arrived fromEngland in the early 1750s, along with Josiah Hornblower, from theHornblower family that designed, built, and operated Newcomen engines inEngland. Hornblower assembled the engine, which began operating in1755, and it worked for nearly twenty years before a fire destroyed it in1773.By the 1770s American revolutionary fervor was growing. The BostonMassacre happened in March 1770; in December 1773, angry Bostonians
dumped British tea into their harbor; in September 1774, colonialrepresentatives convened the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia,where John and Samuel Adams, George Washington, John Jay, RogerSherman, and Patrick Henry voiced their grievances. Pressure forindependence was building, as was the realization that the colonies wouldhave to build up their industrial capabilities, including a domestic industryto build working steam engines.It is possible that Colles visited the Schuyler engine before it wasdestroyed, but he certainly knew of the long history of Newcomen pumps inEngland, and he hoped to take advantage of this knowledge in the colonies.Colles got his chance when a distillery in Pennsylvania hired him to buildan engine to provide water for their operations, considered to be the firststeam-driven pump manufactured and built in the colonies. While this pumpwas not particularly effective, it established Colles’s reputation in the field,and in 1774 he moved to New York City and presented the city’s CommonCouncil with a plan to tackle their water problems by building a pump, astorage reservoir, and a piped distribution system.7 In his proposal heoffered toerect a Reservoir on the open Ground near the New Gaol, of OneHundred and Twenty-six Feet Square, and capable of holding OneMillion Two Hundred Thousand Gallons of Water; which will be ofexceeding Utility in Case of Fire, which all Cities are liable to. To erecta Fire-Engine in a good Brick or Stone House cover’d with Tiles,capable of raising into the said Reservoir Two Hundred ThousandGallons of Water in Twenty-four Hours. To lay Four Feet deep throughthe Broad-way, Broad-Street, Nassau-Street, William-Street, Smith-Street, Queen-Street, and Hanover-Square, a main Pipe of good PitchPine of six Inches Bore, well hooped at one End with Iron; and throughevery other Street, Lane and Alley in the City South West of Murray’s-Street, King George’s-Street, Banker’s-Street, and Rutger’s-Street, thelike Kind of Pipe of Three Inches Bore, with a perpendicular Pipe and aCock at every Hundred Yards of Said Pipes.8The proposal was ambitious, to say the least. Colles was proposing tobuild the largest steam engine ever built in the colonies, together with an
extensive water-storage and -distribution system, in two years, for paymentof £18,000 in “New-York Currency” while the American War ofIndependence was brewing. For context, the entire annual revenues for thecity at that time were around £3,000, but despite the magnitude and cost ofthe project, the city was desperate. The Common Council approved the planin July 1774 and issued New-York Water Works notes to finance it, one ofthe first paper currencies issued in America. The notes were designed byElisha Gallaudet and printed by Hugh Gaine, a local printer and newspaperpublisher, and on the back they included engravings of the Colles steamengine and flowing water fountains (see Figure 13).
FIGURE 13. The New-York Water Works currency issued by the Cityof New York to raise funds for the Colles water project. On the back isan image of the steam engine and pump and two elaborate waterfountains. Source: Peter Gleick.Despite the growing threat of war, Colles made great progress in late1774 and early 1775, completing the well and reservoir and working with alocal furnace and iron casting company to forge the core cylinder for theengine. In April 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord signaled thebeginning of the American Revolution, but Colles continued his work. WithNew York falling into disorder and chaos, loyalists began to flee the citywhile American troops began to arrive. In early March 1776, Collesannounced he had completed his steam engine, and he demonstrated it to anadmiring public. The March 4 issues of the New-York Gazette and theWeekly Mercury proclaimed: “To the Inhabitants of the City of New-York.The Fire Engine of the Water Works being now completely finished, Mr.Colles proposes to keep it going for several Days successively, to giveevery Gentleman an Opportunity of seeing it.” A week later, the newspapersreported, “We can with Pleasure assure the Public, that the Fire Engine of
the Water Works was work’d many Days last Week, greatly to theSatisfaction of vast Numbers of People who went to see it.”9That same month, the British evacuated the city, and General GeorgeWashington arrived a few weeks later. In July 1776, the ContinentalCongress adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the British sent30,000 troops and a large fleet to retake New York. In August, theContinental Army was routed on Long Island, and Washington was forcedto evacuate New York. Christopher Colles, his family, along with theremaining pro-independence population, fled the city, much of whichburned to the ground in late September. History doesn’t record preciselywhen or how, but a journal written by an American surgeon after the warreported that by February 1777, Colles’s waterworks had been destroyed bythe British: “Thus we experience the horrid effects of malice and revenge;where they cannot conquer they wantonly exterminate and destroy.… Tothe foregoing unparalleled catalogue of criminal proceedings, I have to add,from another writer, that the enemy wantonly destroyed the New Yorkwater works.”10For the rest of the war and after, Colles continued to work in theinterests of his adopted country, serving as an artillery instructor for theContinental army and a surveyor producing innovative maps and proposalsfor roads and canals in the newly independent nation, including a proposalfor what ultimately became the Erie Canal, and building one of the firsttelegraph systems during the War of 1812 to keep New York City safe fromBritish attacks.Most of Colles’s ambitious ideas never came to fruition, and he died in1816 in poverty, buried in an unmarked grave in Saint Paul’s graveyard inNew York City,11 but his legacy lived on. By the first few decades of the1800s, his success was being replicated in the form of ever moresophisticated and powerful steam engines for water supply, fire protection,and manufacturing built in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and NewOrleans,12 and spreading to England, Europe, and the rest of the world.Ultimately, these inventions of the Second Age of Water would evolve intothe sophisticated water-delivery system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumps, andpurification plants that today provide safe drinking water for cities around
the world and help reduce the devastating consequences of water-relateddiseases.Footnotesi Zeno, a philosopher of ancient Athens, is best known for his speculationsabout motion and “infinity” and a set of paradoxes that have been handeddown to us by Aristotle and Plato. One famous version asks how a runnercan ever reach the finish line of a race, since they must first arrive at ahalfway point. They must then again move half the remaining distance tothe finish, half of the quarter, half of the eighth, and so on, ad infinitum,never quite reaching the goal.ii In China early philosophers considered the five basic elements to bewood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Sometimes early cultures described afifth element as aether (or void).iii Born in England, Priestley became a lifelong friend of Benjamin Franklinand vehement supporter of the French and American Revolutions, beingforced ultimately to flee England in 1794 to the United States.iv Remarkably, Priestley seems to have presaged the development of luxuryoxygen bars selling his discovery in polluted cities.v The city was originally founded as New Amsterdam and renamed NewYork in 1665 when it was ceded to the British in the Second Anglo-DutchWar.vi Alexander Hamilton married into this family when he wed ElizabethSchuyler, the daughter of Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer.
11TACKLING THE SCOURGE OF WATER-RELATED DISEASESKnow your enemy.—SUN TZU, THE ART OF WARIN THE SECOND AGE OF WATER, HUMANITY BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND and controlthe many diseases that continued to devastate populations around the world,including those linked to water. Many of these diseases had been circulatingin humans for thousands of years, the result of factors early societies couldneither understand nor prevent. Three thousand years ago in Hawara, Egypt,a young princess died, was mummified according to the practices andtraditions of the time, and was buried in a tomb. In the 1890s, Britisharchaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie uncovered the tomb and sent her body tothe New Medical School in Manchester, England, where it lay, with otherEgyptian mummies, until June 1975, when it was unwrapped as part of aninterdisciplinary research project.i During the autopsy, researchersdiscovered the calcified remains of a parasitic worm they were able toidentify as Dracunculus medinensis, or guinea worm, responsible for adisease long documented as afflicting humans in Africa and the MiddleEast.1 The parasite and the disease it causes, dracunculiasis, were firstdescribed in the Ebers Papyrus, dated from Egypt around 1550 BCE andconsidered one of the best preserved records of early medical knowledge.Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch provided another description ofthe disease attributed to Agatharchides, an earlier Greek teacher from thesecond century BCE: “The people who live near the Red Sea are tormentedby an extraordinary and hitherto unheard of disease. Small worms issue
from their bodies in the form of serpents which gnaw their arms and legs;when these creatures are touched they withdraw themselves and insinuatingthemselves between the muscles give rise to horrible sufferings.”2In the eleventh century AD, Abu Ali ibn Sina, a father of early medicineand one of the most significant thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age, gave adetailed description of the evolution, transmission, and treatment ofdracunculiasis, which was prevalent in Persia during this period.3 In 1855Friedrich Küchenmeister, a German physician who researched parasiticaldiseases, proposed that the “fiery serpents” that attacked the Israelites in thedesert during their exodus from Egypt around 1250 BCE, as described inthe Old Testament, were actually guinea worms.4 The larvae of the parasitelive in water, are ingested by humans drinking contaminated water, and thengrow into worms up to eighty centimeters long before exiting the body fromblisters, causing terrible pain.iiBacteria, parasites, and viruses have repeatedly crippled economies,altered the course of—or even wiped out—early cultures, and regularly setback human progress and knowledge. The Black Death—bubonic plague—killed as many as 200 million people in Asia, the Middle East, and Europein the mid-1300s, and outbreaks continued over the next five centuries,killing 10 million people in India as recently as the mid-nineteenthcentury.5 The native population of Mexico was ravaged by a series ofdiseases, first losing 5 to 8 million people in 1519 and 1520 after smallpoxwas introduced by European invaders and then suffering in the 1540s froman epidemic of cocoliztli—thought to have been a native hemorrhagic feveror strain of Salmonella—killing another 5 to 15 million.When early cultures were struggling to understand illnesses anddiseases, progress toward finding cures was hindered by the lack of toolslike microscopes and chemical tests; ignorance about bacteria, viruses,fungi, and other disease vectors; incomplete information and incorrecttheories about the human body; common superstition; and the great varietyand types of illnesses. Speculation that bad air, dirty water, invisiblecreatures, or an imbalance of vital bodily fluids (the “humors” of blood,phlegm, and bile) caused disease can be traced back to Roman times, oreven earlier. Roman engineer and author Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, writing in
the first century BCE, said: “For when the morning breezes blow toward thetown at sunrise, if they bring with them mists from marshes and, mingledwith the mist, the poisonous breath of the creatures of the marshes to bewafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the siteunhealthy.”6 Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, writing around thesame time, similarly warned against sickness emanating from marshes:“There are bred certain minute creatures that cannot be seen by the eyes,which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose andthey cause serious diseases.”7 It was not until the Renaissance thatadvances in biology, chemistry, medicine, and epidemiology helped doctorsidentify, understand, and ultimately cure a wide range of diseases, includingthose associated with water.As the Second Age of Water evolved, scientists and doctors for the firsttime began to systematically study the many diseases that have afflictedhumans throughout history. Some, including dracunculiasis and a host ofothers, are associated with drinking unsafe water; being exposed to watercontaminated with chemicals, bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens; or beinginfected by diseases transmitted by insects or other organisms that breedand spread in unsafe water. These diseases kill, especially children, causingmore than a tenth of all deaths in children under the age of five and billionsof nonfatal cases each year. The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that in 2016 these diseases caused nearly 2 million deaths and 123million DALYs.iiiA major portion of this death toll is caused by diarrheal diseases fromintestinal infections of bacterial or viral organisms that thrive in water.WHO estimates that around 60 percent of all deaths due to diarrhea indeveloping countries—more than 820,000 in 2017 alone—are attributableto unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.8Communities in sub-Saharan Africa remain the most vulnerable to diseasesfrom inadequate access to safe water and sanitation.Another category of water-related diseases is those transmitted bycontact with parasites that live in soils or water contaminated with humanwastes, primarily from open defecation and inadequate sewage treatment.These include roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm, as well as parasitic
worms or insects such as schistosomiasis and dracunculiasis, the scourge ofancient Egypt. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide are infected withthese diseases, and almost all of these diseases are attributable toconsumption of, or contact with, unsafe water. Good water supply andsanitation can cut schistosomiasis infections by around 40 to 50 percent,and dracunculiasis has almost been completely eliminated by efforts toblock waterborne transmission paths.iv A program in China focused oncontrolling water-related diseases through access to improved safe drinkingwater and sanitation and health education cut the rate of roundworm fromaround 30 percent to less than 4 percent and whipworm from 62 percent to7.5 percent over a three-year period.9Malaria is the most serious and widespread insect-borne diseaseglobally, causing more than 210 million cases and 450,000 deaths in 2016,mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes thatbreed in stagnant water in urban areas, reservoirs, canals, and agriculturalirrigation projects. While malaria is not a waterborne disease itself, WHOestimates that more than 80 percent of the global malaria burden could beeliminated by improved management of water resources and water systemsthat eliminate breeding sites and by protecting humans from contact withmosquito vectors.10Like malaria, dengue fever results from a mosquito-borne virus and is apotentially deadly threat to a large portion of the world’s population. WHOestimates there are nearly 400 million cases of dengue a year and that nearly4 billion people are at risk from the disease. There has been a rapid increasein cases in recent years associated with urbanization, unreliable drinking-water supplies, the spread of mosquitoes due to rising temperatures andchanging rainfall patterns associated with worsening climate change, andthe lack of a vaccine. In mid-2022, for example, France experienced anunusual outbreak of dengue attributed to warming weather and anexpansion in the range of tiger mosquitoes that carry the disease and breedin local waters.11 The global fraction of dengue attributable toenvironmental factors, including infested water sources, is between 90 and100 percent.12
Trachoma and onchocerciasis are diseases associated with parasites incontaminated water that cause vision impairment and blindness. Trachomais a contagious eye disease caused by transmission from flies and person-to-person contact and is the main infectious cause of blindness. Essentially, alltrachoma cases are attributable to poor water and sanitation conditions,primarily the lack of safe water for washing and exposure to trachoma-transmitting flies breeding in latrines and other outdoor sanitation facilities.Onchocerciasis is caused by a parasitic worm, also transmitted by flies. Thefraction of onchocerciasis attributable to water projects is lower, around 10percent, but the burden of this disease can also be reduced by improvedwater-management practices and insect control in artificial reservoirs.One of the great successes of the Second Age of Water has beendiscovering the connections between dirty water and disease and theninventing and building the modern technologies and institutions needed toprovide safe water to all. Even so, cholera remains one of the most seriouswater-related diseases, responsible for millions of deaths and billions ofcases of illness every year.At the very end of the 1400s, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gamaopened the ocean route between Europe and India, becoming the first to sailfrom the Atlantic to the Indian subcontinent. He reached Calicut (today thecity of Kozhikode in southwestern India) in May 1498, seeking the spicesand riches of the South Asian kingdoms and bringing with him a legacy ofbrutality and Western colonialism. Da Gama’s expeditions also producedthe first descriptions of a ruthless disease. References to cholera had beenhinted at in ancient Asian texts, but it was first described in detail by GasparCorrea, who arrived in India around 1510 as a soldier in one of da Gama’sfleets and stayed to become a historian and author. In his book Legends ofIndia published in 1543, he described a sickness encountered by da Gama’sfleet that he called “moryxi,” which killed so quickly that many died withinhours of falling ill. Accounts of people feeling ill in the morning and dyingby evening were common and frightening. An outbreak struck again in1545 in Goa, where Correa lived, and he described its horrors: “Themortality was so great that the dead could hardly be buried; so grievous wasthe throe, and so bad the sort of disease that the very worst kind of poisonseemed to be in operation; as was proved by the vomiting, with greatdrought for water, as if the stomach was parched up; by the cramps that
fixed in the sinews, with pain so extreme that the sufferer seemed at thepoint of death and the nails of the hands and feet becoming black.”13Over the next three centuries, the disease continued to be considered justa local threat in southern Asia by Portuguese, English, Dutch, and Frenchobservers. Then, in 1817, cholera spread along the new ocean and landtrading routes around the world. An outbreak of a disease is called anepidemic. When a disease spreads across many countries or globally, it isconsidered a pandemic. There have now been seven identified globalpandemics of cholera as the disease has waxed and waned since it was firstidentified in the 1500s.The first cholera pandemic began in 1816 in the Bengal region of Indiaand spread to the English colonial community. In August 1817, 10,000Indians in the village of Jessora near Calcutta died, followed quickly by thedeath of 5,000 English soldiers in nearby Fort William. The disease thenspread by sea and land through Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, killing100,000 people in Korea and as many in Java. It traveled over tradingroutes to the Caspian Sea area of southern Russia and the Middle Eastbefore burning out, temporarily, in 1825.14FIGURE 14. Disposal of dead bodies during thecholera epidemic of 1835 in Palermo. Lithograph byG. Castagnola. Credit: Cholera in Palermo, 1835.Wellcome Collection.
The second pandemic flared up in India in the late 1820s and lasted until1838, for the first time reaching the major cities of Europe and the UnitedStates. It killed hundreds of thousands in Russia, Hungary, Germany,France, and England from 1830 to 1832 and provoked fear and riots.Starting in the fall of 1831, cholera killed more than 30,000 people inEngland, Wales, and Scotland and another 25,000 in Ireland. In 1833 and1834, 100,000 people died in Spain; by 1837 more than 235,000 had died insouthern France and Italy (Figure 14). Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, whodiscovered elementary principles of the steam engine and laid thefoundation for modern thermodynamics, died in the 1832 epidemic at theage of thirty-six. Alexandre Dumas recovered from the disease and went onto write The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Charles X,the deeply unpopular king of France from 1824 to 1830 who opposed theprotections of civil liberties, annexed Algeria to divert attention fromdomestic problems, and aggressively censored the press, died during thisoutbreak.In 1832 ships carrying cholera crossed the Atlantic and spread thedisease to North America. In New York City, 3,500 cholera deaths werereported that year, and a third of the population of the city fled to thecountryside to escape exposure. In the span of just three weeks in the fall of1832, 15 to 20 percent of the population of New Orleans died in a combinedoutbreak of cholera and yellow fever. Cholera was particularly devastatingin the slave plantations of the South. It reached up the Mississippi River toSt. Louis and out to the Pacific coast in 1834.15 When cholera reachedCanada in 1832 (and then again in 1834, 1849, 1851, 1852, and 1854), itbrought a political backlash against immigration from Britain.The third pandemic began in 1839 and lasted until 1861, concentrated inthe years 1845–1859, killing millions. It extended throughout Asia, Europe,and Russia and reached North Africa and South America, including Brazil,again traveling along ocean trading routes. Cholera killed 1 million peoplein Russia between 1847 and 1851; hundreds of thousands in Mexico, Spain,France, and Italy; and tens of thousands in England and Wales. In late 1848,ships carried cholera across the Atlantic to the major cities in the UnitedStates, where it killed 5,000 in New Orleans and again spread along riversand railroad lines, killing 4,500 people in St. Louis, 3,500 in Chicago, and
settlers moving out the Oregon Trail to the newly discovered Californiagoldfields. James Polk, the eleventh president of the United States andresponsible for the annexation of much of the western United States fromMexico, died from it shortly after leaving office in 1849. GeorgeWashington Whistler, a civil engineer who built some of America’s first andmost efficient locomotives and train lines,v was hired by the czar of Russiato build the Moscow–St. Petersburg railroad line but died in Russia’s 1849outbreak.16Large concentrations of people without safe water and sanitation wereespecially vulnerable, including military encampments. In the Crimean Warbetween the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French, English, andOttoman Empire between late 1853 and early 1856, cholera, dysentery,typhus, and other diseases killed twice as many soldiers and sailors as thebattles themselves.17 The horrors of cholera were expressed in a letter froma British medical officer stationed with the Black Sea fleet during theCrimean War in 1854: “To be maimed, or even to die in battle, is the‘fortune of war,’ of which each may coolly calculate the chances, knowingthat glory, etc., await the survivors. But to perish by scores in a single night,all aid being applied in vain, none knowing who may be next seized, orwhat limit will be placed to the calamity, is a situation which will alwaysappal [sic] men of courage, unimpeachable amid the horrors and the din ofbattle.”18 In this same letter, published in the Medical Times and Gazette ofSeptember 1854, the officer described the threat facing the armies of theFrench and British not from their battles against the Russians but againstthe disease:A week after the return of the fleet to Baljik, on the 7th of August,about four thousand French troops encamped on the heights abreast ouranchorage. These were part of the first division of the army that hadmarched to Kostenje, about ten days before. By it the first blood hadbeen drawn on the part of the allied army. The loss in battle was small,but they had encountered an enemy more terrible than the Russians.The cholera had broken out among them, and attacking four hundredon the first night had destroyed sixty. The total loss had been something
incredible. It was said, that out of eleven thousand men, not less thanfive thousand had perished in a few days.19Cholera then struck the British and French fleets, sickening 625 andkilling 139 out of a complement of 1,040 on the British flagship Britanniaand killing another 162 on the French flagship the Ville de Paris.20Contemporary logs from ship captains and surgeons are replete with reportsof the crippling effects of cholera; during the 1854 deployment of the HMSAlbion to the Black Sea, the ship’s surgeon wrote in his medical journal:“On 9 August the cholera appeared, having already struck some of the shipsin the squadron. It spread with great rapidity.… Between 9 August and 9September 1854 there were 97 cases of cholera, 216 of diarrhoea and 68deaths, on 15 August alone there were 19 deaths and 25 new cases ofcholera.”21 Three epidemics raged through the British fleet from 1850 to1854. The meticulous records kept by the British Admiralty tell that fifty-five ships with 28,714 sailors suffered 7,144 cases of cholera and diarrhealdisease, with 588 deaths.22The fourth cholera pandemic again originated in the Ganges River deltain India starting in 1862 and lasted until 1879. A third of Muslim pilgrimstraveling to Mecca died,23 as did several hundred thousand people inRussia, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, and along the Mediterranean,and it traveled again across the Atlantic to the coastal and river cities of theUnited States. In 1866, just after the US Civil War, cholera spread from theEast Coast, along the Mississippi River, and into Texas and New Mexico,killing 50,000 people. For the first time, epidemics swept through sub-Saharan Africa and the colonial territories there, brought by the Europeanpowers dominating the region, killing hundreds of thousands in Morocco,Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, and Guinea.24The fifth cholera pandemic extended from 1881 to 1896 and again wasextremely lethal, despite improved knowledge of its cause and prevention.During this outbreak a quarter of a million people in Europe died; another260,000 died in Russia and 60,000 in Egypt. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky,legendary Russian composer of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, died ofsuspected cholera in 1893, just a few days after conducting the premiere of
his Sixth Symphony in St. Petersburg. This outbreak also severely affectedAsia, killing 90,000 in Japan and sweeping through China, Indonesia,Korea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In 1882, 30,000 moreMuslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca died.25The sixth pandemic, from 1899 to 1923, killed as many as 8 millionpeople in India and 200,000 in the Philippines and again hit Russia and theOttoman Empire hard, killing half a million (Figure 15). Once again itstruck pilgrims traveling to Mecca, who then brought the disease back totheir home countries.26 By this time, improvements in water and sanitationsystems in western Europe and America were able, somewhat, to limit thedisease there.27 Elliott Frost, the young son of poet Robert Frost, died inthis pandemic. Inessa Fyodorovna Armand, a leading communistrevolutionary, feminist, and close confidante and likely lover of Lenin, diedof cholera in 1920.vi
FIGURE 15. Cholera, the grim reaper. From LePetit Journal, 1912. Public domain.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cholera.jpg.As science, medicine, and the development of modern water andwastewater treatment systems continued to advance in the twentiethcentury, it was generally thought that cholera pandemics were a thing of thepast. But the scourge of cholera has not disappeared. Globalization, ease ofrapid international travel, political instability and violence, and continued
water poverty have led to a new seventh and ongoing cholera pandemic.28The first six pandemics were caused by the classic Vibrio choleraebacterium, but the latest outbreak involves a new strain, called El Tor,originating in Indonesia in 1961.29 El Tor is less virulent, but this enablesill patients to expose and infect more people over a longer period of time.As a result, it has persisted longer than any of the earlier pandemics, whichwould burn through populations and then disappear, and it infects 3 to 5million people annually.30 This new strain spread from Indonesia to Chinaand Southeast Asia, reaching India and the Soviet Union by 1966, and thenWest Africa. Since 1970 almost every African country has reported cholerato the World Health Organization. A serious outbreak occurred in Peru in1991, the first time in a century that cholera had been found in SouthAmerica. By December 1993, nearly 1 million cases had swept through thatcontinent.31 In 2010 the first outbreak of cholera ever reported in Haiti,causing more than 820,000 cases and nearly 10,000 deaths, was traced toimproper sewage disposal from a camp of Nepalese aid workers.32The terrible toll from all these pandemics helped drive medical efforts tounderstand the cause of cholera and other diseases and ultimately todevelop strategies to prevent them. The discovery of the causes of cholera isone of the great medical success stories of the Second Age of Water,involving the persistent efforts of one man, John Snow, and innovations indata collection, epidemiology, and disease mapping.Footnotesi In the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands of mummies were taken fromEgyptian archaeological sites and sent to museums and medical schoolsaround the world. Many were “unrolled” in mass public spectacles anddisplays with no regard for cultural, medical, or scientific factors. Only inlater years were efforts made to work with the Egyptian government andantiquities experts to develop rules, guidelines, and standards for theappropriate study and handling of these ancient human remains.ii Russian naturalist Alexei P. Fedchenko described the parasite’s life cycle
in 1870. P. H. Gleick, The World’s Water, 1998–1999: The Biennial Reporton Freshwater Resources (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1998).iii The United Nations defines disease “DALYs” (disability-adjusted lifeyears) as the sum of the years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLLs)and the years lived with a disability (YLDs). One DALY thus represents theloss of the equivalent of one year of full health. World Health Organization,“Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs),” Global Health ObservatoryIndicator Metadata Registry List (2022).iv The global campaign to completely eliminate dracunculiasis, now on theverge of success, has been led by former president Jimmy Carter.v George Washington Whistler was the father of famous painter JamesAbbott Whistler. He also invented the train steam whistle.vi Armand was the first woman to be buried in Red Square.
12THE SCIENCE OF SAFE WATERIf everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains,many of us will die of cholera.—JOHN RICHIN THE BATTLE AGAINST ANY DISEASE, UNDERSTANDING WHAT causes it and howit spreads is key to understanding how to defeat it. The Second Age ofWater brought together the observations, experiences, and science needed toattack the spread of water-related diseases. Many scientists, doctors, andengineers have worked to understand and control diseases, including earlyEgyptian healers who recorded their knowledge in the Ebers Papyrus,Hippocrates in ancient Greece, Bian Que and Zhang Zhongjing in China,Abu Ali ibn Sina in the Islamic Golden Age, and others. More than twohundred years ago, the man who would help settle, once and for all, thequestion of the cause of cholera—John Snow—was born in York, England.In his process of scientific discovery, a legend would develop around him,an honorary society would be created in his name at the London School ofHygiene & Tropical Medicine, and websites are devoted to highlighting hisrole in water history and medicine.iJohn Snow was born March 15, 1813, the eldest of eight children. Whenhe was just fourteen, he apprenticed to a surgeon in Newcastle, workingwith coal miners. At the age of eighteen, he was serving as a doctor’sassistant when the first wave of Asiatic cholera swept over England in late1831 and early 1832, starting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then spreadingto the nearby coal-mining town of Killingsworth, killing more than 1,000people. Over the next fourteen months, cholera spread through England,
Wales, and Scotland, killing tens of thousands.1 Snow worked with thevillage of Newburn, where 320 people fell ill and a tenth of the totalpopulation of 550 inhabitants died. When the epidemic burned itself out, amedical school was founded in Newcastle, and Snow, not even twenty yearsold, was in the first group of eight students who enrolled.2 He completedmedical school and was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons ofEngland in 1838.When the third cholera pandemic reached England in 1848, Snow wasan established member of the medical community. A major outbreak beganin 1845 in southern Asia, reached Bombay in 1846, and was reported in theRussian city of Astrakhan at the mouth of the Volga River on the CaspianSea in 1847. By September of that year, it was ravaging Moscow and St.Petersburg. In June 1848, it was moving west through Europe, and inOctober it reached Edinburgh and Glasgow and rapidly spread south. Thisepidemic persisted in England and Wales for over a year and killed around60,000 people.In the first half of the 1800s, there was a fierce debate in the medicalcommunity about whether cholera was caused by dirty air (or “miasmas”),dirty water, bad climate, contact with contaminated clothing, general filth,or other means. Although microscopes had confirmed the existence ofmicroorganisms in water since 1674, most of the medical community stillsubscribed to the “miasma” theory, the idea that cholera (and other diseases)was propagated through contaminated air. This idea, dating back at least toVitruvius, makes some logical sense. The air in English cities was indeedsickening, a mix of open-air coal burning, uncollected garbage, industrialwastes, and the smell of human excreta, almost all of it dumped into localrivers. In London the Thames received the raw sewage of 2 million people,and in the 1850s the odors were so bad—especially on hot summer days—that the British Parliament would have to adjourn. Benjamin Disraeli calledthe Thames “a Stygian pool, reeking with ineffable and intolerablehorrors.”3 The Illustrated London News wrote, “We can colonise theremotest ends of the earth; we can conquer India; we can pay the interest ofthe most enormous debt ever contracted; we can spread our name, and our
fame, and our fructifying wealth to every part of the world; but we cannotclean the River Thames.”4Based on his early experiences, Snow suspected that cholera was linkedto contaminated water, not polluted air. In his work in Newburn, heobserved that the people who got sick took their water from a wellcontaminated with sewage,5 and in 1849 he published the first edition of histreatise making the argument that cholera was waterborne, On the Mode ofCommunication of Cholera, in which he cited evidence from the 1831–1832epidemic, experience of the disease’s spread through the British naval fleetin the Black Sea, and new information from the 1848–1849 epidemic. Snowsummarized cases from South London where households provided withwater from deep wells remained free of the disease, while householdswhose water supplies were contaminated with sewage suffered high rates ofdeath. He observed that the town of Exeter suffered many cholera deaths in1832 when the water system took water downstream of where the town’ssewers emptied, but that the death rate was far lower in 1849 after the waterintake was moved upstream of the sewage outfalls.Health officials in London had already begun to note that deaths fromcholera and typhoid were far higher in the poorer districts getting waterfrom wells contaminated by local sewage dumps or from the sewage-contaminated Lower Thames compared to parts of wealthier West Londonserved by cleaner water. In 1848 the Lambeth Water Company, one ofseveral private water companies supplying the city, moved its water intakeabove the worst of the sewage discharges into the Thames, reducing illnessin its service area, but most of the city was still served with polluted water.Despite this growing evidence supporting Snow’s thesis about theconnections to contaminated water, the local medical establishment wasnoncommittal: “Notwithstanding our opinion that Dr Snow has failed inproving that cholera is communicated in the mode in which he supposes itto be, he deserves the thanks of the profession for endeavouring to solve themystery. It is only by close analysis of facts and the publication of newviews, that we can hope to arrive at the truth.”6By 1852 a government summary of the 1848–1849 epidemic was stillcautious, though slightly more favorable: “Dr. Snow, in a paper dated Aug.29, 1849, advanced a theory of the pathology of cholera; and it is in many
respects the most important theory that has yet been propounded.” But theBritish government continued to waffle about the nature and propagation ofthe disease. The same 1852 report noted: “The great questions remain—Ischolerine produced in the human organization alone and propagated byexcreted matter? Is it produced and propagated in dead animal or vegetablematter or mixed infusions of excreta and other matter out of the body? Is itpropagated through water? through air? through contact? or through allthese channels? Observations sufficiently exact to decide these questionsdefinitively have yet to be made, and discussed on the principles ofprobability.”7While Snow was increasingly certain that cholera was waterborne, hehad to wait for another opportunity to do the observations and experimentsneeded to conclusively answer these “great questions” to the satisfaction ofthe British medical community.ii That chance came in 1854, when a newwave of cholera swept over London, including what became known as theBroad Street outbreak.It began with a few cases in late August 1854, but the sickness explodedon the night of August 31 with scores of rapid deaths. Within a month, 616deaths were reported. Snow went immediately to the working-classneighborhood, interviewed every case of illness, and plotted on a map everyhome, every person affected, and the location of every water source (seeFigure 16). He noted, “Within two hundred and fifty yards of the spot whereCambridge Street joins Broad Street, there were upwards of five hundredfatal attacks of cholera in ten days. The mortality in this limited areaprobably equals any that was ever caused in this country, even by theplague.”8
FIGURE 16. John Snow’s famous original map,plotting cases of cholera and the location of waterpumps. Each black mark represents a cholera death.The map convinced him that the Broad Street pump,marked in the center of the map and the heart of theoutbreak, was responsible. He removed the pumphandle, disabling the well, and the outbreaksubsided. J. Snow, “‘Dr. Snow’s Report,’ in theReport on the Cholera Outbreak in the Parish of St.James, Westminster, During the Autumn of 1854”(1855), http://johnsnow.matrix.msu.edu/work .php?id=15-78-55.Snow’s now-famous map revealed that nearly all the deaths occurredclose to a “much-frequented street-pump in Broad Street,” while most ofthe other cases occurred in families that went to the pump for water or inchildren that went to school near the pump. Water from the pump wasknown to be used for cooking in all the houses in the neighborhood, mixedwith spirits in the local public houses and coffee shops, and sold in little
shops with flavoring added. Snow observed, “The pump was frequentedmuch more than is usual, even for a London pump in a populousneighbourhood.”9He meticulously researched each reported victim of the disease,determined when and how they drank water from the Broad Street pump,and compared those findings with people in the area who did not get ill,showing conclusively that water from the Broad Street well was the sourceof the disease. He extended his research to London as a whole and reported:All the instances of communication of cholera through the medium ofwater, above related, have resulted from the contamination of a pump-well, or some other limited supply of water.… Cholera may linger inthe courts and alleys crowded with the poor, for reasons previouslypointed out, but I know of no instance in which it has been generallyspread through a town or neighbourhood, amongst all classes of thecommunity, in which the drinking water has not been the medium of itsdiffusion. Each epidemic of cholera in London has borne a strictrelation to the nature of the water-supply of its different districts, beingmodified only by poverty, and the crowding and want of cleanlinesswhich always attend it.10After Snow presented his findings to the local Board of Guardians of St.James’s parish on September 7, the authorities gave him permission toremove the Broad Street pump handle, forcing residents to go to other,uncontaminated wells for water. Within days, the outbreak subsided.11Snow went on to explore the risk from different water-supply companiesserving different parts of London, comparing disease rates with the sourceand quality of the water.In 1855 Snow testified to a committee of the British Parliamentinvestigating the disease outbreak, making his case that cholera was spreadby consuming contaminated water from certain wells and from the watersupply of some of the local water companies:THE COMMITTEE: Have you satisfied yourself by those inquiries of anyparticular results of that [1854] outbreak of cholera, so as to state your
opinion of what has been the mode of propagation of the disease?SNOW: I have satisfied myself completely, that the chief mode ofpropagation of cholera in the South district of London, throughout thelate outbreak, was by the water of the Southwark and Vauxhall WaterCompany containing the sewage of London; and containingconsequently whatever might come from the cholera patients in thecrowded habitations of the poor; and I am satisfied that it spreaddirectly from individual to individual, sometimes in the same family,but by similar means; that is, by their swallowing accidentally whatcame from a previous sick patient.THE COMMITTEE: Do you believe that there is evidence to show thatcholera has been propagated almost entirely by the poison being takenin at the mouth?SNOW: Yes.THE COMMITTEE: Absolutely swallowed?SNOW: Yes, it is my belief in every case.… I consider that the cause ofcholera is always cholera; that each case always depends upon aprevious one.12The final breakthrough and acceptance of Snow’s work came in the mid-1880s when Robert Koch and a German medical research team isolated thecholera bacillus, permitting the disease to be identified in those carrying theillness and confirming the water connection.13Snow’s map and work are now considered iconic, yet it still tookdecades for the conservative medical community to abandon theircommitment to the miasma theory and acknowledge the direct link betweencontaminated water and cholera. As humanity began to understand thecauses of these various diseases, engineers and water scientists began theparallel task of developing and building the technology to capture and treatwastewater and purify drinking water—what was to become the heart of ourmodern water systems.
Footnotesi And in what may be the greatest honor an Englishman can receive, a pubin London is named after him.ii In the meantime, Snow was so highly regarded he helped to deliver QueenVictoria’s baby (Prince Leopold) in April 1853 using chloroform as ananesthetic, for which the queen was, apparently, quite grateful since hereturned for a repeat performance for the birth of Princess Beatrice in 1857.M. A. E. Ramsay, “John Snow, MD: Anaesthetist to the Queen of Englandand Pioneer Epidemiologist,” Proceedings of the Baylor University MedicalCenter 19 (2006): 24–28; J. Snow, “Snow (John), 1813–1858: ThreeCasebooks with a Record of Dr. John Snow’s Chloroform Administrations”(1848), National Archives, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/c3916de9-88d6-4ffc-a0ab-d5aff1cd2440.
13BUILDING MODERN SYSTEMSIf you consider the contribution of plumbing to human life, the othersciences fade into insignificance.—JAMES P. GORMANPIONEERS, LIKE JOHN SNOW IN LONDON, PAVED THE WAY FOR others to developand build technological solutions that could, for the first time, provide cleandrinking water for growing populations. By the turn of the twentiethcentury, all the pieces were in place to merge the science of germ theory,medical understanding of water-related diseases, technology of waterpurification, and engineering and financing of large urban waterinfrastructure to create the first modern water systems. All that was neededwas the will and determination of committed individuals and municipalities.Those pieces came together in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1908.Jersey City is the oldest community in the state of New Jersey foundedby European colonists. Situated just across the Hudson River fromManhattan, it is on land originally occupied by the Lenape people and“purchased” by the Dutch in 1630. In the late 1700s, prominent NewYorkers, including Alexander Hamilton, believed it would become a majorgateway to the mainland and worked to develop the area. The city wasincorporated in 1820, and during the Civil War it played a vital role in theUnderground Railroad, providing safe passage for as many as 60,000escaped slaves.1 By 1900 it had a population of more than 200,000 peopleand very serious water problems because of its reliance on the PassaicRiver, heavily contaminated with sewage and industrial wastes.2John Laing Leal was born in Andes, New York; raised in Paterson, NewJersey, next door to Jersey City; and like his father before him trained as a
physician. He was appointed city physician in Paterson in 1886 and healthofficer in 1892 with responsibility for overseeing the water, sanitation, andindustrial waste systems, while also working in private practice and at theleading city hospital.3 As part of his job, he investigated epidemics,including a major typhoid outbreak in Paterson in the late 1890s.Typhoid is another disease spread by eating food or drinking watercontaminated with untreated human wastes. In the 1880s, Germanpathologist and bacteriologist Karl Joseph Eberth had isolated the bacillusand pathologist Georg Theodor August Gaffky confirmed it was responsiblefor the disease. In 1899 Leal wrote a paper titled “An Epidemic of TyphoidFever Due to an Infected Public Water Supply,”4 in which—using the verysame techniques that John Snow had used in London decades earlier— heconcluded:The only connecting link between the [Paterson typhoid] cases possibleto discover was the public water supply, which at least 98 per cent ofthose affected were known to use for at least a portion of the 24 hours.The suspicion thus cast upon the public water supply as being the onlyfactor common to the cases was confirmed by the following facts:First. The only section of the city in which the disease did not appearis the only section not having the public water supply.Second. The city of Passaic, supplied from the same source, wasfound to be suffering from an outbreak of typhoid fever at the sametime.Third. The course of the epidemic was marked by sudden rises andfalls.Fourth. These rises and falls were preceded by heavy rains and,consequently, rising waters.From the above facts then it seems reasonable to attribute the sourceof infection in the outbreak under discussion to the public watersupply.5The growing severity of local water-quality problems and repeateddisease outbreaks compelled neighboring Jersey City, also dependent on thecontaminated Passaic River, to act. In 1899 the city contracted with theprivate Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a new reservoir on the
Rockaway River upstream of its old intake, with Leal serving as their topscientific adviser. The new dam, Boonton reservoir behind it, and a pipelinewere completed in 1904 and water flowed to Jersey City, but no additionalpurification or treatment of the water was provided. As part of his work,Leal had been trying to remove all sources of sewage contamination in thewatershed, but he was unsuccessful, and the city soon filed a lawsuit againstthe company, claiming the water was not “pure and wholesome” and aviolation of their contract. This lawsuit was one of the most important earlyexamples of the growing demand that water companies find new ways totackle water contamination.In 1908 the judge overseeing the case, Frederick W. Stevens, agreed thatthe poor water quality violated the contract and ordered the company to payfor sewers to remove upstream contaminants or to find “other plans ordevices” to produce safe water. The cost of the sewers was high, and Lealdid not believe they would be sufficient to protect the water because ofother sources of bacterial contamination in the watershed. Instead, Lealthought it was an opportunity to try something different: to purify the water.Leal had been trained in bacteriology and had studied the growingevidence that solutions of chlorine could be used to purify drinking water.Chlorine had been recognized as a powerful disinfectant for many decades.In the 1820s, French scientist and apothecary Antoine Germain Labarraquediscovered that chlorides could be used to slow organic decomposition,reduce putrid smells, and disinfect contaminated surfaces. His experimentswere so successful he was invited to wash the body of King Louis XVIIIwith “chloruret of lime” solutions (what we now call chloride of lime),permitting his corpse to be “presented to the public without any odour” in1824. This led to recommendations to use chlorides for disinfection inhospitals, morgues, and sewers and for “the purification of putrid waters.”6Labarraque’s techniques were later used extensively to try to reduce thesmell of death during the 1832 outbreak of cholera in Paris that killed20,000 Parisians. Unfortunately, they were not used to disinfect water,which would have been far more effective. In 1854 an English RoyalCommission recommended using chlorine to remove the smell from sewagein London.
In 1885 the American Public Health Association reported that chlorideof lime was a cost-effective and reliable water disinfectant. In 1893 a smallplant for producing chlorine and disinfecting sewage from a small numberof houses was built in Brewster, New York, perhaps the first plant of itskind aimed specifically at killing bacteria in water. By this time, similarexperiments were under way in Europe, exploring the ability of chlorineand other disinfectants to kill cholera and typhoid bacteria and to improvesmell, taste, and performance in water systems.7In 1897 Maidstone, England, suffered a severe outbreak of typhoid thatkilled more than 130 people and sickened nearly 2,000 others. The outbreakended when ten tons of chloride of lime were used to disinfect 200,000gallons of water in the local reservoir and distribution pipeline.8 A yearlater, Leal himself tested chlorine as a disinfectant in his own laboratory. In1905 Alexander Cruikshank Houston, a Scottish medical expert andultimately director of water examinations for London, proved that sodiumhypochlorite killed typhoid bacteria in the water supply of Lincoln,England, after a disease outbreak there. Houston developed an innovativesystem that permitted the town’s water supply to be sterilized continuouslyfor several months.9Back in New Jersey in June 1908, Leal’s challenge was convincing thejudge that adding a known poison, chlorine, to the water supply was both asafe and a reliable option that would satisfy the “other plans or devices”solution permitted by the court decision. Leal presented the court withempirical examples of the potential for chlorine disinfection of water, andthe judge gave Leal just three months to prove his idea would work, not justin the laboratory but for a major city’s water supply.i At that time, not asingle water system in the United States was using chlorination to purifydrinking water. Leal, in this incredibly short period of time, managed tobring together engineering experts to build a chlorine system capable ofcontinuously treating 150 million liters (40 million gallons) of water perday, with experts in bacteriology and chemistry capable of proving that itboth purified the water and was safe.10 By September that year, achlorination plant had been built and was treating the water from theBoonton reservoir. A second trial, to evaluate the evidence that the new
system worked, ended with a judicial ruling in May 1910 that chlorine wasacceptable as a means of producing water free from pathogens. In the finalreport to the court, the water master overseeing the case stated: “I dotherefore find and report that this device [Leal’s chlorination plant] iscapable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure andwholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective inremoving from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by thedecree to possibly exist therein at certain times.”11Other cities soon followed suit. In 1916 London began to chlorinate itswater supply and was disinfecting all its water a year later.12 Within adecade a thousand US cities had built a new generation of water-purification plants, transforming the world of urban water supply, facilitatedby the ability to issue municipal bonds to fund urban water infrastructureand encouraged by the first national water standard setting limits on theconcentration of bacteria in drinking water. Among the immediateconsequences was a dramatic and rapid drop in illness and death fromcholera, typhoid, and other water-related diseases (Figure 17). Investmentexpanded rapidly, especially following World War II, aided by theavailability of federal construction funds after the Clean Water Act passedin 1972. In 1900 diarrheal diseases were the third leading cause of death inthe United States; by 2000 not a single water-related disease was in the topone hundred.13The rapid deployment of water-purification technology in the UnitedStates was the result of two things: the desperate need to bring an end tounsafe water and debilitating water-related diseases, and the swiftacceleration of technological innovation at the beginning of the twentiethcentury. Today in the United States, 50,000 drinking water systems and15,000 wastewater utilities serve more than 75 percent of the USpopulation, with the rest served by private wells in rural areas.
FIGURE 17. Diarrheal death rates in the United States from 1900 to1960, in deaths per 100,000 population, showing the rapid decline asmodern water and sanitation systems were introduced. Data from R. D.Grove and A. M. Hetzel, Vital Statistics Rates in the United States,1940–1960 (Washington, DC: US Department of Health, Educationand Welfare, Public Health Service, US Government Printing Office,1968); Federal Security Agency, US Public Health Service, USDepartment of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Service,Vital Statistics of the United States, 1945, Part 1 (Washington, DC: USGovernment Printing Office, 1947).Unfortunately, the benefits and advances in the provision of safe waterof the twentieth century are now threatened by gross underinvestment inbuilding comprehensive systems in developing countries and by the failureto adequately operate and maintain existing water infrastructure, or upgradeand improve it, in the richer ones. Many of the systems put in place acentury ago in the United States—systems many other countries wish theyhad—are aging and failing. Part of the problem is that water systems arelargely out of sight, buried in the ground, and taken for granted. Most
people fortunate enough to live in the wealthier countries of the worldsimply turn on their taps and clean water comes out, or they flush theirtoilets and wastes magically disappear and they don’t understand the needfor constant care and investment. Efforts to cut taxes, weaken governments,and withhold or divert funds for public services have also hamstrung theability of cities, towns, and utilities to fund needed and overdue waterprojects.The American Water Works Association, a US organization representingthousands of water utilities, estimates that most of the country’s currentwater-distribution infrastructure will have to be repaired or replaced by2040, but that current rates of investment won’t cover the costs of doing so.In 2018 the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than$470 billion will be needed to replace and update existing pipelines, buildand expand water-treatment systems, and provide water storage and supplyfor the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure over the next twenty years, anamount far in excess of what is currently being invested.14 If the currentunderinvestment continues, the consequences will be a further deteriorationof water systems, increasing numbers of short-term water-quality problems,growing public concern and dissatisfaction with water services, aresurgence of water-related sickness, and a spiraling water crisis.The signs of deterioration can’t be ignored. Water-main breaks in oldpipes increased 27 percent from 2012 to 2018, and water workers tracingleaks in cities in the eastern United States still occasionally uncover oldwooden pipes installed hundreds of years ago.15 Leaks of valuable highlytreated water from aging infrastructure waste trillions of liters of water ayear. Sewage plants tied to storm-water systems cause massive seweroverflows during extreme rainstorms, contaminating rivers and coastalareas.16 Children are still being poisoned by lead water pipes laid down ahundred years ago and never replaced.And then there was the disaster of Flint, Michigan.In 2014 people living in Flint, Michigan, began to experiencediscolored, bad-tasting, and foul-smelling tap water, the first signs of whatwould become a major health and political crisis. Flint is an old-lineindustrial city, about a hundred kilometers north of Detroit on the banks ofthe Flint River. General Motors was founded there in 1908, and it was a
major center for car manufacturing until the mid-1980s, when plantclosures, cutbacks in domestic manufacturing, and a major loss of jobsstruck the city hard. Its population dropped from a high of 200,000 to fewerthan 100,000, and by the end of the twentieth century the city was in severeeconomic decline.17Flint began to operate its own water system in 1912, when cities allacross the United States were taking advantage of the new technologiesdeveloped by John Leal and others, treating water from the Flint River withfiltration, chemical treatment for corrosion control and taste, anddisinfection with chlorine. By the 1960s, when the city was the secondlargest in Michigan, industrial waste from automobile manufacturingincreasingly contaminated the Flint River, and Flint switched to buyingwater from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department and the somewhatcleaner, more reliable Detroit River. In 2013 economic pressures on Flintled them to search for ways to cut costs, and they entered into an agreementfor water supply with another water agency that was building a waterpipeline to Lake Huron. In the interim, in order to save money, the citydecided to switch its water supply back to the Flint River and to treat thatwater at their own plant.Several officials and water managers recommended against the switch,concerned about the quality of the water. In April 2014, Mike Glasgow,laboratory and water-quality supervisor at the Flint treatment plant, sent anemail to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, saying, “I donot anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out anytime soon. Ifwater is distributed from this plant in the next couple weeks, it will beagainst my direction.”18 Despite warnings like this, the switch was made inMay 2014. Things went badly immediately. Within weeks, residents beganto complain that their water was turning red, smelled and tasted bad, andwas causing rashes in children. Water mains began to break at anaccelerated rate.19 General Motors reported abnormal corrosion at a plantmaking engine parts and sought a different water provider.20By the summer of 2014, Flint’s water quality had plummeted. Bacterialevels rose, chemical contaminants like trihalomethanes—classified as apotential carcinogen and human health risk regulated in 1979—exceeded
federal standards, and in the summer of 2015 a broad assessment by a teamled by Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Polytechnic Institute foundelevated lead levels throughout the system. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a localdoctor, tested lead levels in children and found dramatic increases after thedistribution of Flint River water, particularly in socioeconomicallydisadvantaged neighborhoods. She and her colleagues concluded,“Switching from Detroit’s Lake Huron to Flint River water created a perfectstorm for lead leaching into drinking water.”21 Hospitals reported a majorincrease in Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia associatedwith inhaling Legionella bacteria in contaminated mists and aerosols offresh water. The prevention of Legionnaires’ disease requires the propermaintenance of water systems, but inadequate disinfection and chemicalcontrol of Flint River water are thought to have led to the growth andpropagation of the bacteria throughout the distribution system. In thesummers of 2014 and 2015, ninety-one cases and twelve deaths fromLegionella were confirmed, up from just six to thirteen cases a year beforethe switch to Flint River water.22In addition to the health crisis caused by Flint’s mismanagement of thewater system, there was a tremendous loss of trust in tap water and aconsequent increase in the use of commercial bottled water. At the height ofthe Flint crisis, some families were using hundreds of bottles of water a dayfor drinking, cooking, and bathing. At the height of the emergency, the stateof Michigan picked up part of the tab, paying hundreds of thousands ofdollars a month for bottled water.23 But even now, years after hundreds ofmillions of dollars have been spent to upgrade and fix the water system andthe water has been declared safe, Flint residents are continuing to drinkbottled water at huge personal expense, and some local leaders and medicalprofessionals continue to recommend that they do so.24 Jim Ananich, alocal Flint resident and Michigan political leader, said, “I can’t tellsomebody they should trust [the quality of the water], because I don’t trust[it].… Science and logic would tell me that it should be OK, but peoplehave lied to me.”25The Flint water disaster also had political repercussions. State andfederal officials resigned or were fired for mishandling the crisis. Tens of
thousands of lawsuits and damage claims have been filed, and in August2020 the state of Michigan announced it would provide a $600 millionsettlement to families and businesses that suffered damages, especially tochildren who suffered lead poisoning and other health problems.26 In early2021, the former governor of Michigan and eight other officials werecharged with felony and misdemeanor crimes for their roles; some of themwere charged with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths fromLegionnaires’ disease.iiThe crisis in Flint was years in the making, the result of bad technicaldecisions, difficult economic conditions, gross underinvestment in the localwater system, a failure to carefully monitor and publicly report waterquality to the community, and inexcusable mismanagement by local, state,and federal agencies. The bigger crisis, however, is that Flint is not anisolated case: water systems throughout the United States are deterioratingfor the same reasons, especially in low-income, marginalized communities.In the summer of 2022, the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, failed dueto flooding and years of underinvestment, leaving 150,000 residents, 80percent of whom are Black, without reliable or safe drinking water. InCalifornia’s Central Valley, a fifth of local water systems regularly havewater-quality violations due to contamination from agricultural chemicalslike fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides or septic systems that leach humanwastes into groundwater. Shallow wells that provide many of these poorfarmworker communities are going dry because of massive overdraft ofgroundwater by large corporate agricultural interests. During the severefive-year California drought from 2012 to 2016, 127 water systems servingnearly a half-million people reported water-supply failures or neededemergency funding to prevent shortages.27 A study from the PacificInstitute in 2018 estimated that 520,000 Californians, mostly in small low-income rural communities and on underserved Indian lands, received waterfrom systems that failed federal drinking-water standards or still have nofunctioning modern water systems at all.28Fixing these problems and reinvesting and modernizing water systemswill require serious commitments of time, effort, technology, and money, aswell as policies to strengthen regulations and institutions responsible for
protecting public health. Even more difficult will be restoring public trust intap-water systems: it is hard to build that trust and easy to lose it.29We know how to build modern water-treatment systems. We know howto prevent water-related diseases. The lesson of John Leal and Jersey City isthat providing safe water and sanitation for all is not magic but the result ofsocieties successfully applying the advances of science and knowledgedeveloped during the Second Age of Water and investing in neededtechnologies and institutions. The lesson of Flint and similar communitiesaround the world is that the continued failure to provide universal access tobasic water services is an ongoing failure of institutions and governments.This is the spiraling crisis of water poverty.Footnotesi Michael J. McGuire’s book The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfectionand the Fight to Save Lives (Denver: American Water Works Association,2013) offers a wonderful summary of Leal’s efforts.ii As of the writing of this book, many of these cases are still unresolved.“Flint Water Criminal Cases Move Slowly in Court a Year Later,” CBSDetroit, January 12, 2022; K. Gray and J. Bosman, “Nine Michigan LeadersFace Charges in Water Crisis That Roiled Flint,” New York Times, January15, 2021.
14WATER POVERTYIf the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but byour institutions, great is our sin.—CHARLES DARWIN, VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLETHE MOST EGREGIOUS AND INEXCUSABLE ASPECT OF TODAY’S water crisis is thefailure to provide basic water services for everyone. We know how to cleanup filthy, contaminated water. We know how to turn wastewater into clean,drinkable water. We know how to build dams for water storage or floodprotection or hydropower. We’ve built machines to strip salt out of seawaterand fresh water out of the atmosphere and launched other machines intoouter space searching for water. But despite this progress of the Second Ageof Water, we have not succeeded in providing everyone with even the mostbasic water services.Billions of people still do not have access to adequate safe drinkingwater and lack access to toilets and sanitation that most readers of this bookare lucky enough to take for granted. Even with the scientific,technological, and medical advances of the Second Age of Water, and high-tech, internet-connected modern economies, water-related diseases remainamong the world’s most relentless and efficient killers. Deaths fromdiseases associated with the lack of safe water and adequate sanitation killon the order of 2 million people a year. In Africa and Southeast Asia,diarrhea alone is responsible for more than 8 percent of all deaths, and it isby no means the only threat from unsafe water. In 2017 over 220 millionpeople suffered from schistosomiasis—an acute and chronic disease causedby parasitic worms contracted through exposure to infested water.1 Rapideconomic development has also brought with it a whole new set of
contaminants, like complex industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals thatare often far more difficult to treat than simple human wastes. These newchallenges pose different kinds of health risks that remain poorlyunderstood, inadequately monitored, weakly regulated, and inconsistentlyremoved with existing treatment technologies.I’ve spent time in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, and thetownships of South Africa where hundreds of thousands live in grindingpoverty without safe water or decent toilets. I’ve visited Palestiniancommunities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank where water and sewagesystems are substandard and where efforts to provide water services havebeen blocked by ongoing violence. I’ve worked with Native Americans andfarmworkers in the United States who don’t have reliable, safe, oraffordable water in their communities. These experiences have broughthome to me the gross disparities in access to safe water between the richand the poor. How can it be considered acceptable that vast numbers ofpeople today have less access to safe water and fewer functional waterservices than were available to the populations of ancient Rome or Greecemillennia ago, or even Jersey City a century ago?This failure is not because we don’t understand what needs to be done,or lack some critical piece of technology, or can’t find the money. Barringthose who might temporarily lose access to water and sanitation due tonatural disaster, the chronic problem is a lack of will and commitment onthe part of governments, politicians, and local communities to do whatneeds to be done and a failure to commit the resources needed to eliminatewater poverty for good.Water poverty is a global crisis with victims in every country. In 2020the United Nations estimated that 2 billion people lacked access to safelymanaged drinking water free from contamination, including 1.2 billionpeople with only basic services, 282 million with limited services, 367million using unimproved sources, and 122 million drinking unprotectedsurface water. (Tables 14.1 and 14.2 summarize the UN definitions ofwater-service access.) In 2020, 3.6 billion people lacked safely managedsanitation services, including 1.9 billion people with basic services, 580million with limited services, and 616 million using unimproved facilities,
with 494 million practicing open defecation—the disposal of human wastesin fields, forests, roads, beaches, and open bodies of water.2TABLE 14.1 United Nations Definitions for Water ServicesSERVICELEVELDEFINITIONSafelyManagedDrinking water from an improved source that is accessible on premises, availablewhen needed and free from fecal and priority chemical contaminationBasicDrinking water from an improved source, provided collection time is not morethan 30 minutes for a round trip, including queuingLimitedDrinking water from an improved source, for which collection time exceeds 30minutes for a round trip, including queuingUnimprovedDrinking water from an unprotected dug well or unprotected springSurfaceWaterDrinking water directly from a river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal or irrigationcanalSource: World Health Organization and UNICEF, “Progress onHousehold Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, 2000–2020: FiveYears into the SDGs” (Geneva: World Health Organization and theUnited Nations Children’s Fund, 2021).In this same UN assessment, 2.3 billion people lacked basichandwashing services at home, including 670 million people with nofacilities at all, mostly in poorer regions of the world, including hundreds ofmillions in sub-Saharan Africa and central and southern Asia.3Water poverty has been on the agenda of the international developmentcommunity for decades with regular calls for more attention, money, andeffort, but progress remains painfully slow. The United Nations launchedthe Millennium Development Goals in 2000, which included a target ofreducing in half by 2015 the proportion of people worldwide without accessto safe water and sanitation. Those goals were not met, and in 2015 they
were expanded with the launch of the UN’s Sustainable DevelopmentGoals.TABLE 14.2 United Nations Definitions for Sanitation ServicesSERVICELEVELDEFINITIONSafelyManagedUse of improved facilities that are not shared with other households and whereexcreta are safely disposed of in situ or removed and treated off-siteBasicUse of improved facilities that are not shared with other householdsLimitedUse of improved facilities that are shared with other householdsUnimprovedUse of pit latrines without a slab or platform, hanging latrines or bucket latrinesSurfaceWaterDisposal of human feces in fields, forests, bushes, open bodies of water, beachesor other open places, or with solid wasteSource: World Health Organization and UNICEF, “Progress onHousehold Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, 2000–2020: FiveYears into the SDGs” (Geneva: World Health Organization and theUnited Nations Children’s Fund, 2021).The purpose of the SDGs is to provide “a blueprint to achieve a betterand more sustainable future for all by 2030.” The goals are a set ofseventeen specific objectives for ending poverty and hunger; providingpeople with good health, education, employment, and energy; developingsustainable cities and communities; promoting peace and justice; and,underlying many of these things, providing safe water and sanitation foreveryone.SDG 6 is the “water” goal, to “ensure availability and sustainablemanagement of water and sanitation for all,” with specific targets to providesafe and affordable water, end open defecation, provide access to sanitationand hygiene, improve water quality, expand wastewater treatment andreuse, increase water-use efficiency, and protect and restore aquaticecosystems.4 (See Table 14.3.)
TABLE 14.3 Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water TargetsTarget 6.1.By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordabledrinking water for all. Measured by the proportion of the population usingsafely managed drinking water services.Target 6.2.By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene forall and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of womenand girls and those in vulnerable situations. Measured by the proportion ofpopulation using (a) safely managed sanitation services and (b) a hand-washing facility with soap and water.Target 6.3.By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumpingand minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving theproportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recyclingand safe reuse globally. Measured by the proportion of domestic andindustrial wastewater flows safely treated; and the proportion of bodies ofwater with good ambient water quality.Target 6.4.By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors andensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of fresh water to address waterscarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from waterscarcity. Measured by the change in water efficiency over time; andfreshwater withdrawals as a proportion of available renewable waterresources.Target 6.5.By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels,including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate. Measured bythe degree of integrated water resources management; and the proportion oftransboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for watercooperation.Target 6.6.By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains,forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes. Measured by the change in theextent of water-related ecosystems over time.Target 6.6.a.By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support todeveloping countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs,including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewatertreatment, recycling, and reuse technologies. Measured by the amount ofwater- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of agovernment-coordinated spending plan.
Target 6.6.b.Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improvingwater and sanitation management. Measured by the proportion of localadministrative units with established and operational policies andprocedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitationmanagement.Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,“Goal 6. Ensure Availability and Sustainable Management of Waterand Sanitation for All” (Sustainable Development, 2020).Not only are the direct health consequences of water poverty horrific,but there are also indirect effects. As the world learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing is important for preventing the transmission ofrespiratory diseases. WHO estimates that 13 percent of deaths fromrespiratory infections—more than 350,000 deaths a year—result frominadequate hygiene.5 Improvements in access to basic hygiene in the formof soap and handwashing with clean water can cut these deaths.Water poverty causes more than sickness and death; it also contributes toeconomic injustice, reduced educational opportunities, and impoverishedcommunities. There is a core gender component to this: millions of people,almost always women and girls, are unable to attend school or participate ineconomic activities because they must spend hours each day walking longdistances to find water—typically of poor quality—to bring home forcooking and cleaning. And the lack of safe water and toilet facilities inschools and health-care facilities in developing countries slows efforts tosolve all the other social challenges young women face.Poverty is usually caused by a lack of something. Water poverty iscaused by many factors, but, surprisingly, not a lack of water. While waterresources are unevenly distributed around the world, there is no place wherethere isn’t enough water from groundwater, rainfall, rivers and streams, oreven pulling it from the air to satisfy the basic water and sanitation needs ofaround fifty liters per person per day.i In March 2010, I flew to Nairobi,Kenya, for a series of meetings and conversations with the United NationsEnvironment Programme for a project addressing global water-qualitychallenges. Nairobi is a crowded, bustling city, in part a modern urbaneconomic center and in part a city overwhelmed by rapid population growthand poverty, underinvestment in infrastructure, and uncontrolled, unplanned
expansion. An urban elite community of wealthy Kenyans and foreignworkers who serve industrial companies and international organizations inNairobi exists side by side in uncomfortable proximity to some of thelargest slums in the world.One of these is the community of Kibera, where several hundredthousand (the number is uncertain and disputed) people live in misery andpoverty. I spent time there talking with community groups and activistsworking to improve access to water and sanitation. Most residents lacktoilets or running water. Latrines, if any, are typically simple holes in theground, and often people are forced to simply defecate in plastic bags andthrow those bags in ditches and along the roads. Until just prior to my visit,when two water pipes were built to the area, Kibera had no access to safewater and residents collected water from the nearby reservoir created by theNairobi dam, choked with refuse and sewage and a persistent source oftyphoid and cholera.Between 1997 and my visit in 2010, Kenya reported nearly 70,000cholera cases and more than 2,600 deaths, almost entirely in rural areas andslums like Kibera where access to safe water and health care has beenweakest. More than 40 percent of the cholera cases occurred amongchildren under the age of fifteen. Kenya experienced new cholera outbreaksin 2015, 2017, and 2019, and in May 2022 officials reported a new surge ofcholera in the Kisumu region, with cases spreading to Nairobi.6As shown in Kibera, water poverty isn’t a water-scarcity problem. Itisn’t a technology problem: the worst-quality water can be turned into safepotable water. Astronauts do it on a small scale, purifying drinking waterfrom human wastes and recirculated air on the International Space Station(ISS), and water managers do it on a large scale, serving cities with tens ofmillions of people. Water poverty isn’t even an economic problem: the costof expanding safe water and sanitation to everyone is remarkably low, andfar lower than the terrible economic and social costs of failing to do so. Thecapital required to provide the most basic water, sanitation, and hygieneservices to those who still lack them by 2030 is estimated to be around $30billion per year, well within current levels of development financing.Meeting the more comprehensive UN targets would still require onlyaround $114 billion per year.7 For comparison, global military spending
every year is nearly twenty times this amount.8 To add another perspective,Americans spend around $100 billion a year on their pets.9Finally, water poverty isn’t the result of a lack of knowledge orinstitutions to manage water: humans have been providing water servicesfor millennia, and examples of exemplary, effective management tools andinstitutions to deliver safe, reliable, affordable drinking water and to removeand clean up wastewater can be found on every continent.The problem is that access to good technology, money, and institutionsis, like water itself, unevenly distributed. Governments and institutions areflawed. They have competing priorities to provide education, health care,transportation, communications, and other services to their people.Sometimes institutions are corrupt or incompetent or both. Unless more,faster, and more effective efforts are made, the Second Age crisis of waterpoverty, disease, and misery will continue.Progress is being made, but it is too slow and uneven. In the first fiveyears of the UN development goals, the fraction of global population usingsafely managed drinking-water services grew slightly from 70 to 74percent, the population with safely managed sanitation grew from 47 to 54percent, and the population with access to handwashing facilities with soapand water in the home increased from 67 to 71 percent. In 2020, 60 percentof water sources that have been tested reported having good water quality,but for 3 billion people no data on the quality of their water are evenavailable.10 India has successfully reduced the number of people who relyon open defecation through a program called Swachh Bharat (Clean India),though their initial goal of eradicating it by October 2019ii was not met.11More than forty other countries also have a problem with open defecationas well, and in 2020 only seven of them were on track to eliminate thepractice by 2030. To have any hope of meeting the overall goal of ensuringsustainable and equitable distribution of water for domestic, industrial,agricultural, and environmental purposes, and the 2030 SustainableDevelopment Goal of universal coverage of basic water and sanitationservices, current rates of improvement will have to vastly increase.Two more trends have arisen as a result of the failure of governments toend water poverty. The first is an explosion in the use of commercial bottled
waters to provide drinking water when public systems don’t exist or fail,generating billions of dollars a year in profits selling expensive bottledwater, often to the people who can least afford it. The second is pressure toturn over control or ownership of public water agencies to private ownersand managers in the belief that water privatization would be a better way toprovide water and wastewater services. Both of these trends mark a seriousdeparture from the historical tradition of public control over water, and theychallenge the very idea of water as a public good and a basic human right.As we shall see, both trends also raise serious environmental, economic,and social justice questions.Footnotesi In the mid-1990s, I defined a basic water requirement for drinking,cooking, washing, and simple sanitation of fifty liters per person per day.That number has been used in water-rights court cases in South Africa andcited by the United Nations in their deliberations on the human right towater. P. H. Gleick, “Basic Water Requirements for Human Activities:Meeting Basic Needs,” Water International 21 (1996): 83–92.ii The date of October 2019 was chosen because it was the 150thanniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and in honor of his commitmentto Indian health and hygiene. A. Jain et al., “Understanding OpenDefecation in the Age of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Agency, Accountability,and Anger in Rural Bihar,” International Journal of EnvironmentalResearch and Public Health 17 (2020).
15COMMERCIALIZING AND PRIVATIZINGWATERThe biggest enemy is tap water.… We’re not against water—it just hasits place. We think it’s good for irrigation and cooking.—ROBERT S. MORRISON, PEPSICO’S NORTH AMERICAN BEVERAGE AND FOOD DIVISIONSOMETIMES WE GET IN THE HABIT OF DOING THINGS THAT, WITH a modicum ofreflection, are clearly absurd. Bottled water is one of those habits. In 2020nearly a half-trillion liters of bottled water were sold worldwide by privatecompanies, with corporate revenues approaching $300 billion—almostthree times the amount of money needed to meet the UN targets.1 That’spretty astounding for a liquid produced naturally for free and available for apittance from the taps of homes connected to municipal water systems. Atthe same time, corporations are moving to buy up or replace public waterutilities, acquire water rights, and privatize water services. Some view thistrend as an appropriate response to the failure to provide effective publicwater services; others see it as a threat to the very idea of water as a publicgood and human right.The modern bottled-water industry is a relatively recent creature, createdthrough a confluence of events, including the invention of cheap and strongplastics, the failure to provide everyone with reliable access to safe andaffordable drinking water, growing fear and uncertainty about tap-waterquality, the efforts of private companies to acquire cheap public water andtransform it into a profitable commodity, and intensive, often misleadingadvertising and marketing. These companies aren’t really selling water:they’re selling an illusion of convenience and the magical idea that
consuming their product will somehow make us sexier, more popular, or,especially, healthier.2 It’s largely a con.Long before the modern age of bottled water, people took advantage ofthe belief that natural mineral waters, found bubbling up through theground, could help treat all sorts of illnesses, leading to the development oftherapeutic mineral spas, health resorts, and vacation destinations builtaround “taking the waters.” Ancient Celts in England used hot springs at asite later named Aquae Sulis by the Romans and then Bath by the English.iThe Greeks and Romans took advantage of natural hot springs to feedpublic baths in their cities,3 and throughout history many have claimedthese waters cured rheumatism, arthritis, nervous conditions, overeating,“female disorders,” and pretty much every other human ailment everdescribed.4 Hippocrates wrote about the believed medical benefits of hotand cold mineral waters on the human body.5 Michelangelo used the watersfrom a spa at Fiuggi “which breaks up my kidney stone.… I have had to layin a supply at home and cannot drink or cook with anything else.” Leonardoda Vinci took the waters at San Pellegrino.6The enthusiasm for drinking mineral waters grew enormously when itwas discovered how to artificially reproduce the carbonation and mineralcontent of natural mineral waters, offering the general public access to whathad previously been available only to the wealthy. And this happened onlyafter carbon dioxide was discovered and a process invented for infusing itin water.Carbon dioxide was first described around 1640 when Jan Baptist vanHelmont, a Flemish chemist, burned charcoal in a closed container andnoted that the remaining ash weighed less than the original material. VanHelmont was convinced that the lost mass must still be present, butconverted to an invisible substance, which he called spiritus sylvestris (wildspirit), or “gas,” the first known use of the term, but it would take anothercentury until scientists would explore its properties and identify its nature.7In the 1750s, Joseph Black, a Scottish scientist, found that heatingcommon calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate would yield what hecalled “fixed air,” later identified as carbon dioxide, which could extinguish
flames or asphyxiate animals. Within just a few years, other scientistswould isolate a wide range of other gases, including oxygen, hydrogen, andnitrogen.In 1767 English chemist Joseph Priestley, who was soon to identifyoxygen as a gas, artificially carbonated water with Black’s “fixed air” byhanging containers with water over fermentation vats producing largeamounts of carbon dioxide at the brewery in Leeds next to his laboratory.He recognized that the waters produced by this process were similar tonatural mineral waters long sold in Europe for their medicinal properties,and he wrote a famous paper titled “Directions for Impregnating Water withFixed Air in Order to Communicate to It the Peculiar Spirit and Virtues ofPyrmont Water, and Other Mineral Waters of a Similar Nature.”ii Priestleynever tried to commercialize his discovery, but his work quickly opened thedoor to others who saw the potential.8News of the invention of artificially carbonated water, and enthusiasmfor the product, spread immediately across the Atlantic to the youngcolonies where natural mineral waters were increasingly in vogue. TheJackson Spa in Massachusetts was already selling bottled water in Boston in1767.9 Pennsylvania physician and scientist Benjamin Rush, who served assurgeon general of the Continental army and was shortly to sign theDeclaration of Independence, investigated local mineral waters and reportedhis findings to the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia in 1773. In 1786Rush published a twelve-page pamphlet offering his recommendations forthe medicinal uses of mineral water internally and as a cold bath to addressillnesses such as “hysteria” (“known by attacking the female more than themale sex”) and “all female obstructions and weaknesses,” epilepsy, gout,colic, obstructions of the liver and spleen, piles, and worms.10Other founders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, andJames Madison, also took an interest in the health benefits of mineralwaters, including the natural springs in Saratoga, New York, which werealready famous. Washington visited the springs in 1783 and wrote to afriend: “What distinguishes these waters… is the great quantity of fixed airthey contain.… Several persons told us that they had corked it tight inbottles, and that the bottles broke. We tried it with the only bottle we had,
which did not break, but the air found its way through a wooden stopperand the wax with which it was sealed.”11Thomas Jefferson regularly took the waters at natural springs in Europeand the United States, including the Warm Springs pools in Virginia (laterrenamed the Jefferson Pools in his honor)—the oldest natural spa in theUnited States, describing their waters as being of “first merit.”iiiFIGURE 18. The “Hamilton” bottle developed to retaincarbonation and market commercial water by Schweppes,ca. 1809. Photo used with permission of Hans-JürgenKrackher.Because of the great interest in natural waters, entrepreneurs quicklyseized on the commercial advantages promised by the discovery of how toinfuse water with carbon dioxide. By 1781 the first companies producingartificial mineral waters were established in England. In Geneva,Switzerland, a young German watchmaker named Johann Jacob Schweppesaw a commercial opportunity, improved the process of carbonation, and in1783 abandoned his watchmaking business to set up a company sellingcarbonated water for medicinal purposes. Schweppe moved his business toLondon in 1792, where he offered three different medicinal products formass consumption at the dinner table, to relieve “biliousness” or digestivepain, to address kidney disorders, and for “sufferers with violent bladder”distress.12 That early effort grew into a modern corporate giant, and eventoday Schweppes remains one of the world’s leading beverage brands(Figure 18).The commercialization and commodification of water as a beveragecontinued through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By 1856, 7million bottles a year were being produced at Saratoga Springs in upstate
New York, and artificially carbonated and flavored waters were being soldat soda “fountains” in neighborhood pharmacies and lunch counters aroundthe country. At the centennial celebration of the Declaration ofIndependence in Philadelphia, James Tufts, a soda-fountain magnate, built aten-meter-high marble and silver “Arctic Soda Water Apparatus” thatserved sparkling water to guests.In Harper’s Weekly in November 1891, Mary Gay Humphreys wrote apanegyric to sparkling water:Soda water is an American drink. It is as essentially American asporter, Rhine wine, and claret are distinctively English, German, andFrench.… It was left to this country to enhance the gayety of nations bytransforming a vicious, deadly compound, an uninteresting chemicalmixture C2HO3, into a sparkling, poetical, and protean beverage.… Butthe crowning merit of soda-water, and that which fits it to be thenational drink, is its democracy. The millionaire may drink champagnewhile the poor man drinks beer, but they both drink soda water.… [I]tis small cost to see the bubbles winking on the brim, to feel thearomatic flavors among the roots of his hair and exploring the cranniesof his brain, and to realize each fragrant drop as it goes dancing downhis throat.13The modern version of the bottled-water industry, however, didn’t reallytake off until the invention of cheap, durable plastics. In 1941 John RexWhinfield, an English chemist working in the fabric industry for the wareffort, together with his young assistant James Dickson, createdpolyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester, Dacron, or PET plastic.Today, PET made from fossil fuels is the most widely produced syntheticfiber in the world, and, among other things, it revolutionized the beverageindustry.Water is heavy and costly to move. Water packaged in glass bottles iseven heavier, and, worse, glass breaks. The discovery of PET, however, andthe ability to produce billions of plastic bottles, made it easier and cheaperfor the first time to package and mass-market beverages to the generalpublic. More than 95 percent of all plastic bottles made today use PET, andsales of bottled water, now dominated by plain still water rather than
carbonated mineral water, have exploded from just over 1 billion liters ayear in the late 1970s, when Perrier launched one of the first multimillion-dollar bottled-water advertising campaigns, to more than 420 billion litersin 2019—in literally hundreds of billions of plastic bottles every year.The bottled-water industry has also benefited from growing publicconcern about the quality of tap water, concern amplified by regular newsreports about problems with water quality and disasters like Flint, theimproved ability to detect ever-more-minute quantities of contaminantswhose health effects we don’t fully understand, and a massive advertisingcampaign by the industry to brand their product as something different, andbetter, than just “water.” In 2019 the industry spent more than $200 millionin the United States promoting bottled water, more than was spent toadvertise fruit beverages, coffee, or sports drinks. That same year, bottled-water revenues in the United States exceeded $19 billion.14 Globally, it’sbeen reported that bottled-water advertising expenditures exceed $7 billiona year.15Bottled-water companies have occasionally launched efforts explicitly toturn people away from tap water. In 2000 Susan Wellington, the presidentof Quaker Oats Company’s Beverage Division, told industry analysts,“When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washingdishes.” In 2001 activists found documents on a Coca-Cola websitedetailing a formal company effort to discourage restaurant patrons fromdrinking tap water—what in corporate-speak they called the problem of“tap-water incidence,” that is, consumers choosing free tap water overrevenue-producing beverages. The tap water in my own home is superb, butin 2007 my next-door neighbor got a flyer offering home deliveries ofbottled water and declaring, “Tap water is poison!”16In a campaign that backfired in 2006, Fiji Water—one of the mostexpensive and energy-intensive of the bottled-water brands—ran an adsaying, “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland.” Takingoffense on behalf of the entire city, Cleveland’s public utilities director,Julius Ciaccia, ordered water-quality tests of Fiji Water and reportedmeasuring more than six micrograms of arsenic per liter, below federalstandards, but far above Cleveland’s tap water, which had no measurablearsenic. “Before you take a cheap shot at somebody, know what you’re
talking about,” said Cleveland water commissioner J. ChristopherNielson.17 Unfortunately, amping up fears about tap water is effective, inpart because water utilities have strict testing and reporting requirements, soany problems receive immediate press attention, and in part because publicwater agencies have no experience or money to counter the massiveadvertising budgets of private companies.Privatizing and commodifying water isn’t limited to bottled water. Theglobal push toward corporate control of water resources also includes majorefforts by private companies as well as international organizations like theWorld Bank to put public water agencies and utilities into private hands,driven by the ideological belief that this will lead to an improvement inaccess to water, better performance by water utilities, enhanced competitionin monopolized sectors, and lower costs to consumers. Over the past threedecades, there has been a trend in transferring the management, operation,and even ownership of public water systems to private companies, raisingprices for providing water services in order to boost profits, and evenestablishing water markets to permit speculation and competition for accessto the resource itself.In 1989 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher completely privatized thewater and wastewater system of England and Wales, creating ten regionalcompanies, inspired by her ideological conviction that privatization was keyto “reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism.”18 TheWorld Bank estimates that between 1990 and 2021, sixty-five countrieslaunched more than 1,100 privatization actions in their water and seweragesectors. The bulk of these projects were in East Asia and the Pacificregion.19 Even in the United States, where public water systems stilldominate, private systems serve around 36 million people, around 12percent of the population.20Privatization of water faces significant, and indeed sometimes violent,opposition, largely because of doubts that private markets and control ofwater will serve the public interest, satisfy the social good and equityaspects of water, protect the environment, or provide any benefits beyondthose that a well-run public agency can provide. Opposition to waterprivatization has been seen in the Philippines, South Africa, Bolivia, and
Paraguay; in US cities like Atlanta and Stockton; and elsewhere fromindividuals, community groups, human rights organizations, and, of course,public water providers. This opposition seems well justified. Theexperience with water-privatization projects shows that the risks and threatsof privatization are poorly understood. Governments often fail to put inplace the necessary oversight and management to protect the public fromprice gouging, excessive profit taking, underinvestment in maintaining andupgrading infrastructure, or water-quality threats. Private companies havelittle incentive to protect natural aquatic ecosystems. Research hasconsistently shown there is no evidence to support the benefits claimed forprivatizations. Well-run public water utilities are just as economicallyefficient and more transparent in their operations. Private companies don’tnecessarily increase needed capital investment, nor do they uniquelypromote technological innovation.21Look back at Margaret Thatcher’s experiment with water privatization:In the first year after privatization, water prices went up 46 percent, and by1994 nearly 2 million British households had failed to pay their water billsand 1 million more fell behind in payments. In 2021 the companies spilledsewage into rivers and the ocean 400,000 times, and although Thatcherwrote off all water-system debts in 1989 as a gift to the newly formedprivate companies, their debt burden as of late 2022 built back up to nearly£54 billion, while they’ve paid shareholders more than £65.9 billion individends over the same period. Researchers David Hall and KarolYearwood of Greenwich University concluded that the companies havebeen borrowing money to pay dividends rather than to invest ininfrastructure projects.22 In stark contrast, right next door, Scottish waterand sewer agencies are still public. Over the past twenty years, they haveinvested 35 percent more per household in updating and maintaining waterinfrastructure than their English counterparts, domestic water rates are 14percent lower, and they have no need to pay dividends to shareholders.23As a result of strong public opposition and the lack of convincingevidence that the benefits of water privatization outweigh its liabilities, thepush for water privatization is slowing, helped by a new generation ofsmart, effective, and innovative public water managers and byimprovements in public oversight, driving a trend toward
“remunicipalization,” with nearly 300 cases in nearly forty countries wherecities have taken back public control from private companies. Wateragencies have learned the value of expanding public participation in thedesign and management of water investments based on community needs;setting equitable water prices that ensure access to the poor while stillproducing revenue for operating, maintaining, and upgrading services; anddeveloping partnerships with other public agencies, includingenvironmental, energy, and land-use groups, to improve overall servicedelivery.24Private companies and pro-privatization groups are still powerful, andthere are still plenty of poorly run public water systems (and, for thatmatter, private water systems). The standards for evaluating the success ofwater utilities are often limited to simple financial measures of revenue, orcost recovery, or the number of employees per 1,000 connections, ratherthan broader measures of social good. But the growing experience ofsuccessful public water agencies shows that a focus on performance, values,and transparency is far more important than a narrow ideological preferencefor privatization of water.The history of bottled-water commercialization and water-agencyprivatization is a history of industries trying to convince the public that theprivate sector can do a better job managing and delivering high-qualitywater and water services than governments and public agencies. But it isalso the story of the gross disparities in access to water between the rich andthe poor that have developed during the Second Age of Water and ofcommercial interests consistently prioritizing private profit making oversocial good.Inequitable access to water, mismanagement, weak or corruptinstitutions, and water poverty have other consequences: growing anger,tensions, and violence, often between those who have water resources andthose who do not.Footnotesi In Ptolemy’s second-century work Geographia, he refers to the town as
Aquae calidae, “hot water.”ii “Pyrmont Water” was a mineral water from the popular spa “BadPyrmont” in northern Germany, imported and “much valued and used” inEngland, and praised by Sir Isaac Newton and members of the RoyalSociety and Royal College of Physicians. H. M. Marcard, A ShortDescription of Pyrmont: With Observations on the Use of Its Waters (St.Paul’s Churchyard: J. Johnson, 1788).iii While Jefferson lauded the waters at the resort, he also wrote, “but so dulla place, and so distressing an ennui I never before knew.” T. Jefferson, “ALetter from Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph,” August 14,1818, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-13-02-0211.
16WATER AND CONFLICTToo often, where we need water, we find guns instead.—UN SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOONWHEN WATER AND POLITICS MIX, AND WHEN DIPLOMACY AND cooperation fail,fresh water and water systems can become weapons, triggers, and casualtiesof violence. The water conflict fought nearly 4,500 years ago betweenUmma and Lagash along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of ancientMesopotamia was just the first of what has become a long history ofviolence over water, reflecting its scarcity and value.The phrase “water wars” is compelling. Journalists and editors love itbecause it produces eyeballs and mouse clicks. It’s easy to understand,implying that A causes B. It’s euphonious and alliterative. And articles andreferences to “water wars” are plentiful, going back many decades.1 Butwars—substantial armed conflict between nations or parties within a nation—can rarely, if ever, be attributed to a single cause or driver such as water.Parties willing to go to war must weigh complex opposing interests andcapabilities; the balance of power; political, social, cultural, and economicfactors; and what is to be lost or gained. My friend and colleague Dr. AaronWolf of Oregon State University has long noted the lack of definitiveexamples where water was the dominant factor in any major conflictbetween nations, emphasizing that shared water resources have more oftenbeen a source of cooperation, negotiation, and agreement.2
FIGURE 19. The number and type of water-related conflicts from 1980to 2021. Since the start of the twenty-first century, the number ofviolent conflicts associated with freshwater resources has grown. Thegraph here shows the number of conflicts per year categorized as wateras a trigger, weapon, or casualty of conflict. P. Gleick, “The WaterConflict Chronology,” World’s Water: Pacific Institute for Studies inDevelopment, Environment, and Security (2022).Yet we have a paradox. “Water wars” are improbable, unlikely, andhistorically rare, yet violence and armed conflicts associated with water areunambiguously and dramatically on the rise. Over the three-plus decades Ihave been researching and writing about this problem, the number ofviolent events associated with water has increased from just a few dozen ayear to hundreds, and the Water Conflict Chronology—an open-sourcedatabase of water conflicts my colleagues and I created and maintain at thePacific Institute—now has more than 1,300 entries,i from every continentexcept Antarctica.3 These entries fall into three categories: the control of oraccess to water can be a trigger of conflict, water resources and water
systems can be weapons of violence, and water and water systems can becasualties or targets of war. Figure 19 shows the number and categories ofwater conflicts over the past four-plus decades.When most people think of “water wars,” it’s usually the idea thatscarcity or disagreements about control and allocation of water will triggerfights, either between neighboring countries that share a watershed or insmaller-scale conflicts such as disputes between farmers and cities. Waterresources can be scarce, with shortages worsened by growing demands,drought, and mismanagement. Water is also widely shared around theworld, with half the land area of the planet in watersheds where falling rainbecomes runoff in a river shared by two or more nations.4 When thosenations lack formal agreements for how to share water, or when theprinciples of peaceful cooperation fail, water can become a flash point.The Nile River in Egypt is the only major source of water for thecountry of 100 million people. Yet ten other countries share the watershed,all of them upstream of Egypt with their own growing populations anddemands for water.ii Egypt is intensely aware of the risk that upstreamnations will alter the flows of water reaching it. In 1979, after signing thepeace treaty with Israel, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said, “The onlymatter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”5 A decade later,Egypt’s minister for foreign affairs, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said, “The nextwar in our region will be over the waters of the Nile, not politics.” Recentsaber-rattling in the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over theconstruction and operation of Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Damon the Blue Nile is just the latest example, the result of Egyptian fears thatthe massive new dam will reduce downstream flows. And the Nile isn’tunique: almost every major river crosses political borders, including theIndus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Amazon, Mississippi, Danube, Salween,Rhine, Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges, La Plata, Congo, Colorado, and manymore.But disputes about sharing access to water aren’t limited to internationalrivers and nation-states. More than a century ago, while cities in the easternUnited States were beginning to wrestle with growing populations andwater contamination, a rapid expansion into the new frontier of theAmerican West was revealing a very different set of water challenges
associated with growing competition for scarce and unreliable waterresources in an arid, unforgiving land.Early America was a country of small landholders, farmers for the mostpart, and farmers require water and a manageable climate. During theRevolutionary War, the Continental Congress had no money, but thecontinent had land in abundance and soldiers were sometimes paid withland grants in the newly opened areas west of the Appalachian Mountains.As the country grew in the 1800s, people seeking new frontiers, adventure,land, and the possibility of mineral and resource riches drove a greatwestward expansion. During the US Civil War, the country launched theHomestead Act of 1862, offering land to those willing to settle and work.Pioneers, including women, immigrants, and slaves freed by Lincoln’sEmancipation Proclamation, could claim 160 acres of government land ifthey built a house and cultivated the soil, further fueling the drive into theIndian territory and the lands between the Mississippi River and the RockyMountains, from the Canadian border to Mexico. Ultimately, 10 percent ofthe area of the continental United States was transferred from public toprivate hands. Water would be their greatest challenge.People moving west encountered a landscape unlike anything they hadexperienced or understood from Europe or the colonies in the easternUnited States: a land of extremes in geography, climate, wildlife, culture,and water. They learned that long-term survival required three things: the“pacification,” confinement, or brutal oppression and slaughter of theNative Americans and early Spanish and Mexican settlers already livingthere; economic opportunity; and reliable sources of water. All three werepursued aggressively and often lawlessly by the earliest settlers.The legends and characters of the Wild West—cowboys and Indians,silver and gold, wild beasts, and cattle drives extending over thousands ofmiles—were more than fanciful tales. Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, AnnieOakley, Wyatt Earp, and Buffalo Bill Cody were real people with realstories, if often embellished for public consumption by a media feeding avoracious eastern audience enthralled with the adventures of their westerncousins. The land and weather were wild too, where settlers experiencedblistering heat and brutal cold, intermittent and unreliable rainfall,tornadoes, and, as would be seen repeatedly, long-term droughts in analready parched landscape.
With few exceptions, traditional rain-fed farming wasn’t possible westof the hundredth meridian, the dividing line between the well-watered Eastand the arid West. Farmers who could grow wheat, corn, cotton, orvegetables on small plots of land east of the Mississippi found they couldn’tsurvive in the West—even on 160-acre plots—without artificial irrigation tosupplement meager and inconsistent rains. Instead, farmers becameranchers who raised cattle and sheep that could survive on native pasturesand move from place to place to follow the seasons and the rains. Tradingposts, then army forts, and ultimately settlements and towns were builtalong rivers or springs or where wells could be dug to shallow groundwater.Places were named after water in English, Spanish, or any number ofNative American languages: the Rio Grande and Colorado River,Muskingum (river side), Sagadahoc (big river delta), Neosho (cold clearwater), Okeechobee (big waters), Minnehaha (river waterfall), and placeslike Twin Falls, Sweetwater, Stillwater, Clearwater, Lake County,Springfield, Riverside, Clear Creek, and Little River.In the eastern colonies of the United States, water law followed theBritish riparian legal tradition, giving rights to water to anyone who shareda river or watershed. Out west, early Spanish and Mexican communitiestreated water as a resource to be managed and protected by the community.White settlers brought a different point of view. In the absence of stronggovernments or an honest justice system, the earliest settlers adopted theexclusionary doctrine of first-come, first-served that treated water as acommodity to be owned and controlled by private individuals. Whencombined with an unreliable climate, limited water availability, andgrowing competition for land, these conflicting doctrines laid thefoundation for 150 years of legal, political, and sometimes violent disputesover water.Much of what we think we know about cowboys and the early history ofthe West is a Hollywoodized mythology as portrayed by icons of the silverscreen. But it’s no accident that many of the popular western movies, goingback almost to the first days of moviemaking, revolved around disputes andconflicts over water. In 1921 Paramount Pictures released the silent filmThree Word Brand, starring William S. Hart and Jane Novak, about crookedranchers trying to get control of water rights. In the 1933 Riders of Destiny,a young John Wayne plays an honest government agent fighting a rancher
manipulating the local water supply to force other ranchers into contractsfor water at exorbitant rates. In 1936 Wayne stars again in King of the Pecosin a classic battle against a murderous rancher over water and land rights.Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston play fortune hunters seeking gold inthe 1948 Academy Award–winning film Treasure of the Sierra Madre,where Huston remarks, “Water is more precious than gold.” The BigCountry (1958) stars Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons in a ruthless civilwar over watering rights for cattle. And Law of the Ranger, OklahomaFrontier, Stampede, and other movies all have plots revolving around thecontrol and value of western water. Even the feel-good musical Oklahoma!features a song-and-dance tune, “The Farmer and the Cowman,” thatdevolves into a fistfight over fences farmers built “right across the cattleranges” to protect their land and water.6These movies are entertainment, stylized fictions, embellished myths.But they have their roots in real stories, real wars over water that killed,injured, and displaced thousands of people in efforts to control access toscarce water, like the Fence Cutting Wars and the War on Powder River.When it is hot and dry and when water is scarce and unreliable, controlof it becomes a top priority, a driver in decisions about where and howpeople live, and sometimes die. Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer Prize–winningchronicler of the American West, wrote, “Water is the true wealth in a dryland; without it, land is worthless or nearly so. And if you control water,you control the land that depends on it.”7By the early 1870s, tensions over control of water became widespreadfrom Texas to Montana as a result of severe and persistent drought,competition between ranchers and farmers, and confusion about land- andwater ownership and access. Ranchers had become accustomed to drivingenormous herds of cattle north to rich grasslands in the spring and summer,south during harsh northern winters, and to the newly built railroads inCheyenne, Dodge City, Denver, and Kansas City, connecting to thestockyards in St. Louis and Chicago. As land claims expanded after theCivil War, so did conflicts over access to water and efforts to convert openranges and public water resources into private holdings. French philosopherJean-Jacques Rousseau, in his 1755 Discourse on Inequality, criticized theidea of landownership and land enclosures and wrote that rivalry and
competition were the direct result of private property and the rise ofinequality. He lamented, “The first man who, having enclosed a piece ofground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people simpleenough to believe him.”8The ability to divide, expropriate, and close off the western rangesrequired a new technology. The vast areas of the West could not be fencedwith the classic stone walls or wood fences used throughout the originaleastern states. That took a new invention: barbed wire. Barbed wirepermitted homesteaders, for the first time, to physically exclude the PlainsIndians and cattle drovers and encouraged large ranches and cattlecompanies to fence off public land for private use.9 The first patents forbarbed wire were filed in the mid-1870s, and between 1874 and 1877 salesof barbed wire went from just 4 tons a year to nearly 6,000 tons a year. By1880 sales exceeded 36,000 tons and launched a national corporation thatwould ultimately become United States Steel, owned by J. P. Morgan.10The widespread fencing of open ranges in turn led to fence cutting bythe cattle ranchers whose animals were being killed or injured by barbedwire or could no longer reach productive grazing land and water. Most ofthe disputes led to property damage and the death of livestock, but shootingdeaths also occurred. In 1883 at least three people were killed in fightsbetween ranchers and fence cutters,11 and the “Fence Cutting Wars”continued through the 1880s in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, andTexas.Drought struck Texas in the summer of 1884 and by 1886 had spreadnorth. Eastern Wyoming and Montana were as dry as any settler had seen.By the fall of 1886, parts of the region had received a fifth of its normalrainfall, and the ranges were barren. In his annual report of 1886, thecommander of Fort McKinney near Buffalo, Wyoming Territory, wrote,“The country is full of Texas cattle and there is not a blade of grass within15 miles of the Post.”12 The dry fall of 1886 was followed by a severeearly winter, and cattle herds suffered major losses when new barbed-wirefences kept them from food and water. Disputes also escalated betweenfarmers, cattlemen, and sheepherders about overgrazing and contamination
of watersheds, inflamed by ethnic tensions among Mexican, Indian,Mormon, Basque, and Anglo communities.The worst violence occurred in Wyoming in what has become known asthe War on Powder River, or the Johnson County War. The conflict beganas a feud over water and land rights that pitted large ranchers, wealthyforeign investors, and cattle companies in a class war against smallerfarmers, ranchers, and homesteaders. Tensions escalated after the brutalwinter of 1886–1887 was followed by another extremely hot and drysummer that killed more cattle and led to the further appropriation of localland and water supplies. By the early 1890s, continuing droughts in Kansas,Nebraska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and elsewhere in the Great Plainsworsened the pressures on resources and fed outbreaks of real violence.Settlers were forced off their land, homes were burned, and vigilante groupsand gunmen hired by competing cattle associations began a series oflynchings and killings.The conflict reached a peak in 1892 in Johnson County, Wyoming, whentensions between two competing cattle associations exploded in violence.One group, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), representedwealthy, politically connected ranchers and cattle barons supported by theacting governor of Wyoming, Amos Barber.iii They blamed smallerranchers and farmers for rustling cattle and interfering with theircommercial interests and began a series of violent vigilante actions. Theother group, the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers’Association (NWFSGA), represented smaller family farms and believed thecattle barons were stealing their land and water. In the spring of 1892, theWSGA hired a small army of Texas gunmen to clear out the smaller settlersand murder the leaders of the NWFSGA. After the gunmen killed severalprominent ranchers, a group of two hundred men organized by local sheriffWilliam Angus rode to oppose them. The WSGA invaders were surroundedat a local ranch, and a siege began, causing Governor Barber to telegraphPresident Benjamin Harrison for help on behalf of the vigilantes. Thetelegram, published on April 14 in the New York Times, read:About sixty-one owners of live stock are reported to have made anarmed expedition into Johnson County for the purpose of protectingtheir live stock and preventing unlawful round-ups by rustlers. They
are at “T.A.” Ranch, thirteen miles from Fort McKinney, and arebesieged by Sheriff and posse and by rustlers from that section of thecountry, said to be two or three hundred in number. The wagons ofstockmen were captured and taken away from them and it is reported abattle took place yesterday, during which a number of men were killed.Great excitement prevails. Both parties are very determined, and it isfeared that if successful will show no mercy to the persons captured.The civil authorities are unable to prevent violence. The situation isserious and immediate assistance will probably prevent great loss oflife.13President Harrison called on the secretary of war to invoke the use of thearmy to “protect the State of Wyoming against domestic violence,” andtroops from Fort McKinney were ordered to the scene, where theynegotiated an end to the siege.14 Evidence was found implicating thewealthy cattle barons and Wyoming politicians in the attack, including listsof people to be killed and farmhouses to be burned along with a contractoffering the hired gunmen bounties of fifty dollars for every murder. On thedeath list were the Johnson County sheriff, county commissioners, anewspaper editor, and other citizens that supported the homesteaders.15Given the prominence of the parties and the corruption of the stategovernment, charges against the leaders of the WSGA were never filed orwere dropped. Sporadic violence continued for several more years, withboth sides claiming the moral ground for protecting rangeland and waterrights.The western water wars of the Second Age of Water never reallyended.iv They’ve just moved from the ranges and the gun-toting privatearmies of ranchers and farmers to the briefcase-toting private armies oflawyers fighting over rights, allocations, and control of water in the courts.Meanwhile, violence triggered by water resources is worsening around theworld today for the same reasons Johnson County went to war in the 1890s:weak or corrupt governments and water laws, uneven access to scarcewater, inequitable distribution of water rights, and extreme droughts thatthreaten the health and stability of economies and communities. Today, insub-Saharan Africa, conflicts over access to land and water between
farmers and pastoralists are playing out the same way the western waterwars developed in the United States, with fencing of land and water sourcesand growing injuries and deaths. Thousands of kilometers away in India,high temperatures and severe drought in 2016 triggered months of riots,social unrest, murders, and violence over access to and control of water.Between May and September that year, worsening drought led to violentclashes and deaths over cuts in water deliveries in Bhopal, Bundelkhand,Sehore, and Karnataka, leading to hundreds of arrests and a ban on publicgatherings. In 2018 similar unrest triggered by severe drought in Iran led toprotests over water access and management, the deaths of at least twenty-five people, and thousands of arrests.16 Violence over control of waterresources and diversions of water from one Iranian region to anothercontinue to this day.In addition to violence over access to scarce water resources, water andwater systems have been used as weapons or tools during conflicts that maystart for other reasons. In 1573 near the start of the Eighty Years’ War—theDutch war of independence against Phillip II of Spain—the Dutch floodedtheir own land to break the siege of Spanish troops on the town of Alkmaar.The same defense was used to protect Leiden in 1574 and became known asthe Dutch Water Line strategy and used again in later years. In 1944 theGerman army used waters from the Isoletta Dam in Italy to successfullydestroy British assault forces crossing the Garigliano River. The Germanarmy then dammed the Rapido River, flooding a valley occupied by the USArmy.17 And in 2022, the Ukrainians intentionally flooded lands north ofKyiv, successfully blocking a Russian armored assault on Ukraine’scapital.18Another form of water-related violence includes explicit attacks onwater resources or water systems, making them casualties of war. In the1960s Israel attacked Jordanian water diversion works on the headwaters ofthe Jordan River and Palestinians attacked Israeli water pumps. During thePersian Gulf War in 1991, Allied forces destroyed water and sanitationfacilities in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city. In February 2016, 10 millionresidents of India’s capital, Delhi, were left without water after protestersangry at government job policies destroyed a key water-supply canal inriots that killed sixteen people and injured hundreds. More recently, civilian
water-treatment and distribution systems in Yemen were repeatedly bombedby Saudi and coalition aircraft during the violence that has engulfed Yemen,Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states and proxies. In 2022, when Russiainvaded Ukraine, one of their first actions was to destroy a dam built in2014 by Ukraine that blocked water flows to Crimea.19Nothing better exemplifies the use of water and water systems asweapons and targets of conflict than the intense violence that swept over theTigris and Euphrates watershed in the 2010s. The two rivers provide watersupply for cities, agriculture, and hydroelectric power in an arid, water-scarce region. In just the past few decades, growing populations, new dams,and ever-larger water diversions have put more and more pressure on lessand less water. While long-term records of river flows are unreliable,inconsistent, or not shared by the countries in the watershed, there is littledoubt that the flows reaching the lower stretches of the rivers aredecreasing,20 raising tensions about scarcity, problems for food production,and growing social and cultural disruption.Conflicts in the Middle East have deep historical roots that extend farbeyond the tensions over control of water, traceable to power strugglesamong early cultures; religious schisms in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism;the geopolitics of the Ottoman Empire and the artificial political bordersdrawn by imperial powers; and the modern exploitative economics of oil.The consequence has been ongoing violence between Iran, Syria, and Iraq;Israel and its neighbors; and among the Arabian Gulf states and Yemen.In 2011 the Syrian civil war began, ignited by anger at the repressivegovernment of Bashar al-Assad, and exacerbated by years of drought,declining agricultural production and rising food prices worldwide,economic dislocations in rural regions, growing unemployment in cities,and the worsening impacts of climate change.21 The war quickly engulfedthe region’s water supply and infrastructure. In late 2012 and early 2013,fighters opposed to the Syrian government assaulted and captured theTishrin, Baath, and Tabqa Dams on the Euphrates, with the objective ofcontrolling vital electricity and water supply for the region. These actionswere a precursor for what became a five-year regionwide struggle where
water and water infrastructure became both weapons and casualties ofwar.22As the Syrian civil war and internal political struggles in Iraq spreadthrough the region, the Islamic State (IS)v began to expand its influence andactivities. Taking advantage of the chaos in the region, the IS launchedmajor military assaults beginning in 2013, soon spreading over the Tigrisand Euphrates watershed engulfing Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and embroilingproxy allies, including the United States and Russia.A key element of the IS’s strategy was focused on controlling andweaponizing water resources, and by 2014 and 2015 they had expandedtheir power over substantial portions of northern Syria and Iraq, includingalmost all of the lands and dams along the major rivers (Figure 20). Duringthis period, IS fighters overran Fallujah Dam in Iraq near Baghdad,blocking water supplies to Shiite areas and intentionally inundatinghundreds of square kilometers of land, destroying crops and livestock, anddisplacing thousands of families from their homes.23 They cut off water formillions of people in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, and Babil; disrupted watersupplies in the Shiite areas of Diyala province; and prevented waterdeliveries to the Christian town of Qaraqosh before expelling 50,000residents.24 The IS later used Fallujah Dam to intentionally flooddownstream areas. During this period, they also captured key towns alongboth the Euphrates and the Tigris, overran Ramadi and Mosul Dams, andtook control of the watershed behind two other major Iraqi dams, Hadithaand Thartar.vi Possession of Mosul Dam gave the IS temporary control ofnearly 75 percent of Iraq’s electricity-generation capacity, but they weredriven from the dam a few weeks later.25
FIGURE 20. A map of the major dams inthe Tigris and Euphrates watershed. Many ofthese dams were targets of conflict duringviolence in the region. Source: MorganShimabuku, Pacific Institute.In September 2014, IS forces took control of Tishrin, Baath, and TabqaDams from Syrian opposition forces as part of their effort to control keytowns along the Euphrates and again manipulated the hydroelectricity andwater these dams produced to their advantage. They cut flows from theSudur Dam in Iraq to communities not under their control, forcing the localgovernment to hire trucks to bring potable water to residents. The IS thenflooded nine villages in another part of Diyala province to try to stop amilitary advance by Iraqi government forces.26 In the spring of 2015, theIS cut releases of water for irrigation and water-supply plants downstreamof Ramadi Dam.27 These actions also facilitated the movement of theirforces across the dewatered riverbed during attacks on Husaybah,Khalidiyah, and Habboniya, a modern echo of the legend of Cyrus theGreat, who diverted the Euphrates River from its course in 539 BCE andthen marched his forces down the dry riverbed into Babylon. There are alsoreports the IS poisoned water supplies for the cities of Aleppo, Dayr az-Zawr, Raqqah, and Baghdad, and in July 2015 authorities in Kosovo in theBalkans temporarily shut off the water supply to tens of thousands of people
in the capital and arrested five Islamic militants suspected of planning tocontaminate the city’s largest reservoir. A few months later, the IS posted avideo urging IS supporters to poison food and water supplies.28At the peak of the Islamic State’s efforts in 2014 and 2015, theycontrolled territory in Iraq and Syria with around 8 million inhabitants.Since that time, they have been denounced by most Muslim groups;crippled by Iraqi, Syrian, US, Russian, and other military efforts; andlargely driven into hiding. Almost all of the territory they controlled hasbeen regained, but their intensive strategy of using water as a weapon ofwar remains a lasting legacy.Attacks on civilian water systems, or the use of water as a weapon ofwar, are clear violations of international law, including explicitly the 1949Geneva Conventions and its 1977 Protocols, which, among otherrestrictions, prohibit attacks on “objects indispensable to the survival of thecivilian population, such as… drinking water installations and supplies andirrigation works.” The Protocols go on to prohibit militaries from “attackingsuch installations so as not to leave the civilian population with suchinadequate food or water as to cause starvation or force its movement.”29Despite these international laws, the growing violence using water is anindication that they, and the institutions responsible for managing andreducing conflict, are increasingly unable to deal with the Second Agechallenges of water scarcity, demand, and misuse.But just as water has been a source of conflict and violence, it can be asource of peace, cooperation, and sustainable development. Some majorinternational rivers have agreements and treaties that allocate the watersamong the parties sharing a watershed. Annex II of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty is a detailed agreement to share the waters of theYarmouk-Jordan River, cooperatively manage regional groundwater, andcreate a joint water commission to exchange data and resolve disputes.30Fourteen countries and the European Union have agreed to the principles ofthe 1994 Danube River Protection Convention aimed at ensuring thesurface waters and groundwater within the Danube River basin aremanaged and used sustainably and equitably. The United States and Mexicosigned a treaty in 1944 sharing the Colorado River and setting up a jointcommission to resolve disputes.
Some of these agreements have made other progress possible. In 1960India and Pakistan signed a treaty to share the Indus River, cooling off along-standing dispute over water rights dating back to their independenceand partition in 1947. That agreement came at a time when the growingdemand for irrigation water and food was increasing pressures on the river,and it helped reduce competition for water just when a revolution in the useof water to feed ever-growing numbers of people was beginning—anothercritical success in the Second Age of Water in the form of a Blue-GreenRevolution.Footnotesi The Water Conflict Chronology database:https://www.worldwater.org/water-conflict/.ii The countries sharing the Nile River basin are Burundi, the DemocraticRepublic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, SouthSudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.iii Barber became acting governor when the previous governor, FrancisWarren, resigned to take a US Senate seat.iv I didn’t want to include this, but I’ve been told that every book thatdiscusses western water conflicts has to include the apocryphal quote byMark Twain, “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” So here it is, ina small footnote. Please ignore it.v Also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or theIslamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).vi During the Gulf War years earlier, US forces made control of HadithaDam a strategic objective because of fears Saddam Hussein would use it asa weapon himself. F. Pearce, “Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, a Battle forControl of Water,” Yale Environment 360, August 25, 2014.
17THE BLUE-GREEN REVOLUTIONIf you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate thefields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.—NORMAN BORLAUGIN THE MIDDLE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, THERE WAS GROWING concern thatthe world’s food production might not keep up with human population,leading to mass starvation and social instability. Indeed, millions havestarved over the past century, and even today millions more remainundernourished, but not because the world doesn’t grow enough food.Today regional famine is driven by the challenge of poverty, severe weatherthat damages crops or cuts production, and the inability of the poor to affordfood or access international markets, a point noted by Nobel laureateAmartya Sen.1 But the mass deaths some saw as an inevitability werelargely avoided, in part by the much-touted success of the “GreenRevolution” that expanded food production worldwide. This revolution isusually attributed to the application of new farming technologies, the spreadof higher-yielding crop varieties, and the development of agriculturalchemicals for fertilizer and pest control. In a series of agricultural“revolutions” in the half century between 1960 and 2010, while globalpopulation more than doubled, the production of cereal crops tripled, withonly a modest increase in land area cultivated. In a 2012 review, PrabhuPingali, an agricultural economist now at Cornell, described how this GreenRevolution helped avoid a crisis, noting that it “contributed to widespreadpoverty reduction, averted hunger for millions of people, and avoided theconversion of thousands of hectares of land into agricultural cultivation.”2
The start of the Green Revolution can be traced to work of Americanscientists in the 1940s, especially Norman Borlaug, when a combination ofmore disease-resistant and higher-yielding wheat varieties were tested inMexico and the United States. With those varieties, combined withmechanized planting and harvesting, Mexico and the United States bothwent from importing half their wheat in the 1940s to being wheat exportersby the 1960s.3 Borlaug went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in recognitionof his contribution to the Green Revolution.The Green Revolution was also a revolution in the expansion of reliablemanaged irrigation, especially on lands previously unsuited for agriculturebecause of insufficient water—in effect, a Blue-Green Revolution. Much ofthe increase in food production over the past seventy years came aboutbecause reliable delivery of water boosted crop yields and reducedvulnerability to droughts and unreliable rains. In 1900 around 63 millionhectares of land worldwide were equipped for irrigation. By 1950 that hadgrown to nearly 111 million hectares, and by 2020 more than 360 millionhectares were being irrigated.4Today irrigation is being used on around 20 percent of global cropland,but that land produces 40 percent of all food, with a vast expansion ingroundwater pumping from literally millions of tube wells in Asia andNorth America. In the United States, irrigated lands are far moreeconomically productive than nonirrigated land: irrigation water is appliedto less than 20 percent of harvested area, but produces more than 54 percentof total crop income.5 Irrigation investments have played a crucial role inpreventing some of the mass starvation forecast in the last century, but thelong-term sustainability of these gains is now threatened because we’remining groundwater resources that took thousands of years to accumulate.The depletion of fossil groundwater raises the disturbing possibility that thesuccesses of the Blue-Green Revolution merely delayed a global food crisis.A key factor in the massive expansion of irrigation was the invention ofthe tube well to tap groundwater. The first effective tube wells werepatented in the United States in the mid-1800s by J. L. Norton, but theapproach was quickly appropriated in England, first for local small-scalewater supply and then for military campaigns in 1867 and 1868. Theearliest tube wells tapped into groundwater using a pointed, perforated iron
tube driven into the ground by raising and dropping weights, akin to piledriving. Hand-powered or mechanical pumps are then used to raisegroundwater. Where groundwater can be found only a few meters below thesurface, these early wells were effective at quickly providing a reliablewater supply. A public demonstration near London in 1868 (Figure 21) wasreported by the press:FIGURE 21. “Experiments with Norton’s patent tube wells.” Ademonstration in March 1868 near Thames Ditton on the edge ofLondon. Three tube wells are shown being driven more than 4.2 metersinto the ground. These wells were adopted for use by the RoyalEngineers in 1867. From the Illustrated London News, March 21, 1868.From the collection of Peter Gleick.A few days ago we witnessed some experiments conducted at ThamesDitton. A 1 ¼ inch tube, about 12 ft. long, with a steel point at the tipand perforated a few inches from the point was placed in the ground.…[I]t was driven through the soil somewhat after the same manner aspile-driving.… In nine minutes water was reached, a pump was
attached to the tube, and a copious supply of water was obtained. Thewhole operation did not occupy more than half an hour.… It will bedifficult to overrate the importance of this new discovery in well-sinking.6These tube wells were so successful during the British army’sAbyssinian expedition of 1867 and 1868 that they became known asAbyssinian wells,7 and the technology continued to improve for bothdrilling the wells and pumping water. By the middle of the twentiethcentury, the ability to drill even deeper groundwater wells quickly andcheaply was to play a central role in the agricultural revolution, especiallyon the South Asian subcontinent.In historian Karl Wittfogel’s writings about hydraulic societies, heargued that political power in ancient Egypt, the Middle East, India, China,and South America was often gained through the state control andmanagement of irrigation systems and water resources and that theconstruction and management of these systems required the forceful use oflabor leading to despotism.I suggest that the term “hydraulic agriculture” be applied to a system offarming which depends on large-scale and government-directed watercontrol. I suggest that the term “hydraulic society” be applied toagrarian societies in which agro-hydraulic works and other largehydraulic and non-hydraulic constructions, that tend to develop withthem, are managed by an inordinately strong government.8The effective management of these [water and irrigation] worksinvolves an organizational web which covers the whole, or at least thedynamic core, of the country’s population. In consequence, those whocontrol this network are uniquely prepared to wield supreme power.9The Blue-Green Revolution, especially as it unfolded on the Indiansubcontinent in the middle of the twentieth century, occurred almostsimultaneously with Wittfogel’s writings, and both fitted with his conceptof the power of governments over water and provided a counterpoint to hisargument that governments alone could influence the development ofirrigation societies.
When India declared independence in 1947, its population was already340 million, and the vast majority of its economy depended on farming.Most Indian agriculture depended on unreliable water from highly variablemonsoon rains, and total food production was constrained by low cropyields. Only limited production came from irrigation using water deliveredby a rudimentary system of canals along the major rivers of the region.Most discussions of the Green Revolution have focused on the supposedsuccess of the introduction of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice andthe application of mechanized farming and chemical fertilizers. While thesefactors were critical to the successful expansion of food production, theywould not have been successful without the widespread and decentralizeddevelopment of private tube wells and the large-scale pumping ofgroundwater by millions of Indian farmers. Historians and agriculturalexperts now argue that the massive expansion of both wheat and riceproduction in India occurred because inexpensive wells enabled individualfarmers to break their vulnerable dependence on unreliable monsoon rainsand expand cultivation across seasons and regions.10 Kapil Subramanianhas noted, “On its own, this spectacular growth in irrigation was at least asimportant to the yield revolution as fertilizers.… [B]esides protecting cropfrom drought, irrigation also facilitated a shift from lower yielding cropssuch as millets to higher yielding crops such as wheat. All these aspectstogether made for a huge impact on yields.”11The massive expansion in irrigation transformed Indian agriculturalproduction. In the late 1940s, the area irrigated in India was around 19million hectares. Today it is 70 million hectares,12 some of which is able toproduce more than one crop a year because of the improved availability ofwater. Over this period, Indian wheat production quadrupled. In the Punjab,one of India’s most important growing regions, the area of wheat irrigatedwent from half in 1961 to 86 percent in 1972, and groundwater wells in thePunjab used to irrigate wheat in the winter also irrigate rice during themonsoon, leading the Punjab to become an important rice-producingstate.13In the area encompassing India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the volumeof groundwater withdrawn for agriculture grew from 20 cubic kilometers
per year in the 1950s to more than 250 cubic kilometers per year in 2020,14more than the entire flow of the Indus River. India and Pakistan togethernow lead the world in groundwater use, followed by China and the UnitedStates, and the United Nations estimates that 60 percent of India’s irrigatedacreage is watered with groundwater, more than double what it was in1960.15 But the great expansion may be temporary, as fossil groundwaterresources are being unsustainably consumed.Five hundred kilometers above us, two identical coffin-shaped satellitescircle Earth, one precisely following the path of the other, about twohundred kilometers apart. These are the NASA GRACE satellites.i The twosatellites were launched in March 2002, and a replacement pair, theGRACE Follow-On Mission, was launched in 2018. Their purpose is tomeasure and map tiny differences in Earth’s gravity field. As satellites go,these are quite simple, carrying just a few instruments, but their mission hasrevealed remarkable and worrying details about Earth’s water supply.Gravity is both mysterious and straightforward. Physicists don’t knowexactly what gravity is other than a fundamental force of attraction betweenbodies, but they understand well how it operates. In 1687 Isaac Newtonrecognized that some force is required to make apples fall to the ground anddefined his universal law of gravitation stating that every object attractsevery other object with a force that is a function of mass and distancebetween the objects. In the early twentieth century, Einstein redefinedgravity as a consequence of general relativity, a geometric property of spaceand time, and showed that it even interacts with light. Today, scientists aretrying to reconcile differences between general relativity and quantummechanics and the scales of interactions between the largest and smallestforms of matter. For everyday purposes, perhaps it is enough to know thatgravity is what keeps our feet planted on the surface of a rapidly spinningplanet.As the GRACE satellites circle a bumpy, uneven Earth, its instrumentsmeasure the precise distance between the two satellites to an accuracy of afew millionths of a meter, a fraction of the width of a human hair. When thefirst satellite passes over a part of Earth with more mass, gravity pulls itslightly away from the second satellite. When it passes over a part of Earthwith less mass, the tiny decrease in gravity slows it down and the second
satellite moves slightly closer. As the twin satellites circle Earth over andover, they compile a remarkably precise map of Earth’s gravity. And overtime, they measure changes in the location of large but movable bodies ofmass—especially water.In the First Age of Water, rainfall seeped into the ground, filling aquifersand feeding surface springs and rivers, permitting them to flow even in dryseasons and supporting human populations in arid and semiarid regions.Artesian wells from full groundwater basins brought water to the surfacewhere it could be collected and used. Some of the earliest qanats andaqueducts built by the first empires collected water from natural springs fedby groundwater and brought them, using gravity, to parched, water-shortcommunities. Today, humans move water from one place to another on amassive scale, especially groundwater. According to the National GroundWater Association, groundwater is the world’s most extracted raw material—nearly a trillion tons a year. In countries with limited surface-wateravailability, groundwater can provide 90 percent or more of a nation’s watersupply. About 70 percent of groundwater extraction goes to supportirrigated agriculture, and it provides the drinking water used by 2 billionpeople.When northern India or California is suffering from a drought, its majorreservoirs are empty, the soils are dry, and snow and ice are missing fromthe mountains. The GRACE satellites see this loss in water weight as adecrease in local gravity. When the monsoons or winter rains are generousand water plentiful, reservoirs fill, snow and ice cover the Himalayas andSierra Nevada, and the soils are heavy with water. The GRACE satellitessee this too and can precisely measure changes in mass, and thus theamount of water.One of the important things the GRACE missions have revealed in detailis something water observers working on the ground have known for a longtime: we are severely overpumping water from underground aquifers anddepleting groundwater far faster than it is naturally replenished. As we minegroundwater, the amount of water in the original stock declines. TheGRACE satellites see this as a decrease in the mass, or gravity, in regionswhere groundwater overdraft is especially severe. As my longtimecolleague Dr. Jay Famiglietti, a scientist who has worked with the GRACEdata for many years, has observed, the satellites “have been able to expose
that groundwater depletion is happening in most of the world’s majoraquifers. It’s a truly global phenomenon and happening at rates that we didnot know before and they’re kind of scary.”16 Water extracted from thesefossil aquifers eventually ends up in the oceans. Combined with the meltingof ice from glaciers, Greenland, and Antarctica caused by climate changeand rising temperatures, these actions are shifting water from fixed stocksinto the active hydrologic cycle, contributing to sea-level rise.The GRACE satellites paint a picture of groundwater in crisis, and otherstudies support these findings. An assessment of global groundwater useidentified key areas of groundwater depletion in Pakistan and India (wherealmost half of all groundwater overdraft occurs), northern China, the GreatPlains and San Joaquin Valley of the United States, Yemen and Iran in theMiddle East, and southeastern Spain. These are precisely the places whereagricultural production most heavily relies on fossil groundwater. (Figure22 shows the fraction of global groundwater overdraft by the majorcountries where it occurs.)The groundwater situation in Pakistan is emblematic of the challengesfaced by arid regions around the world. Pakistan has a rapidly growingpopulation, an agricultural sector that employs two out of every five peopleand contributes 20 percent to the nation’s economy, and seriously limitedwater resources. More than 70 percent of Pakistan’s farmland has to beirrigated in order to grow food because of the lack of reliable rain. Most ofthese lands lie in the Indus River basin fed by the Chenab, Jhelum, andIndus Rivers. As the nation developed after independence in 1947, aprogram to install groundwater wells was introduced, first to drainwaterlogged lands and control salinity and then to provide irrigation waterfor food production.Starting in the 1960s, the government installed a few thousand wells,and the success of the program encouraged farmers to develop their ownprivate wells. By 2018 more than 1.2 million wells had been drilled,increasing the contribution of groundwater to the nation’s water supplyfrom less than 10 percent to 75 percent.17 This expansion increased farmerincome and led to a tremendous growth in the production of wheat, rice,sugarcane, and other water-intensive crops. Today, Pakistan exports some ofits surplus production.
FIGURE 22. Percentage of globalgroundwater overdraft, by country(2010). Total groundwater overdraft—extraction in excess of recharge—could be as high as 30 to 40 percentof all groundwater withdrawals,concentrated in the majoragricultural regions of Asia, theMiddle East, and the United States.C. Dalin et al., “GroundwaterDepletion Embedded in InternationalFood Trade,” Nature 543 (2017):700–704; M. F. Bierkens and Y.Wada, “Non-renewable GroundwaterUse and Groundwater Depletion: AReview,” Environmental ResearchLetters 14, no. 6 (2019).This production relies on continued availability of groundwater, yetwithdrawals now exceed recharge, water levels are dropping, pumping costsare rising, and the long-term health of the agricultural sector is in doubt. InPakistan’s arid western province of Balochistan, the Kuchlagh groundwaterbasin was effectively exhausted in a few decades in a “race to the bottom,”
and agricultural production there has collapsed from its peak in the 1980sand 1990s. Agricultural jobs have been lost, and the water system in thearea no longer has the ability to deal with droughts and shortages.18 CaroleDalin and her colleagues have estimated that more than a quarter of all ofPakistan’s groundwater depletion goes to grow crops that are exported andthat Pakistan’s groundwater overdraft accounts for 13 percent of globaloverdraft, the third largest after India (34 percent of all global overdraft)and Iran (15 percent).19 There is no obvious alternative source of irrigationwater, threatening Pakistan’s food security and economic health.The Great Plains of the United States and the Central Valley ofCalifornia are two important breadbaskets for the world. They havewonderful soils, favorable climates, and sophisticated farmers who producebillions of tons of corn, wheat, soybeans, fruits, vegetables, and foragecrops every year—more than $100 billion worth of agricultural products.But as in Pakistan, this level of production is possible only because of theunsustainable overdraft of groundwater. For the massive High PlainsAquifer, which underlies eight states in the central part of the westernUnited States,ii large-scale pumping began in the late 1940s when farmersused groundwater on around 8,500 square kilometers. By 2005 groundwaterirrigated more than 60,000 square kilometers of agricultural land, but theaquifer was already suffering substantial declines in storage and as much as50-meter drops in groundwater levels. More than 410 cubic kilometers ofwater have been mined over this period, nearly as much water as iscontained by Lake Erie, one of North America’s Great Lakes. More than550 kilometers of stream lengths have permanently dried up because theyare no longer fed by groundwater, with severe impacts on native fish.20Large stretches of farmland in central Kansas and the Texas Panhandle canno longer support irrigation and have gone out of production because wellshave gone dry or water levels have fallen so far that pumping costs makefarming uneconomical.21 Even if pumping stops entirely, the low rates ofrainfall and recharge would require hundreds or even thousands of years torefill the aquifers.The same challenges exist in California’s Central Valley, where so muchland has been brought into production that reliable surface-water supplies
are simply inadequate to meet the demand for irrigation water.iii Even in anormal year, when the rains and snows come, nearly 30 percent of the waterCalifornia farmers use comes from groundwater; in drought years whensurface supplies are scarce, groundwater use dominates total Californiaagricultural water supplies, and a substantial fraction of that water isunregulated overdraft. The worst overdraft occurs in the southern SanJoaquin Valley in the Tulare River basin where Tulare Lake used to exist.Before settlers came to California, Tulare Lake was the largest lake west ofthe Mississippi River measured by area, but by 1900 it had been completelydried up because of diversions of water for mining and then agriculture.Now, continued massive overdraft of groundwater is leading to landsubsidence and the compaction of the earth, permanently desiccating theland. It is likely that hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural landin California will have to be taken out of production in coming years,because the water to support them simply isn’t available.The groundwater overdraft problem is expanding around the world,further evidence that the Second Age of Water is ending in crisis. Simplyput, the natural flows of rainfall and renewable surface water are no longersufficient in many parts of the world to satisfy human demands, especiallyfor agriculture, and so farmers turned to mining groundwater. Combinedwith the improved ability to drill ever-deeper wells and pump water to thesurface, more and more regions are sucking up groundwater faster than it isnaturally recharged, leading to failing wells, falling groundwater levels,threats to future food production, drying ecosystems, and higher economiccosts for farmers and consumers. Total overdraft of groundwater—that is,withdrawals in excess of natural recharge—is currently estimated to be asmuch as 40 percent of all groundwater withdrawals, and this unsustainableuse of water accounts for as much as a sixth to a third of all waterwithdrawals for agriculture.22 In short, overdraft of groundwater is exactlylike an overdraft of savings from a bank. If expenses exceed income,eventually, the account is overdrawn. As Robert Glennon said inUnquenchable, his comprehensive book on groundwater, “Water is avaluable, exhaustible resource, but… we treat it as valueless andinexhaustible.”23
Unsustainable groundwater extraction isn’t just a local problem; it islinked to international trade in food and food prices. US exports of cotton,wheat, corn, and soybeans depend on groundwater overdraft, just asPakistan’s exports of rice to Iran and other countries depend ongroundwater overdraft. India’s exports of cotton and rice, primarily toChina, depend on groundwater overdraft. All of these international tradesare increasingly vulnerable to the collapse of aquifers and the drying up ofwater at a time when world food organizations are calling for massiveincreases in food production in order to meet the demands of billions morepeople.Groundwater overdraft has other consequences, too, including soilsalinization, seawater intrusion in coastal areas, land subsidence, and theloss of springs and wetlands when surface water and vegetation dependenton groundwater dry up. Unless the agricultural sector figures out how toreduce dependence on nonrenewable groundwater resources, whilemaintaining the ability to grow the food needed by expanding globalpopulations, widespread food shortages, hypothesized by Thomas Malthusmore than two hundred years ago, will again rear their ugly heads.Malthus, a British cleric and scholar, argued at the end of the 1790s thatexponential human population growth could eventually overwhelm lineargrowth in agricultural production, leading to famine, a reduction in thestandard of living, and social crises, including poverty, war, anddepopulation. A global Malthusian catastrophe has yet to occur, and it maynever occur, in part because of technological and industrial innovations thatMalthus underestimated and could not have foreseen and in part because weare finally—for the first time in human history—seeing a slowdown andperhaps an end in this century to population growth. However, therecontinue to be food crises where complex factors combine to worsenpoverty, misery, and early death. The 2022 war in Ukraine has highlightedjust how vulnerable global food production and markets are to evenregional conflicts. On top of it all, at the same time that growingpopulations are putting pressure on food production, overuse and pollutionof the world’s water resources are putting pressure on the environmentalhealth of the planet and people are starting to wake up to a series ofenvironmental crises and disasters.
Footnotesi GRACE stands for “Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.”ii The High Plains Aquifer—sometimes known as the Ogallala Aquifer—isa series of connected groundwater basins that underlie parts of SouthDakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico,and Texas.iii And in recent years, surface supplies have not been reliable.
18INDUSTRIAL GROWTH ANDENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERSCleveland, city of light, city of magicCleveland, city of light you’re calling meCleveland, even now I can remember’Cause the Cuyahoga RiverGoes smokin’ through my dreamsBurn on, big river, burn onBurn on, big river, burn onNow the Lord can make you tumbleAnd the Lord can make you turnAnd the Lord can make you overflowBut the Lord can’t make you burn.—RANDY NEWMAN, “BURN ON”THE SECOND AGE OF WATER HAS BEEN DEFINED BY UNPRECEDENTEDagricultural and industrial expansion built on the growing use of water,energy, and minerals. This development started with simple machines thattapped the force of moving water and human and animal muscles and hasexpanded over the past two hundred years into the use of wood, coal, oil,gas, nuclear, and other energy sources, bringing vast improvements inwealth, human health, and well-being. But as human populations grew andas the agricultural and industrial revolutions expanded, another unintendedconsequence of the Second Age of Water began to develop: the massive anduncontrolled discharge of waste products into natural waters.Water pollution was evident and a concern by the early 1800s. Britishpoet Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited Germany and in 1828 wrote a poem
lamenting the pollution of the Rhine River running through the center of thecity of Cologne:In Köhln, a town of monks and bones,And pavements fang’d with murderous stones,And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;I counted two and seventy stenches,All well defined, and several stinks!Ye Nymphs that reign o’er sewers and sinks,The river Rhine, it is well known,Doth wash your city of Cologne;But tell me, Nymphs, what power divineShall henceforth wash the river Rhine?By the middle of the 1800s, when cholera was sweeping over Europe,the British public was also suffering the consequences of a heavily pollutedThames River, which the London Standard newspaper called “a pestiferousand typhus breeding abomination.”1 But it took another century ofworsening conditions and a series of back-to-back environmental disastersbefore water pollution became a focal point of social and political action.In the 1960s, a new environmental movement was growing in strengthand urgency as environmental disasters started to pile up one after another.Popular writers such as Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wallace Stegner,Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Edward Abbey, and others were successfullydrawing the public’s attention to environmental threats, and the media wasstarting to cover the environment as a regular topic. Throughout thatdecade, pressure built on governments to take real action to regulate air andwater pollution. In the United States, a major law to address waterpollution, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act,i had been passed in1948, but it was ineffective and limited in scope. In theory, the actauthorized the federal government to help states and water agencies buildsewage-treatment plants and reduce wastes flowing into interstate waters. Inpractice, it was weak: it exempted waters wholly within one state, set nopollution standards, and had cumbersome and rarely used enforcementmechanisms. It left the states with power to stop federal prosecutions, andfor the next twenty years the US government essentially took no action
against polluters. In England the first real legislation to regulate and limitwater pollution didn’t pass until the 1974 Control of Pollution Act.In March 1967, the oil supertanker Torrey Canyon ran aground off thesouthwestern tip of England, spilling 820,000 barrels of oil, foulinghundreds of kilometers of coast in England and France and killingthousands of birds and sea mammals. The disaster was worsened, and wellpublicized, when the government of Britain decided to bomb the wreck in amisguided attempt to set fire to and disperse the oil, sending up a plume ofblack smoke one BBC commentator likened to the mushroom cloud of anatomic bomb blast.2 In late January 1969, a blowout at an offshore UnionOil platform in the Santa Barbara Channel in California led to a massive oilspill that coated beaches in the region, again killing thousands of birds andmammals and getting enormous press coverage. It was the largest oil spillin the United States at the time and remains the worst in California history,and, dramatically, it was televised. Efforts by the oil companies to claimthat there was little lasting harm from these disasters were ridiculed and fedinto what became massive public fights over environmental protection andwater-quality legislation. Even months after the California spill, reportersvisiting San Miguel Island off Santa Barbara found more than a hundreddead and dying sea lions and elephant seals, including many pups, on theoil-covered rocks, and they published devastating images in the June 13issue of Life magazine.3This period also saw an awakening in public awareness of the growingthreat to fresh water. The industrial revolution led to a correspondingexplosion in industrial pollution, almost always centered around rivers thatwere simply treated as convenient ways of getting rid of pollution. Andsometimes this pollution was so bad the rivers themselves literally caughtfire. The Chicago River burned in 1888 and then again in 1899 when oilwastes were ignited by a careless cigar smoker.4 On November 1, 1892, theSchuylkill River in Pennsylvania caught fire when a man in a rowboat triedto light his pipe and threw a lit match into the river heavily polluted withindustrial wastes and coal dust. He and another man in the boat wereseverely burned; a third man died, and the fire damaged boats working onthe river.5 In June 1926, a spark or lit cigarette ignited petroleum gases and
other wastes that had accumulated in the Jones Falls river in Baltimore,Maryland, setting off explosions, blowing manhole covers into the air,setting fire to buildings and bridges, and sending glass flying. The river hadbeen covered and turned into a conduit for wastes years earlier. Newspapersreported that flames forty feet high spread along the river, turning it into asix-alarm fire that filled downtown Baltimore with smoke.6 In 1952 ArthurMilan, a seaman on a tug, was killed on the Schuylkill River when akerosene lamp on the deck of a scow ignited “highly inflammable vaporslying above an extensive accumulation of petroleum products spread overthe surface of the river.”iiIn 1966, as environmental concerns grew, President Lyndon Johnsontoured the city of Buffalo, New York, where he was confronted by thepollution problems of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie and by residentsasking the federal government to “Put the ‘Great’ back in Great Lakes.”7 Atthat time politicians simply considered pollution a necessary and inevitableconsequence of economic development. President Johnson parroted theindustry line: “Like so many of our problems, the pollution of Lake Erie isthe result of our abundance. It has been caused by the great industrial mightof Buffalo and Cleveland and Toledo and a dozen other cities.”8Johnson promised federal help to clean up industrial water pollution, butlittle was done and two years later, in January 1968, the Buffalo Rivercaught fire when a worker dropped a torch into its volatile mix of chemicalsand oils.9 That same year, the US Federal Water Pollution ControlAdministration issued a report describing the Buffalo River as “a repulsiveholding basin for industrial and municipal wastes” and “devoid of oxygenand almost sterile.… Residents who live along its backwaters havevociferously complained of the odors emanating from the river and of theheavy oil films. In places the river’s surface is a boundless mosaic of colorand patterns resulting from the mixture of organic dyes, steel mill and oilrefinery wastes, raw sewage, and garbage.”10 But it was one year later,when another river caught fire, that smoldering public indignation turnedinto an environmental revolution.The city of Cleveland, Ohio, was founded in 1796 on the shores of LakeErie at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River during a survey of lands initially
appropriated by Congress to Connecticut, sold to a private company, andthen settled as the Western Reserve over the objections of the native Indianpopulations. Between the Civil War and the beginning of the twentiethcentury, Cleveland grew into a major manufacturing center, and pollutingindustries—including chemical, steel, and oil companies—turned theCuyahoga into an open sewer and dump for toxic materials, oil, and otherwastes. On June 22, 1969, pollutants in the heavily contaminated Cuyahogaoozing through Cleveland’s industrial zone caught fire.It wasn’t the first time. By 1900 the Cuyahoga River had already caughtfire at least three times, in 1868, 1883, and 1887. In 1883 the New YorkTimes reported on a massive fire that started with an oil leak from one of therefineries lining the river.11 The fire spread along the river, destroyed oiltanks and other property, and caused at least $250,000 in damage—a largesum at the time. The oils, wastes, and pollution coating the river continuedto catch fire many more times—in 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, and 1952.The 1936 fire burned for five days.12Why was the 1969 Cuyahoga fire different than all the previous times ithad burned? It was extinguished fairly quickly, little damage resulted, andthere are no known movies or even photos of it.iii At first it received onlymodest coverage, even from the local newspapers,13 and nationalnewspapers didn’t cover it at all. But in Cleveland, Mayor Carl Stokes—thecity’s popular, activist mayor—paid attention. Stokes was the first AfricanAmerican mayor of a major US city, and he held a press conference alongthe river the day after the fire to call attention to the uncontrolled pollutionof the Cuyahoga and the impacts it was having on neighboring, mostlyBlack and mostly poor, communities. “There may be some wry humor inthe phrase ‘the river is a fire hazard,’” Mayor Stokes said, but “this is alongstanding condition that must be brought to an end.”14
FIGURE 23. The 1952 Cuyahoga River fire. Photo by James Thomas,with permission from the Cleveland Press Collection, courtesy of theMichael Schwartz Library Special Collections, Cleveland StateUniversity.Even with the attention of the mayor, this fire might still have faded intothe history books like all the previous fires if it hadn’t been for Timemagazine. A month after the fire, Time published a story on the fire in theirAugust 1 issue as part of their new “Environment” section, along with adramatic archival photograph from the earlier 1952 river fire (see Figure23). Time described the river as “chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling withsubsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. ‘Anyone who falls into theCuyahoga does not drown,’ Cleveland’s citizens joke grimly. ‘Hedecays.’”15The next year, Representative Louis Stokes, the mayor’s brother whorepresented parts of Cleveland in the US Congress, referred to theCuyahoga River fire when he supported a federal water-pollution bill: “Therape of the Cuyahoga River has not only made it useless for any purpose
other than a dumping place for sewage and industrial waste, but also hashad a deleterious effect upon the ecology of one of the Great Lakes.”16Just a short time after the Cuyahoga burned in 1969, the heavily pollutedRiver Rouge in nearby Michigan, also contaminated with untreated wastesfrom refineries and other polluting industries, burned. The fire on the RiverRouge started when a construction worker dropped a torch into the river,setting fire to oil spilled from a Shell Oil refinery. It also ignited publicopinion. The Detroit Free Press editorialized: “When you have a river thatburns, for crying out loud, you have troubles. It happened on Cleveland’sCuyahoga and now it has happened on the Rouge River.… The publicagencies are now acting on public pollution problems. Will industry do asmuch? Or will even a fire on the river not awaken the social consciences ofthose whose complicity or acquiescence has permitted this abominablecondition to evolve?”17On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day mobilized an estimated 20 millionAmericans, motivated in part by the Cuyahoga and Santa Barbara stories.National Geographic magazine, which reached into nearly 7 million homesand every public library in the United States, included a story on the “sad,soiled waters” of the Cuyahoga River in their December 1970 issuededicated to “Our Ecological Crisis.” With public pressure mounting overthese accumulating water-pollution disasters, Congress finally forcedindustry to pay attention by creating the federal Environmental ProtectionAgency in December 1970 to oversee air- and water-pollution regulations.And finally in 1972, Congress overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto topass the federal Clean Water Act into law. The Stokes brothers’ efforts tocall attention to the crisis in Cleveland played an important part in thepassage of this law.Since these early efforts, the United States has implemented a series ofenvironmental laws that have helped decrease water pollution and addressenvironmental damages resulting from water policies, including lawsaddressing pesticide use, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Actgoverning the disposal of hazardous wastes, the Superfund Act to clean upcontaminated sites, and protections for endangered species and wild andscenic rivers. Other countries have slowly followed suit. However, despitemodest advances in water-pollution protections, the Cuyahoga River wasn’t
the last river to catch fire, and the world still has a long way to go to restoreand protect river systems. In March 2014, oils, chemicals, and untreatedwastes in the Meiyu River in Wenjzhou, Zhejiang province, China, burned,with residents complaining that environmental protection officials havelong been warned and long ignored the pollution by saying the pollutingcompanies are too important to the local economy.18 That same year, tankercars carrying petroleum through Lynchburg, Virginia, derailed into theJames River, setting that river on fire.19 In 2015 and then again periodicallyfor the next three years, garbage, sewage, and toxic chemicals in BellandurLake in Bangalore, India, caught fire, spreading choking smoke throughoutthe city and setting fire to nearby homes. Officials there have also largelyfailed to address the pollution issues, earning the city—historically calledthe “City of Lakes”—the more mocking nickname “City of BurningLakes.”20Pollutants still pour into the world’s rivers, streams, and lakes, includinguntreated industrial wastes and human sewage; mining wastes; agriculturalherbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers; and urban garbage, often uncontrolledand rarely treated. Even in the richest industrialized countries, where lawsprotecting water quality have been put in place and where some riverquality has improved, the flow of unregulated or inadequately regulatedpollutants continues. In the United States, which passed some of the earliestclean water laws anywhere, the laws are woefully out of date, vast numbersof pollutants are not included in the regulations, many water bodies are notcovered by the legislation, and enforcement is weak.The consequences of our abuse of fresh water during the Second Age ofWater are not limited to water pollution, but extend to the impacts ourwithdrawals and use of water have on natural ecosystems that supporthuman life and wildlife. In the closing decades of the twentieth century,public concern about the environment has expanded beyond local air andwater pollution to broader issues of human impacts on diverse species andecosystems, the health of the oceans, ozone depletion, and climate change,as well as the planet’s ecosystems as a whole. As in the Cuyahoga story, thepower of iconic images, the ability of the media to raise public awareness,and the raised voices of individuals, local politicians, and communities havebeen used in the drive to end uncontrolled industrial water pollution and to
protect the planet we live on. We are now faced with, and only slowlycoming to grips with, the larger ecological consequences of the Second Ageof Water.Footnotesi Federal Water Pollution Control Act (PL 80-845, 62 Stat. 1155).ii His wrongful-death case went all the way to the US Supreme Court in alegal dispute about liability and the role of regulations, not about thepollution that caused his death. Kernan v. American Dredging Co., 355 US426 (1958).iii The famous photo of the burning Cuyahoga River most people rememberand attribute to the 1969 fire is actually from a previous fire in 1952.
19THE LOSS OF NATURENot everything that can be counted counts, and not everything thatcounts can be counted.—ATTRIBUTED TO WILLIAM BRUCE CAMERONA CORE BELIEF OF THE SECOND AGE OF WATER WAS THAT ANY water left innature was wasted. This idea has been expressed in many ways through theages, but the rhetoric is always the same: nearly a thousand years ago, aking of southern India, Parakramabahu the Great (AD 1153–1186),reportedly said, “Let not even a drop of water obtained from rain, flow tothe sea without benefiting mankind.” In the 1790s, James Anderson, in areport to the Scottish Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement,wrote, “Let not Britain, then, boast of her attainments in Agriculture, orconsider her fields as nearly as productive as they might be rendered, whilesuch immense quantities of water are suffered to flow into the sea withouthaving ever been employed to fertilize her fields.”1 Modern politicianshave parroted the same idea: Richard Welch, a Republican congressmanfrom California in the early twentieth century, said, “We have been sayingthat every single drop of this precious water that falls in the West must becontrolled and conserved and used, that not a drop of it should be wasted tothe sea,”2 a message echoed most recently by President Donald Trump:“California is gonna have to ration water. You wanna know why? Becausethey send millions of gallons of water out to sea, out to the Pacific.… It isso ridiculous they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea.”3 This ideais both false and dangerous. Water kept in rivers and ecosystems is vitallyimportant to the survival of the planet and humanity.
On paper, the world as a whole today is richer, healthier, and moreinterconnected than ever before.i However, these remarkable achievementshave come with great disparities from place to place, uneven andinconsistent improvements, and, especially, a massive and acceleratingdeterioration of the planet’s critical environmental support functions thatcan never be fully measured and quantified. In short, the Second Age ofWater has traded the long-term ecological health of the planet for short-termmeasures of economic wealth.Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 1 percent of Earth’s surface, butthey are astoundingly productive, providing habitat for more than 100,000known species of fish, plants, mammals, insects, reptiles, and mollusks.They contain a third of known vertebrates, including around 18,000 fishspecies.4 They provide critical stopovers to refuel tens or hundreds ofmillions of migrating birds. But they are suffering a myriad of insults andabuses.The degradation and destruction of the ecological health of the planetare evident in the loss of forests and wetlands, rivers on fire or dammed orrunning dry, dying fish, streams and lakes too polluted to swim in or drink,accelerating species extinction, and climate change. Global wetland areahas dropped by half, and a quarter of all sediment and natural nutrientscarried by rivers to the oceans is now trapped behind dams. The WWFFreshwater Living Planet Index, a measure of the status of freshwaterecosystems critical to the supply of fresh water and the health of forests andfisheries representing nearly 3,400 species of birds, fish, amphibians,mammals, and reptiles, has declined by 83 percent since 1970—a collapsedescribed by some ecological groups as “catastrophic.”5 In the twentiethcentury, freshwater fish had the world’s highest extinction rate amongvertebrates.In the Second Age of Water, the priority has always been to take moreand more water from nature to do the things we want while turning a blindeye to the consequences, coupled with ignorance or willful denial of theimportance of ecosystem health for our own health and well-being. Needmore water for cities or to meet new industrial or residential water needs?Take the entire flow of rivers, with no thought to the consequences ofdestroying the river’s delta and its fisheries, and then dump industrial and
human wastes into rivers and lakes, turning them into cesspools of poisonedwater.Need to grow cotton to feed national economic priorities or alfalfa orcorn to feed the growing demand for meat protein? Divert all of the Amuand Syr Darya Rivers away from the Aral Sea, increasing its salinity,decreasing its area, and driving its native fish species extinct, or overdraftfossil groundwater under the Great Plains of North America, using up in afew decades a natural resource that took thousands of years to create.Need wood or cheap land for development? Deforest massive areas andfill wetlands and then suffer erosion, landslides, and more frequent andsevere floods. Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests, andmore than a third of all wetlands were destroyed between 1970 and 2015.6In just the last decade of the twentieth century, an estimated 100,000 peoplehave been killed and more than 300 million displaced by floods, with totaleconomic damages exceeding $1 trillion.7Need to generate hydropower or store water in wet periods for use whenthe rains stop? Plug all the major rivers with tens of thousands of dams andreservoirs, dislocating millions of people from their homes, stopping theflow of vital sediments and nutrients to river deltas and wetlands, divertingfresh water away from natural ecosystems, altering the temperature andchemical characteristics of water, and blocking migrating and spawningsalmon and other anadromous fish, devastating their populations.So much water is now pulled from rivers that many of them are literallyrunning dry. The Colorado River, shared by the United States and Mexico,no longer flows to the sea anymore except in increasingly rare extremelywet years because its entire flow is consumed by farmers and citiesupstream. The Huang He (Yellow River) in China has periodically run dryfor decades, and the lower section of the river now sees no fresh water forlong periods at a time, a problem worsened by human withdrawals andclimate change.8 The Indus River in Pakistan has been so thoroughlyabused and overdrawn that it often carries no fresh water at all for the last130 kilometers. As journalist and science writer Steven Solomon describesit, the Indus’s “once-fertile, creek-filled delta of rice paddies, fisheries, andwildlife has become a desolate wasteland.”9
Natural wetland areas are treated as worthless lands to be dredged,leveled, filled, and paved. Vast areas of freshwater habitat that supportfisheries and other species have been carved up over the past few centuriesfor agriculture, growing cities, and industrial development. Developers,engineers, and water managers have drained marshes, channelized andconstrained rivers, and built in floodplains, exposing people to disasterwhen rivers overwhelm levees. In the contiguous United States, the US Fishand Wildlife Service estimates that before European colonization, therewere 90 million hectares (over 220 million acres) of wetlands. By the mid-1980s, more than half had been destroyed, and six states had lost 85 percentor more, mostly for industrial agriculture and flood-control projects.10 Theproblems are even worse worldwide. As much as 87 percent of Earth’scoastal and inland wetlands have been destroyed since the 1700s, with asmuch as 30 percent of all losses occurring since 1970. The greatest lossesare now occurring in Asia.11In addition to the deliberate destruction of freshwater habitats,inadvertent and indirect damage from human activities is occurring. Miningand other resource extraction, such as illegal sand dredging forconstruction, is altering river hydrology, diminishing the health of deltas,and destroying spawning habitat for fish. As global trade and travel haveaccelerated, so has the intentional or accidental spread of nonnativeinvasive species that outcompete, displace, and disrupt the natural balancesof freshwater systems. Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake inthe world with an area of 68,000 square kilometers, borders five countriesand was known for its rich biodiversity.ii Yet the introduction of the Nileperch—a predator fish found originally in Ethiopia—wiped out native fishpopulations, causing the loss of more than two hundred species. The lakehas also suffered from the introduction of the South American waterhyacinth in the 1980s, which rapidly expanded to cover a tenth of the lake’ssurface and reduced oxygen and nutrient concentrations.12While many different species and environmental services are threatenedby human use and abuse of fresh water, one way to measure the destructionwrought on aquatic ecosystems is through the impacts on indicators likemigrating birds that depend on wetlands and freshwater fish that depend on
healthy rivers. Thousands of bird species rely on wetlands for part or all oftheir life cycle, breeding, nesting, feeding, sheltering, and migrating.Humans have recognized the link between wetlands and birds for millennia.Early cultures carved and painted images of waterbirds on walls and ancientceramics and created songs and stories about bird hunts. Migratory birds—and 20 percent of all birds migrate—often fly long distances overinhospitable habitats looking for suitable wetlands for feeding and restingas they move along flyways between South and North America, Africa andEurope, and throughout Asia. Birds that migrate long distances require adiversity of food, habitat, and water resources to survive, but recent studiessuggest that fewer than 10 percent of bird species are adequately protectedat each stage of their migration.13 Every major flyway of the world relieson water systems that have been disturbed and degraded by human demandsfor fresh water.I started birding in New York City, a place deeply inhospitable to nature,but with a remarkable swath of green in its heart. Central Park is a tinyseminatural environment—“seminatural” because the entire park is itself anartificial creation, built long after the original ecosystems of Manhattanwere destroyed by growing populations crammed onto a small piece of realestate.iii But to birds migrating north in the spring to feeding and breedinggrounds, and then south in the fall away from cold northern winters, thepark is an oasis in the midst of a concrete-and-steel jungle, a spot to rest,eat, and drink before continuing on. As a result, the park concentratesmigrating birds, making it one of the best spots to see huge numbers ofspecies in a small area in a short period of time. I remember spring days inMay birding with my father when a single tree would have dozens ofspecies of spectacular neotropical songbirds, the Central Park reservoirwould be filled with ducks and geese, rare waterbirds would be seenprobing the mud in the park’s tiny streams and patches of marsh, andraptors circled overhead.Now I live in Northern California, and every winter for the past threedecades, my wife and I go birding in the Central Valley, visiting the fewremaining protected wildlife refuges left from the conversion of what wasthe largest natural wetland in North America. The Central Valley wasformed over tens of thousands of years by the erosion of the mountains and
the flows of the state’s two largest rivers, the Sacramento and San Joaquin.The soils of the valley are incredibly fertile, and over time the water andsediment from winter rains and melting spring snows created one of thelargest inland marsh systems in North America, extended over 1.6 millionhectares and providing the key feeding and resting grounds for thewaterfowl that use the Pacific Flyway, around 20 percent of all waterfowl inNorth America. But over the past 170 years, California has lost 91 percentof its original wetlands, converted to vast, monocultural agricultural fieldsand paved over for growing inland cities. More than a hundred major damson California’s rivers divert, store, and redirect water away from CentralValley wetlands and toward cities and agricultural fields.The largest area of original wetlands in California was Tulare Lake, anenormous inland lake and marsh system in the southern portion of theCentral Valley, four times the area of Lake Tahoe, fed by runoff from thesouthern Sierra. Tulare Lake has vanished, destroyed by the diversion ofwater, draining of wetlands, leveling of land, and planting of massive areasof corporate agriculture. In the central part of the valley, long stretches ofthe San Joaquin River are now completely dry. In the northern part of thevalley, the Sacramento, American, Feather, and Yuba Rivers have also beenmassively altered with the construction of dams, diversion canals,thousands of kilometers of levees, and drainage of lands for farming,especially rice cultivation. These changes have been severely damaging fornatural ecosystems, migrating waterbirds, and what were once historicallymassive salmon fisheries. The impact on waterfowl in particular has beenenormous, with a drop from an estimated 40 million birds historically tofewer than 5 million today.14California’s remaining reserves and refuges still support a great numberand diversity of birds, including geese, ducks, cranes, swans, ibis, and otherwaterfowl that come down from the Arctic and Canada before returningnorth in the spring. The sight of vast flocks of birds wheeling across the skygives one a hint of what Native Americans and then early Europeanexplorers must have experienced. But remaining protected areas are spotty,small, and disconnected, and the populations they support are just a fractionof what used to be.
Lake Abert in southern Oregon is another critical stop on the PacificFlyway for migrating waterbirds, including phalaropes, stilts, avocets, andmany species of duck. Hundreds of thousands of birds from more thaneighty bird species have been reported there. Abert is the sixth-largest lakein the state by area (when full) and the largest hypersaline lake in thePacific Northwest.15 These lakes, sometimes with salt concentrations farhigher than the oceans, produce massive numbers of small organisms thatfeed migrating birds, including brine shrimp, alkali flies, and otherinvertebrates.Like terminal lakes worldwide, Lake Abert is extremely vulnerable todecreases in inflows as farms, cities, and industry take more and more waterand to climate change as rising temperatures increase evaporation rates.iv In2014, in the midst of severe drought, Lake Abert shrank to just 5 percent ofits maximum size, and its average salinity tripled, leading to a collapse inthe ecology of the lake and a decline in food for migrating birds. When thesalinity of the lake was around 8 percent, brine-shrimp populations were attheir maximum. When salinity reached 20 percent during the drought, brineshrimp died out completely and other invertebrates were rare. At these highsalinities, shorebird populations dropped dramatically. In 2012 more than40,000 eared grebes were counted at the lake; in 2014 none were seen, andin 2015 only 845 were counted. In 2012 more than 210,000 phalaropes—anuncommon shorebird—were seen, but by 2014 populations had dropped tofewer than 21,000 and by 2015 to less than 13,000.16Nearly all terminal lakes in the western United States have reportedsimilar decreases in inflows and size and increases in salinity as fresh waterdisappears. Great Salt Lake in Utah has lost a third of its surface area andnearly half its volume since the 1800s, and droughts in the early 2000s ledto a drop in waterfowl populations there by a third. In July 2022, Great SaltLake fell to the lowest level ever recorded as a result of drought and climatechange.17 Mono Lake and the Salton Sea in central and Southern Californiasupport hundreds of thousands of migrating birds every year, but their areasare also shrinking and salinity increasing because freshwater inflows havebeen cut. The level of Nevada’s Walker Lake has dropped 150 feet in thepast century with concomitant increases in salinity.18
What’s happening in the western United States to wetlands andmigrating birds is happening everywhere.In Iran overdraft of groundwater, drought and rising temperatures, andthe withdrawal of water from streams that used to flow into Lake Urmiahave led to massive decreases in surface area and volume, mitigated only byoccasional extreme storms that temporarily refill it. The Amu Darya andSyr Darya Rivers in central Asia were completely diverted for cottonfarming in the former Soviet Union, leading to the desiccation of the AralSea, the destruction of its ecosystem, and iconic images of rusting fishingboats lying in the desert sands as though transported there by a malevolentgod.Along the Palearctic-Africa migratory routes, hundreds of species ofbirds depend on four critically important African wetlands: Lake Chad, theInner Niger River Delta, the Senegal River Delta, and the vast Suddswamps of the Nile River Basin. Survival for these migrants is linked torainfall and river flows, the timing and extent of floods, the productivity ofvegetation in marshes, and the availability of food sources like insects andseeds. Massive fluctuations in the size and extent of Lake Chad have alteredwater conditions for humans and fish and bird species. Land-use changes inthe form of expanded agriculture and urbanization across the entirecontinent have led to further loss of wetlands and natural forest habitats.The changes in Africa are amplified and worsened by the massive loss ofwetland areas in Europe due to industrialization, landfills, and expansion ofports in estuaries and marshes, all of which have contributed to the loss ofmigrating birds.19The trends are in the wrong direction. Surveys around the world showthat 38 percent of waterbird species are suffering declining populations.Many have already gone extinct, and many more are threatened orendangered.20 The problem is greatest in Asia,v where nearly two-thirds ofall waterbird populations are decreasing or already extinct.21Across the globe, ecosystems that support bird populations now face theadditional challenge of human-caused climate change. Alterations in wateravailability and quality, sea-level rise, and changes in extreme events suchas droughts and floods are affecting the availability of prey organisms andfood plants, the extent and health of wetlands, the viability of coastal
ecosystems and migratory routes, and breeding success. There is alreadyevidence that bird species are altering winter quarters and behaviors andswitching diets in response to climate change.22It’s not just the birds. Freshwater fisheries are also being devastated bythe abuse of water, and fish species are disappearing faster than any othertype of vertebrate. While more than 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty,over half of the world’s 36,000 known fish species live in rivers, lakes, andfreshwater wetlands. While biologists continue to find and identify new fishspecies from those that evolved over millions of years,23 we aresimultaneously driving species to extinction. The conservation status ofmany freshwater fish species is unknown, but 30 percent of the species thathave been assessed are already considered to be of concern, threatened,endangered, or extinct, and the rate of decline of freshwater vertebratepopulations is double that of terrestrial or saltwater ecosystems.24 Eightyfreshwater species have already been declared extinct, including 16 in 2020alone; another 115 are presumed extinct.25 Many more may disappearbefore scientists even get a chance to discover and name them.FIGURE 24. A carved salmon from the cave Abridu Poisson, Dordogne, estimated to be 25,000 yearsold. Wellcome Collection.Fish are a critical food resource and have been a staple of human dietsfor millennia. In November 2022, scientists published compelling evidencethat early Homo erectus ate cooked fish 780,000 years ago—the earliestevidence of cooking by hominins.26 There is a remarkable carved relief ofa one-meter-long salmon in the Abri du Poisson caves in France, dated from
more than 25,000 years ago (Figure 24). In the La Pileta caves inAndalucia, Spain, an even larger painting of a halibut has been dated toaround 20,000 years ago, and other Stone Age cave paintings show theimportance of freshwater fish to early humans.27 Today, freshwaterfisheries account for $38 billion per year in measured economic value,providing critical protein and nutrients for at least 200 million peopleworldwide. Inland fisheries accounted for nearly 13 percent of the globalfish catch in 2017. Two-thirds of the reported fish catch in Asia and 35percent in Africa come from freshwater systems, and these fisheries providejobs for around 60 million people.28Freshwater fish catches are already in decline. Growing demand for fishand inadequate fisheries management are leading to the collapse of manyvaluable fish populations. Illegal trade in fish products like wild caviar andexotic fish for aquariums are threatening vulnerable species. Between 2000and 2015, dams and habitat disruptions caused fish catches in the MekongRiver basin to drop by 78 percent, and many more dams are planned for theriver. When the Diama and Manantali Dams were built on the SenegalRiver in Africa to provide water supply for irrigated agriculture,29 they soseverely disrupted the river system that the annual fish catch dropped byaround 90 percent.viThe largest freshwater species, which are easy to see, identify, and catch,have been the most vulnerable to human disruptions. More than twohundred species are classified as megafauna,vii and eighty-five of these areconsidered “critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable.”30 TheEuropean sturgeon was once very common but has now been completelyextirpated from all major European rivers except the Garonne River inFrance, and worldwide twenty-one of twenty-five species of sturgeon arethreatened. The Yangtze porpoise, Mekong giant catfish, and Irrawaddyriver dolphin are disappearing rapidly, and the Yangtze River freshwaterbaiji and the Chinese paddlefish have both been declared extinct—victimsof the huge dams built on Chinese rivers, overfishing, and pollution.Overall, populations of these “megafish” have dropped by 94 percent, and
some already depend on human intervention in the form of artificialbreeding to survive.31In addition to the vulnerability of the largest species, the greatest threatsare to anadromous species—including salmon, lamprey, shad, hilsa,sturgeon, and some eels—that spend part of their life cycles in fresh waterand part in the oceans. Where data are available, migratory freshwater fishpopulations have declined by an average of 76 percent, with the greatestdeclines in Europe (down 93 percent) and Latin America and the Caribbean(down 84 percent) from habitat destruction, dams, and overfishing.Falling bird populations and shrinking fisheries are just two indicators ofthe failing health of freshwater ecosystems. Other services that these naturalsystems provide are also threatened: they clean our air and water, supportfood production, and are the source of many medicines. We even rely onnature to help soothe our minds and enrich our leisure. Healthy fisheriesalso have a high recreational value. While data are mostly available only forNorth America and Europe, recreational fishing generates at least $65–$80billion per year worldwide and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs forlocal economies.32The greatest human threats to aquatic ecosystems have come from themassive extraction and use of fresh water, the pollution we’ve dumped intorivers and lakes, land-use practices that filled in, paved over, and built onwetlands and marshes, and the channeling and damming of the world’srivers. But forms of development and choices about how to use and managefresh water have also increased society’s vulnerability to those ancientscourges: extreme floods and droughts.Footnotesi Average income has skyrocketed since 1960 from around $11 trillion to$85 trillion (in 2010 constant dollars), rising much faster than population.Average life expectancy in 1960 was 52.5 years; today it is above 72.5.Measures of absolute poverty tell us that hundreds of millions of peoplehave moved from degrading conditions to some form of middle class. In1960, 40 percent of the planet’s population lived on less than $2 per day (in
constant 2011 dollars), while today it’s only 10 percent. World Bank Group,“Indicators and Data” (2022).ii Lake Victoria is shared by Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, andTanzania.iii Central Park is just 340 hectares in size, yet hosts more than 40 million(human) visitors a year.iv Terminal lakes are lakes that lack a natural outlet other than evaporation.Thus, salts and other minerals accumulate in them, and they are vulnerableto reductions in inflows.v In a comprehensive assessment in 2006, Stroud and colleagues classified80 percent of wetland areas in East and Southeast Asia as threatened andpressure on them has continued to grow. D. A. Stroud et al., “TheConservation and Population Status of the World’s Waders at the Turn ofthe Millennium,” in Waterbirds Around the World: International WaderStudy Group, ed. G. C. Boere, C. A. Galbraith, and D. A. Stroud, 643–648(London: Stationery Office, 2008).vi The dams also led to a massive increase in cases of schistosomiasis byaltering the chemistry of the river.vii This includes aquatic species with a mass of thirty kilograms or more.
20FLOODS AND DROUGHTSAnd it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot aboutthe rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of thedry years. It was always that way.—JOHN STEINBECK, EAST OF EDENWE LIVE ON A PLANET OF HYDROLOGIC EXTREMES. DESERTS like the Atacamain Chile or parts of the Sahara in Sudan can see almost no rainfall for yearson end. Cherrapunji, India, recorded a mind-boggling 25.5 meters (84 feet)of rain in the twelve months from August 1860 to July 1861. MountWaialeale, Hawaii, regularly receives more than 12 meters (40 feet) of rainannually. In addition to extremes of place, we have extreme events in theform of dangerous floods and droughts. In the First Age of Water, as mythsand legends like the Flood Story show, early humans and cultures acceptedthese extremes as divine punishment or facts of life, and they lived—andoften died—as a consequence.As human knowledge expanded and technological and engineering skillsimproved in the Second Age, we looked at floods and droughts aschallenges to be tamed and overcome. We learned how to build massivereservoirs to capture water in wet periods and levees along rivers to protectagainst floods. We built aqueducts and irrigation systems to move waterthousands of kilometers so that even drought-prone areas would havereliable water supplies for cities and farms. No region better exemplifies theSecond Age attitude that water was to be controlled than the western UnitedStates, where water was simultaneously viewed as vital for economicdevelopment and as a dangerous and unreliable resource.
The western United States in the mid-1800s was a half-tamedwilderness, home to hundreds of Native American tribes, but increasinglyinvaded by a flood of new immigrants. The California gold rush, the CivilWar in the East, transplants from Europe and China, and a land rush ofpeople seeking a new beginning and wide-open spaces were slowlytransforming the region. New towns were springing up, new land was beingfarmed as the rich soils and inviting climate of California’s Central Valleywere recognized, and the bones of a modern society in the form of roads,telegraphs, farms, industries, and governments were being built. But next tonothing was known or understood about the climate or the vagaries of theweather, and the newcomers knew little about the risks of building in a landthat turned out to be vulnerable to earthquakes, floods, and droughts. Theywould learn the hard way.The city of Sacramento was founded in the early years of the gold rushas a trading post at the intersection of the Sacramento and American Riversdraining the northern section of the Sierra Nevada. The rivers then flowedthrough the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta into San Francisco Bay andprovided a convenient and valuable transportation route for goods andpeople between the coast and the inland valley. In 1854 Sacramento’slocation and commercial success led to its being declared the capital of thenew state. Hints of the risk of winter floods had encouraged theconstruction of a few simple levees along the rivers to keep the city dryduring the months when the rivers were full, but the residents had no ideawhat the rivers were capable of. Perhaps they should have paid attention tothe Native Americans who moved to the higher foothills in the wet wintermonths and back down to the valley in the dry summers, or the earlySpanish and Mexican settlers who built their ranchos in the hills, butcommercial expediency and the convenient location at the waterycrossroads for commerce prevailed.In November 1861, it began to rain. That was expected—the earlysettlers had learned that California had a wet season from October to Aprilthat brought rains to the valley and snows to the mountains. It continued torain through December with little break, and in early January 1862 it rainedeven harder, with record precipitation in the entire area from the ColumbiaRiver south to the Mexican border. Over a biblical period of forty days, theequivalent of more than three meters (ten feet) of water fell, filling the
rivers, soaking the soils, and piling massive amounts of snow in the SierraNevada. To make matters worse, these storms were followed by anotherintense—and this time warm—storm that rapidly melted the mountainsnowpack, causing vast amounts of water to pour out of the mountains intothe already saturated Central Valley. The resulting flood was catastrophic.The Sacramento and American Rivers rose to two, and then four, and theneight meters (twenty-six feet) above their banks, and much of the CentralValley turned into an inland sea. In mid-January, the Sacramento Unionnewspaper reported, “Continuous rains and melting snows in the mountainshave brought disaster and destruction upon those valleys and cities ofCalifornia which have been the chief pride of the state.”1The state legislature was in session on January 10, 1862, when thenewly elected governor, Leland Stanford, was to be sworn in. One of thelevees protecting the city failed that day, sending nearly eight meters(twenty-five feet) of water pouring through the city, and Stanford had to berowed to his inauguration in a boat. William Brewer, a geologist from YaleUniversity, was in Sacramento at the time, and in a series of letters hereported:The great Central Valley of the state is under water—the Sacramentoand San Joaquin valleys—a region 250 to 300 miles long and anaverage of at least 20 miles wide, a district of 5,000 or 6,000 squaremiles… the garden of the state. Thousands of farms are entirely underwater—cattle starving and drowning. Benevolent societies are active,boats have been sent up, and thousands are fleeing.… Nearly everyhouse and farm over this immense region is gone. America has neverbefore seen such desolation by flood as this has been.2The devastation extended beyond the Central Valley. In SouthernCalifornia, starting on Christmas Eve in 1861, it rained for four weeksstraight, producing eight times more water than the region usually sees in ayear. The gold-mining town of Eldoradoville in the San Gabriel Mountainswas destroyed by a flood. Farms and orchards along the Los Angeles Riverwere washed away, and the entire Santa Ana River basin filled with water.In what was described as the worst disaster to ever strike California,even worse than the devastating earthquake that was to strike San Francisco
in 1906, thousands of people, perhaps 200,000 cattle, and more than a half-million sheep and lambs drowned. Newly installed telegraph polesconnecting the eastern and western United States were covered by water,disrupting communications with the East for months. Towns and farmsdisappeared, and one in eight homes in the state was destroyed. It wasestimated that a quarter of the state’s economy was wiped out.3It wasn’t just California. These floods were the worst in recorded historyacross the western United States, from northern Mexico to southern Canadaand from the Pacific coast inland to Utah. Southern Utahans labeled 1861–1862 as the “year of the floods.” Water covered the lower Willamette Valleyin Oregon for weeks, and towns in the western New Mexico Territory alongthe Gila and Colorado Rivers were washed away.4What struck the West in late 1861 and early 1862 was a series of so-called atmospheric rivers that funneled vast amounts of water vapor to theWest Coast of the United States. Born from weather across the PacificOcean and influenced by conditions in the Arctic, these atmospheric riversregularly bring moisture from the tropics thousands of kilometers beforedumping it on the western United States. In years when atmospheric riversare weak or hit the coast farther north, California experiences droughts.When atmospheric rivers are strong or directed by the jet stream intoCalifornia, the state has a wet year. The catastrophic flooding was the resultof a long series of these atmospheric rivers hosing down the western UnitedStates, one after another, followed by unseasonably warm storms thatrapidly melted mountain snows that would normally melt slowly overspring and summer months.In the century that followed, local, state, and federal agencies builtthousands of large and small dams to try to control and manage westernfloods and store winter flows, and thousands of kilometers of levees toprotect low-lying lands—all tools of the Second Age of Water. But theunhappy and unacknowledged reality is that these dams and levees offer afalse sense of security. They encouraged massive developments to be builtin the historical floodplains but will provide scant protection when a floodof comparable magnitude again strikes California.i Scientists now talk aboutthe possibility of a modern “ARkStorm”—a megastorm similar to the
December 1861–January 1862 California disaster.ii Today, such a stormcould cause as much as a trillion dollars in losses, affect millions of people,and damage a quarter of all homes in the state.Equally worrisome in the West, however, is the exact opposite: extremedroughts that reduce the amount of water available, dry up agriculturallands, kill forests and worsen forest fires, and threaten water supplies forvulnerable cities. Again, history provides hints of what can happen.By the 1930s, the land policies of the United States over the previouscentury, including the Homestead Act signed into law by President Lincoln,had encouraged millions of settlers to move west to land given away by thefederal government in an effort to encourage agriculture, ease populationand labor pressures in the East, and accelerate the displacement of NativeAmericans. The conditions on the Great Plains were unlike any NorthAmerican settlers from Europe had experienced. The plains of the Dakotas,Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and northern Texas had few trees forbuilding homes or for fuel, insufficient natural vegetation for livestock, andharsh physical conditions, including severe winds, blizzards in winter,extreme heat in the summer, plagues of insects, and especially scarce andunreliable water. As a result, the 160 acres offered by federal land-giveawayprograms, which might have been enough in the East, were inadequate onthe plains. Homesteaders often were barely able to make a go of it even ingood years. And the years weren’t always good.For a brief while, though, as settlers learned how to survive in this newenvironment, the plains offered opportunities for agriculture that seemedideal. In the early part of the twentieth century, especially in the decadebefore the Great Depression, higher than normal rainfall, strong markets forwheat, and improved mechanization of farm equipment encourageddramatic expansions of farming, and by 1929 16 million hectares of land inthe Great Plains were in cultivation. The land, originally the province ofhundreds of Native American tribes and herds of millions of bison, was atfirst a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. When the settlers moved in, theybrought with them the idea that tilling the soil, tearing out the deep-rooted,drought-resistant native grasses, planting drought-vulnerable wheat, andadding millions of domesticated livestock would support the expandingcommunities of immigrants. Their beliefs were encouraged by federal
reports that described the region as rich in an “indestructible and immutablesoil resource.”5But the vision of a land of abundance was a mirage.The disconnect between human expectations and reality came to a headin the 1930s, when the western United States (along with parts of Canadaand Mexico) experienced the most devastating drought in its early history.The 1930s brought a decade of low rainfall and high temperatures thatdesiccated the land, wiped out crops and livestock herds, and produced duststorms of eroded topsoil that relentlessly swept across the plains, coveringfarms and towns and driving people from their homes. Two to 3 millionpeople left the region in one of the earliest mass migrations ofenvironmental refugees.The drought began in 1931, and poor rainfall continued until 1939,affecting an area from northern Texas to southern Canada and from theplains of eastern Colorado to eastern Kansas—tens of millions of hectares.In 1932 fourteen dust storms swept the region. A year later, there werethirty-eight storms. By 1934 it was estimated that 40 million hectares ofland had lost their topsoil, and by April 1935 dust storms were a weeklyoccurrence. On April 14, the worst storm—now known as the Black Sundaystorm—struck, sweeping across the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, amassive tsunami of blowing dust. Avis Carlson, a Kansas housewife,experienced these storms and wrote, “The impact is like a shovelful of finesand flung against the face. People caught in their own yards grope for thedoorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetratethat swirling murk.… We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch itstrip us of possessions and the hope of possessions.”6Another farmer, Caroline Henderson, also painted a picture of despair,poverty, and an endless battle against dust in a series of letters written to afriend. “‘Dust to eat,’ and dust to breathe and dust to drink. Dust in the bedsand in the flour bin, on dishes and walls and windows, in hair and eyes andears and teeth and throats, to say nothing of the heaped up accumulation onfloors and window sills after one of the bad days.”7Robert Geiger, an Associated Press reporter, was caught in the BlackSunday storm and wrote about his experience, popularizing the term Dust
Bowl.8 Donald Worster, chronicler of the American West andenvironmental historian, wrote about the Black Sunday storm in his bookDust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, “Suddenly, there appeared onthe northern horizon a Black Blizzard.”9The storm was also the inspiration for folksinger Woody Guthrie, whowatched the storm roll over Pampa, Texas, and said it was “like the Red Seaclosing in on the Israel children.” His experience inspired him to write“Dusty Old Dust (So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You)”:A dust storm hit, an’ it hit like thunder;It dusted us over, an’ it covered us underLessons learned during the Dust Bowl led to dramatic changes infarming practices, improvements in soil conservation, and massiveinvestments in artificial irrigation technologies, including dams, reservoirs,irrigation canals, and millions of groundwater pumps to draw water fromfossil aquifers, allowing the region to become a major agricultural producer.But irrigation in the region now depends almost entirely on groundwaterpumped from the High Plains Aquifer, an overtapped and underregulatedsource of water being used up to support millions of hectares of corn andsoybeans used, largely, for animal feed and the production of subsidizedethanol. If anything, the area is even more vulnerable today should DustBowl conditions return.Floods and droughts continue to plague the world’s population, and wecontinue to seek engineering solutions to address them. In 1931 Chinasuffered the worst flooding disasters in recorded history, when perhaps asmany as 4 million people were killed by flooding and subsequent starvationand disease along the Yangtze, Huai, and Huang He Rivers. The flood wascaused by extreme precipitation coupled with mismanagement of flood-protection and -development efforts along the rivers, and it led to decadesof new flood-control projects. To deal with water shortages and droughts,China has also built the largest water diversion in the world, the South-North Water Transfer project, which moves water from the Yangtze River tothe more arid and populated cities in the North. But despite efforts tocontrol the hydrologic cycle, deaths and damage from extreme events willcontinue, in part because no water system can prevent all flooding or
extreme drought, in part because humans continue to build in arid or flood-prone areas, and in part because another massive dark cloud looms on thehorizon—the specter of human-caused climate change and the threat ofworsening and accelerating extreme weather.Footnotesi When, not if.ii The term ARkStorm refers to an “atmospheric river” storm that produceslevels of precipitation experienced on average only once in every 500 to1,000 years. US Geological Survey, “Overview of the ARkStorm Scenario,”Open-File Report 2010-1312, Multihazards Demonstrations Project (2011).
21CLIMATE CHANGESo pervasive is man’s impact, it is said that we live in a newgeological epoch—the Anthropocene.—ELIZABETH KOLBERT, UNDER A WHITE SKY: THE NATURE OF THE FUTUREGO TWENTY KILOMETERS NORTH OR SOUTH OR EAST OR WEST, and most of usare still in pretty much our same neighborhood. Many people don’t thinktwice about driving that far to go to work or shop or see a movie. But gotwenty kilometers straight up, and we’re at the very edge of space outsideof the part of the atmosphere where all the weather occurs. Within this thin,delicate layer of gases, moisture rises and falls, evaporates and condenses,forms clouds and swirling storms, and determines the heat and waterbalances of the land, oceans, and ice caps, all influenced by the energycoming in from the sun, the rotation of the planet, and the composition ofgases in the atmosphere. Alter any of these things on a planetary scale, andyou alter the weather and the climate. And that’s what we’ve done.For almost all of human history in the Second Age of Water, whileweather has varied, the climate has been stable—a function of factorshumans could not influence. Yes, it fluctuated slowly, changing over tens ofthousands to hundreds of thousands of years in celestial rhythm with theslowly changing orbit of Earth around the sun and the spin and tilt of Eartharound its axis, but those long-term changes weren’t noticeable to earlysocieties. Modern civilization is built around the historically averageclimate in each part of the world. Weather, conversely, has been largelyunpredictable—a set of chaotic conditions that varied from day to day, withthe seasons, and sometimes with major extreme events—and wasunderstood in the context of experience and oral and written histories.
Only in the past few decades have scientists learned to make advancedforecasts about the weather, benefiting from the growing Second Ageunderstanding of the sciences of fluid dynamics, meteorology, and chaostheory,1 the increasing sophistication and speed of computers, and thecollection of massive amounts of real-time observations and measurementsfrom first ground—and now satellite—instruments. These advances havepermitted scientists to develop computer models that generate increasinglyreliable weather forecasts days, or even longer, in advance. Similar models—some of the most sophisticated and complex ever created—now alsoproduce longer and more accurate projections of Earth’s climate years anddecades from now.Just in time. For the first time in history, humans have become a globalforce altering the fundamental makeup of the gases in our thin, delicateatmosphere and affecting the very balances of weather and water that drovehuman evolution and nurtured the rise of modern civilization. This isn’t abook about climate change; it’s a book about water. But you can’t talk aboutone without talking about the other: the entire hydrologic cycle is anintegral part of the climate system, and as we change the climate, we arealready fundamentally changing our water resources. My professionalcareer has been devoted to improving our understanding of the interactionsbetween water and climate and the implications for humanity of disturbingand disrupting both natural cycles.It is no accident that the end of the Second Age of Water and thegrowing water crisis are coming at a time when the challenge of globalclimate change is reaching its apex—they are symptoms of the same things.The size of the world’s population, the nature of our consumption andeconomies, and the use of energy and water resources have combined todisrupt and threaten our very existence.Even without climate change, of course, extreme weather has alwaysbeen a threat, a function of the chaotic nature of the atmosphere driven bythe power of wind, water, and heat from the sun. These extremes manifestthemselves as massive storms in the form of hurricanes and tropicalcyclones, atmospheric rivers, tornadoes, intense rain and snow, floods, andextended droughts and aridity. Entire cultures like the Mayans, Akkadians,and Tang dynasty were weakened or even wiped out by long periods of
extreme drought that they were unable to withstand,2 just as the earlysettlers in the western United States had their lives and dreams upended andreshaped by natural weather disasters. What is new are changes in thefrequency, duration, and intensity of these events. Extreme events likefloods and droughts, a normal part of the natural variability of the climate,are no longer behaving normally: they are getting worse, and humans areresponsible.For decades, climate models and scientists warned that as greenhousegases built up in the atmosphere, more and more heat would be trapped,rather than escape to space, and that this energy would begin to superchargethe climate. In the 1800s, scientists like Joseph Fourier, Claude Pouillet,and Eunice Newton Foote began to speculate about and then experimentwith the role of the atmosphere and gases in maintaining the livability of theplanet. As climate science improved, scientists understood that the firstobservable effect of rising concentrations of certain gases would be globalwarming, but that as climate changes accelerated, one consequence wouldbe wet areas of the planet getting wetter and dry regions getting drierbecause of an intensification of the way water moves around the world.3My own work on climate change and water in the 1980s and 1990s foundthat plausible decreases in precipitation and increases in temperature wouldincrease annual drought frequency in California and fundamentally changethe timing and availability of mountain snowmelt and river flows. Similarchanges would threaten water availability, runoff, hydropower generation,and the salinity of the Colorado River, Nile River, and elsewhere.4Those model projections are now a measurable reality. As globalwarming accelerates, the planet is experiencing more wet and dry extremes,with clear evidence that increases in greenhouse gases are responsible.Already, there is an increased chance of more frequent, severe, andpersistent drought in southern Europe, large parts of Africa, Asia, westernNorth America, parts of Central and South America, and elsewhere.5Examples of recent extreme eventsi influenced by human-caused climatechange include the “Snowmageddon” events in the eastern United States inFebruary 2010, Superstorm Sandy and Supertyphoon Haiyan in 2012 and2013, and flooding in Colorado in 2013.6 The frequency and intensity of
forest fires in the western Rocky Mountains of North America, Australia,Siberia, China, and elsewhere are worsening.7 Droughts are occurringaround the globe with clear evidence they are being influenced by human-caused climate change.8No region is likely to be spared as climate change intensifies.Australia is largely a dry continent and no stranger to extremes ofweather. Beginning around 1997, however, and continuing through 2009,Australia went through the worst drought in its recorded history—the so-called Millennium Drought—covering much of the continent. Reservoirsbuilt to store water for droughts went dry. Crop production plummeted byas much as 20 percent or more because farmers couldn’t irrigate.9 Industrialproduction fell, and residents struggled to meet basic needs. Following thisdrought, the country was struck in 2010–2011 by the worst flooding in ahalf century, affecting 200,000 people and 1 million square kilometers andleading to at least $10 billion in damage, flooding climate scientists say wasmade worse by rising ocean temperatures.10 Their weather whiplash hascontinued: Australia entered another drought period beginning again in2017 and then was struck again by unprecedented floods in 2022 in easternAustralia, killing more than 20 people and causing billions more in damage.In May 2022, the conservative government was thrown out of office, in partbecause of public anger that they were ignoring the growing threat ofclimate change to the country.11On the other side of the world, the eastern Mediterranean suffered itsworst drought in recorded history between 2006 and 2011, contributing tocrop failures in Syria, massive economic and social dislocations, and adevastating civil war. Scientists have drawn the connection to climate thereas well: Dr. Martin Hoerling noted in a study of that drought, “Themagnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to beexplained by natural variability alone.”12 Iran has suffered from extremedrought recently as well. Between 1951 and 2013, Iran warmed by nearly1.3 degrees C and experienced both an increase in the frequency of extremeheat and a decrease in annual precipitation.13 As in Australia, drought inIran was followed by extreme flooding, killing nearly 100 people, wiping
out thousands of kilometers of roads, disrupting major parts of theagricultural sector, and causing billions of dollars of damage, with evidencethat both the drought and the flooding were made more extreme as a resultof climate change.14Europe has been struck by a series of severe droughts and heat wavessince 2014 that scientists describe as the worst in 2,000 years and worsenedby climate change, causing thousands of deaths, destroying crops, andcontributing to forest fires.15 The risk to Europe of excessive heat wasmade clear in 2003, when tens of thousands of people died from a heatwave that scientists now believe was made twice as likely due to human-caused climate change.16 In October 2020, the United Kingdomexperienced its wettest day on record in an event estimated to have beentwo and a half times more likely because of human-caused climate change,and extreme heat swept over all of Europe again in 2022.In the past two decades, Canada has suffered from the most expensiveand severe droughts and floods in its history, according to Dr. JohnPomeroy, research chair in water resources and climate change at theUniversity of Saskatchewan. He also notes that Canadian groundwater hasbeen increasingly contaminated and lake algal blooms are getting worse andthat climate change is playing a central role in all-time-record snowfalls inparts of Canada while other regions are suffering droughts, dust storms, andintense rainfall.17 In 2017 British Columbia experienced an extremewildfire season that burned a record 1.2 million hectares, withunprecedented warm and dry conditions that scientists again say weresubstantially worsened by anthropogenic climate change.18 NortheasternBrazil experienced a severe drought from 2012 to 2016, cutting agriculturalproduction and hydropower and causing water shortages in communitiesthroughout the region, including the cities of São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.Parts of the United States are also experiencing record extreme events.Drought has afflicted the Colorado River basin and southwestern UnitedStates for twenty years. With the severely dry year of 2021, the period2000–2021 now appears to be the driest twenty-two-year period since theyear AD 800. Researchers attribute around 19 percent of the droughtseverity to human-caused climate trends and are now calling it a
“megadrought.”19 Flows in the Colorado River, which serves the needs oftens of millions of people in the driest part of the country, appear unlikely toreturn to the wetter levels experienced over the past century when thereservoirs were built, water rights given out, and management institutionsput in place.20 Californians suffered through the worst five-year drought onrecord from 2012 to 2016—also a period of unprecedented warmth—followed in 2017 by the wettest year ever recorded.21 The storms that yearwere so severe that Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, wasalmost destroyed, forcing the emergency evacuation of 200,000 peopledownstream. Severe drought returned to the western United States with avengeance starting in 2020, and by 2022 the entire West was again sufferingextreme drought conditions. Record wildfire frequency and intensity arealso racking the state now, year after year.The intensity of rainfall events in the northeastern and southeasternUnited States has also been on the rise for two decades, and in 2019 thecentral and eastern United States experienced its wettest winter onrecord.22 In 2011 Texas experienced its driest twelve months on record,followed by what’s thought to be the heaviest rainfall in US history whenHurricane Harvey dumped more than 1,000 millimeters (40 inches) of rainon Houston in just a few days in 2017.23 Scientists expect some extremeevents to become ten times more likely by the end of this century as climatechange intensifies.24All the systems, institutions, and physical infrastructure designed toaccommodate and manage extreme weather were built and designed foryesterday’s climate, not the rapidly changing climate of today, or the muchmore extreme weather that’s coming. No truly sustainable Third Age ofWater is possible until we come to grips with the reality of human-causedclimate change. History can offer a guide to what is possible, and it is vitalto draw on these past experiences. But science also has to provide insightswhen past experience is no longer enough, and science is telling us theextreme events piling up in region after region of the world are no longerpurely “natural” disasters, but disasters supercharged by the combustion offossil fuels and emissions of gases that trap and amplify heat.
The list of new and unusual weather records and disasters is continuingto grow. The mountain of data and scientific studies connecting record-setting extreme weather events around the world with human-causedclimate change also continues to grow. As the Second Age of Water drawsto a close, these extreme events highlight our worsening relationship withnature and our vulnerability not just to natural events but to natural eventsmade unnatural by our own actions. In the Third Age of Water, we mustboth work to avoid unmanageable climate change and to manage thoseconsequences we can no longer avoid.25Footnotei Climate scientists are careful to talk about the growing “influence” ofclimate change on extreme events rather than arguing that it may have“caused” a particular event, though improvements in the science of climate“fingerprinting” may soon be able to more directly attribute specific eventsto human-caused climate change.
22FROM THE SECOND TO THE THIRD AGEMaybe this the instant which Fate always picks out to blackjack you,only the peak feels so sound and stable that the beginning of thefalling is hidden for a little while.—WILLIAM FAULKNER, ABSALOM, ABSALOM!THE SECOND AGE OF WATER, AN ERA OF USING AND CONTROLLING the waterresources of our planet as if they were inexhaustible, is now coming to anend with the rise of the serious crises and failures described in the previouschapters—continuing water poverty for billions of people, worseningpollution, disappearing groundwater, increasing water-related violence,collapsing ecosystems, and the growing threat of extreme events andclimate change. The benefits of the Second Age, fantastic advances inscience, technology, and the institutions for managing water resources forbillions of people, do not have to disappear, but we need to build a differentrelationship with the resources on which society depends.The planet is not running out of water. Considering the vast quantity ofwater on Earth in its many circulating stocks and flows, the concept ofrunning out is of little practical utility. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, total human withdrawals of water were around 4,000 cubickilometers per year, out of a global freshwater stock estimated to be asmuch as 35 million cubic kilometers. The worries about water must beabout something else. And, of course, they are: water problems areproblems of time, space, money, and institutions. We’re reaching the pointof peak water use, and after a peak comes a fall. These peak waterconstraints, more than anything else, are driving the need for a new age, theThird Age of Water.
The problems facing society require new thinking and a new approach.To understand and address these water challenges, we must look at regionalstocks and flows of fresh water and the local impacts of human use ofrainfall, river runoff, and groundwater stocks. An early effort to evaluatethese uses estimated how much water is already appropriated by humans.That assessment by Sandra Postel and her colleagues concluded, even aquarter century ago, that humans were already appropriating orcontaminating more than half of the planet’s renewable and “accessible”fresh water.1 A more recent assessment in the context of new efforts todefine how human activities are approaching or transgressing “planetaryboundaries” concluded that human use and manipulation of the hydrologiccycle in the form of both water withdrawals and impacts on rainfall, soilmoisture, and evaporation are approaching, and in some places exceeding,limits of sustainability.2When thinking about the long-term sustainability of resources, it is vitalto distinguish between renewable and nonrenewable resources. Renewableresources are virtually inexhaustible, but their use is limited to how muchcan be tapped over time. For example, the use of solar energy in no waydiminishes how much is produced by the sun, but the ability to capture solarenergy is limited by how fast it is delivered and how it is captured. Thesame is true for some water resources: the water used today from rivers hasno effect on how much water will flow in those rivers tomorrow, or nextyear, but we can only use so much of the flow in a given year.In contrast, nonrenewable resources are limited by how much ofsomething is available. Stocks of oil or coal accumulated over millions ofyears and are now being consumed far faster than they are being naturallycreated. When a nonrenewable resource is gone, or increasingly expensiveto obtain, we have to find alternatives.i Fossil groundwater is a crucialresource for many regions, especially for agricultural production, and morethan a third of all food grown today depends on it, but fossil groundwaterbehaves just like fossil fuels. Humans are using it up faster than naturerecharges it. Once it is gone, we can’t have any more. Such resourcequestions are not entirely new. In the energy field, the specter of “peak
oil”—a rise, leveling off, and then decline in the production of oil—wasdescribed in the 1950s by geologist M. King Hubbert.3Water can be both a renewable and a nonrenewable resource. This dualnature has implications for the concept of “peak water” and imposes limitson how much water can be used sustainably. Three different peak-waterconcepts relevant to water planners, hydrologists, and managerscharacterize the challenges at the end of the Second Age of Water and offerinsights in how to overcome those challenges in a transition to the ThirdAge: peak renewable water, peak nonrenewable water, and peak ecologicalwater.4Peak renewable water refers to the limits on available flows of waterover time. Much of the water available to humans is renewable—rechargedby the endless workings of the hydrologic cycle that constantly move waterfrom the oceans, through the atmosphere, to rivers, lakes, and groundwater,and back to the oceans. Where water is a renewable resource, like the flowsin a river, the amount of water that can be extracted at any given time islimited to the full flow of the river. Society might want more water out ofthe Colorado in North America, or the Huang He in China, or the Jordan inthe Middle East, but the natural flow sets a limit. The Colorado River isentirely consumed by seven states in the United States and Mexico, and inall but extremely wet periods, no water reaches the river’s mouth anymore.That is “peak renewable water,” and for numerous watersheds around theworld, those limits are now being reached. Of course, while the literal limitis the full flow of a river, the appropriate practical limit must be far belowthis to protect natural ecosystems.Peak nonrenewable water constraints apply to groundwater systemswhere extraction rates substantially exceed recharge rates. Like oil, this“fossil” groundwater is nonrenewable on any time scale useful to humans.Current estimates are that as much as 40 percent of all groundwater useglobally is unsustainable overdraft. Over time, overpumping groundwaterleads to falling water levels, a rise in pumping costs, and ultimately a peakand then decline in production, similar to traditional peak-oil curves.The third concept—peak ecological water—is the idea that everymeasure of water taken from a natural ecosystem has either a societal oreconomic benefit, depending on what it is used for, and a cost to the
ecology of the river or watershed. Water sustains human life andcommercial and industrial activity, but it is also fundamental for thesurvival of animals, birds, plants, and fisheries. Every water-supply projectthat extracts water for human use decreases how much is left to supportecosystems, and at some point the cost of ecological disruptions anddamage will eventually exceed the economic benefit of using that water.This is the point of peak ecological water. Economists are uncertain howbest to measure some of these costs in consistent ways, and in fact havelong ignored them entirely, but many regions of the world now appear to bereaching or even passing the point of peak ecological water.There is an important difference between water and fossil fuels: thereare many alternatives capable of providing the same benefits as fossil fuelsfor heat, electricity, and transportation. For water, however, there are nosubstitutes. This makes the problem of peak water far more difficult andurgent. When water becomes unavailable, there are few options: improvethe efficiency of water use, buy goods and services from regions wheremore water is available (a concept known as “virtual water”), find newsources of water, or stop producing whatever benefit that water provided.Why can’t we simply put water in tankers, like oil companies do withoil, and ship it from water-rich areas to water-poor ones or build ever-longerpipelines to bring water from, for example, the Mississippi River or theGreat Lakes to the arid western United States, or, best of all, just buildmassive desalination plants to tap the vast amount of saltwater in theoceans? The answer comes down to money, the environment, and politics.Oil is shipped around the world because it has a high economic valuecompared to the cost of transportation. A modern supertanker’s cargo of oilis worth more than $250 million, and transportation costs are comparativelynegligible. As a result, companies move oil all over the world from wherethey pump it to where it is used. But fill that same supertanker with water,and it has an economic value of at most a few hundred thousand dollars,iiwhile the cost of operating that supertanker is as much as a hundredthousand dollars a day or more. Moving water this way is simplyuneconomical. Similarly, pumping water in pipelines very far, especially ifit has to be pumped over mountains, or taking the salt out of seawater indesalination plants, is far more costly than some of the other solutions
available for addressing water scarcity.iii Local political and environmentalopposition to shipping water away from a community or from region toregion is also significant. The Great Lakes are shared by eight US states andtwo Canadian provinces,iv and a treaty prohibits diverting Great Lakeswater out of the basin without joint international agreement.5 Theoccasional suggestion that Great Lakes water be sent out of the basin isroutinely met with immediate and vociferous opposition and has beencalled the “third rail” of regional politics.6In what might be the clearest sign that the Second Age of Water iscoming to an end, there is growing evidence that more and more regions ofthe world are approaching, or even at, peak water limits. Major rivers inNorth America, China, and the Middle East have been completely allocatedand are consumed annually—an indication of peak renewable water.Groundwater basins around the world are overpumped way past their abilityto naturally recharge—an indication of peak nonrenewable water—and foodproduction in some of these places is already declining. Aquatic ecosystemseverywhere are suffering from overuse or contamination of water—anindication of peak ecological water.
FIGURE 25. Total gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States(in billions of 2020 dollars) and total water withdrawals (in cubickilometers per year), from 1900 to 2015. P. H. Gleick and H. Cooley,“Freshwater Scarcity,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources46 (2021): 319–348.There is strong evidence that the United States has already passed thepoint of peak water. The US population, economy, and total waterwithdrawals all grew exponentially, in lockstep, through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, but in the late 1970s the curves split apart.Population and the economy continued to grow, but water withdrawalsreached a peak, leveled off, and then actually began to fall—a remarkablechange from historical patterns throughout the centuries of the Second Ageof Water (Figure 25). The reasons for this dramatic change includetechnological improvements to the efficiency of water use, changes in thestructure of the US economy, the passage of water-quality laws that led toreductions in industrial water use and discharges, and physical, economic,and environmental constraints on access to new supplies.7 It’s possible thatwater-use trends could reverse again and start to climb, but the peak-waterconstraints that have contributed to the shift are still in place. We’re
unlikely to see an expansion in irrigated agriculture, especially in thewestern United States where pressures are already growing to reduceirrigated acreage to deal with overdraft of groundwater and declining riverflows. The large amount of water used for cooling traditional fossil-fuel andnuclear power plants is also decreasing as the country shifts away fromthese energy sources toward renewable alternatives, which use far lesswater per unit of energy produced. Industrial and residential water use isdeclining as appliances and factories become more efficient.All of these factors support the idea that peak-water constraints arepushing more and more regions to shift away from the Second Age ofWater to a new era. Recognizing peak-water limits is stimulating newthinking, new technologies, and new institutions toward a more sustainablewater future—the Third Age of Water. The path to that Third Age—what Icall the soft path for water—is increasingly clear and attractive. We justhave to see it and choose to take it.Footnotesi Ironically, the ultimate limit on our use of fossil fuels is not the amountthat is available, but the fact that burning them causes such severe andwidespread environmental problems that we cannot afford to burn them all.ii Even assuming a price equivalent to what industry and urban users pay forhigh-quality reliable municipal supplies.iii Perhaps the only exception to the economic limitations on moving waterlong distances is bottled water, which commands a premium far above thenormal cost of water, but even for bottled water, the energy cost of movingit long distances is very high, and shipping massive quantities of bottledwater around will not solve our problems. P. H. Gleick and H. S. Cooley,“Energy Implications of Bottled Water,” Environmental Research Letters 4(2009).iv Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania,Wisconsin, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
[ PART THREE ]THE THIRD AGE OF WATERNo darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars.—URSULA K. LE GUIN, THE FARTHEST SHORE
23A NEW WAY FORWARDImagining the future may be more important than analyzing the past.—C. K. PRAHALAD, ENTREPRENEUR, AUTHOR, AND TEACHERTHE SECOND AGE OF WATER IS COMING TO AN END, AND NOT a moment toosoon. The world as a whole must make a transition away from its currentunsustainable path and forge a new future—a sustainable Third Age ofWater—that tackles the adverse consequences that threaten to overwhelmthe positive technological and scientific advances of the past. Yes, humansare smarter, richer, healthier, and better educated, on average, than everbefore in history. But “on average” is misleading: as the old joke goes, youcan have your head in the refrigerator and your feet in the oven and have aperfectly reasonable average temperature. Focusing on “averages” hidesextremes and inequities and ignores potentially catastrophic trends.We have a clear choice. Society can continue to push along the SecondAge of Water’s “hard path”—the traditional approach to providing waterservices relying almost exclusively on physical infrastructure like dams,aqueducts, and centralized water-treatment plants, and on large institutionslike national and state agencies and urban water utilities—or it can shift towhat I have called the “soft path for water.”1 While the traditional hard pathhas produced important benefits like industrial goods and services,irrigation, hydropower, and improved human health, much of theinfrastructure it depends on is aging and will need to be maintained,upgraded, and retooled at increasing cost. Moreover, the hard path failed toprovide those benefits to everyone; it neglected especially impoverished ormarginalized communities, and it has relied on ecologically damaging,socially disruptive, and capital-intensive approaches that have failed to
consider the broader impacts and growing crises. Powerful vested interestsin the water sector continue to claim the traditional hard path is still the bestway to meet water needs and that we need only do more of what we’vealways done. But that approach has delivered dying ecosystems, rivers thatdo not reach the sea, and aquifers that are tapped out and cannot berestored. It has failed.A different way forward is possible, but it requires letting go of the core,misguided beliefs of traditional economists and water planners thatunlimited exponential growth is necessary for a strong and healthy society,that the demand for water must perpetually increase to satisfy risingpopulations and growing economies, and that tapping more rivers orgroundwater and extracting more water from the environment is the onlyway to satisfy inexorable increases in demand. Instead, we must meet needsfor water by maximizing the benefits society truly wants while minimizingthe amount of water required to produce those benefits. We must protect thehealth of critical ecological systems in their own right, but also assert thehuman right to water and deliver sustainable water services to all, notmerely to some. And governments, communities, and corporations mustwork together to maximize public goods, not private ones.The soft path for water has five key characteristics:First, we must recognize the human right to water and focus on meetingwater-related needs, rather than simply supplying water. Basic safe waterand sanitation services must be provided for all, not just for some.Guaranteeing and satisfying a human right to water is at the heart of thegoal of eliminating water-related diseases, reducing conflict over water,improving educational and economic opportunities for girls and women,and tackling the broader problems of poverty.Second, we must recognize the true value of water. Until societyacknowledges that the value of water is more than just the money generatedfrom using it and throwing it away, it will be difficult to pursue changes inpolicy and the behavior of individuals, corporations, and governments. Newconcepts and tools being developed in the fields of ecological economics,economic justice, social welfare, and related areas are shifting thinkingaway from the hard-path focus on consumption, resource extraction, short-term financial gain, and narrow concepts of monetary value toward abroader view that includes the value of ecological health, equality in the
distribution of basic goods and services, and the real but often ignored ordiscounted interests of future generations.Third, we must protect the health of ecosystems by guaranteeing thebasic water supply and quality needed to support the environment and byrestoring ecosystems damaged by ignorance and neglect in the Second Ageof Water. Water kept in natural waterways and wetlands isn’t wasted; it’svitally important to the survival of the planet and key to protecting humanactivities that depend on nature. Wetlands help control floods, purify water,and support fisheries and migrating birds. Protecting water resources andecosystem health also requires aggressively working to stop climatedisruption.Fourth, the soft path means maximizing social and individual well-beingfrom every drop of water used. This means shifting the focus away fromsimply using water and toward providing the benefits people want—such ashealth, food, clean clothes and homes, and other goods and services—asefficiently as possible. Hard-path planners continue to equate the idea ofusing less water, or failing to use much more water, with a loss of well-being. This is a dangerous fallacy. Society does not, or should not, have anideological preference for how much water, if any, is used to provide thesebenefits. By increasing the efficiency and productivity of water use, we canproduce more of what we want, with as little water or impact on theenvironment as possible.Fifth, the soft path expands the sources of water available by puttingtreated wastewater, gray water, or storm water to use.i These new sourcescan increase water availability without taking more water from nature. Wecan lower costs and avoid waste by treating the vast quantities ofwastewater now thrown away to match any quality needed for a particularuse. Richer countries flush toilets and water lawns and golf courses withcostly, high-quality water because that’s how traditional water systems weredesigned. This practice exaggerates the amount of water actually neededand inflates the overall cost of providing it.ii Higher-quality water should bereserved for those uses that require higher quality. Desalinating ocean orbrackish water can also provide an additional new source of water undercertain circumstances. Each of these alternatives creates new priorities forinvestment in water systems.
The soft path for water is a reality in some places, and it offers thepromise and hope of a positive, sustainable Third Age of Water. But there isa long way to go.Better technologies are an important tool in the transition. New water-monitoring and -distribution systems are already helping businesses andhomes use water more efficiently and manage it more effectively, reducingunnecessary demands. Smart irrigation systems are helping farmers growmore food with less water. Remote-sensing platforms on Earth and in spaceare improving understanding of the hydrologic and climate cycles,monitoring environmental health and water use, and providing advancewarnings about storms and extreme events. Advanced computer models areletting scientists test different paths for the future and helping to guidepolicy.Education and information are also vital. A sustainable, successful watersystem will require water professionals and the public be informed on newtechnologies; the value of ecosystems; the different roles of regulations,markets, and government; and how to effectively engage the public andpolicy makers. Smart choices will be made only when all the options forfixing water problems are known and understood. Education works. Publicinformation campaigns in Singapore and San Diego greatly increasedsupport for expanding the reuse of highly treated wastewater after initialopposition. Water-efficiency programs are helping businesses and homeowners use water more productively and save money. Farmers are usingbetter information from satellites, drones, soil-moisture monitors, and real-time weather forecasting to irrigate crops more carefully and accurately,which both reduces water use and improves crop yields and quality. Newsocial media and communications platforms provide new ways to informthe public and persuade policy makers to act. Sharing stories aboutsuccessful efforts to clean up rivers and lakes and remove dams encouragesother communities to act to protect the environment.Regulatory tools are important, including efficiency standards for water-using appliances and home construction, policies to encourage waterconservation, laws to protect drinking-water quality, restrictions ongroundwater overdraft, and protections for the environment. The applianceefficiency standards set by individual states and eventually adoptednationwide in the United States have contributed to dramatic reductions in
residential per-person water use. National laws to regulate watercontaminants have been effective tools for reducing industrial pollution andwater use and ensuring safe drinking water. Species and environmentalprotection laws have been instrumental in beginning the process ofprotecting and restoring threatened aquatic ecosystems.New priorities and strategies for water management are also needed.One of the lessons learned over decades of effort by organizations seekingto bring water services to communities without safe water or sanitation isthat the most successful projects use cooperative planning approacheswhere the community itself defines what they need and how projects shouldbe built, managed, and owned. This will require new thinking and,sometimes, new institutions. Nelson Mandela, while trying to reform SouthAfrica’s old apartheid-era water agencies, said, “It is one thing to find faultwith an existing system. It is another thing altogether, a more difficult task,to replace it with another approach that is better.”2Economics also has a role to play. Water agencies are starting torecognize that alternative water strategies, such as investments indecentralized solutions, can be just as—or even more—cost-effective asinvestments in traditional large, centralized infrastructure. They are learningthat investing early in maintaining and upgrading water systems is cheaperthan fixing failures later. Innovative rate structures can improve theeconomic health of water utilities while encouraging more efficient wateruse by customers. In some places, water markets can offer more flexibleand efficient solutions to scarcity where traditional water-rights systemshave failed. Rebates for water-saving devices or practices can encourageconsumers to replace old, wasteful appliances or swap out water-hungrylawns for drought-resistant gardens. Assigning economic values toecosystems can protect them. Integrated planning and policy across energy-,water-, and land-use planning agencies allows social benefits to be providedat a lower cost than when such agencies fail to work together. It turns out,for example, that some of the cheapest and fastest ways to save energy andcut greenhouse gas emissions are not energy-efficiency programs run byenergy utilities, but water-efficiency programs run by water utilities.In short, the industrial and social dynamics of these new approaches arevery different, the technical and environmental risks are far smaller, and the
dollars required are far fewer than continuing to follow the hard path tonowhere.iiiFootnotesi Gray water typically refers to lightly used water from homes that can becaptured and reused for other purposes like flushing toilets or outdoorlandscaping.ii Of course, eliminating lawns and golf courses in arid regions would alsogo a long way toward reducing pressures on scarce water resources.iii These advantages are also points my longtime friend Amory Lovins notedin his early groundbreaking work on the need for a similar soft-pathtransition for the energy sector. A. B. Lovins, Soft Energy Paths: Toward aDurable Peace (San Francisco: Friends of the Earth International;Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1977).
24MEET BASIC HUMAN NEEDSThe human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in humandignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.—UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS GENERALCOMMENT NO. 15, 2002AS THE SECOND AGE DRAWS TO A CLOSE, ACCESS TO FRESH water isincreasingly commercialized, commodified, and marketed, and even publicwater systems are available only to some communities. The rich, privileged,and powerful have consistent access to reliable and safe water, while thepoor or disadvantaged must still struggle for basic water services. Anytransition to a sustainable Third Age of Water must address these disparitiesand acknowledge access to water as a fundamental, ineluctable humanright.The global community defines human rights as rights inherent to all,independent of nationality, religion, race, sex, ethnicity, or any other factor,without discrimination. Such rights have been defined by increasinglyspecific international agreements over the past several centuries, includingpolitical, social, economic, and cultural rights; freedom from slavery andtorture; the right to life and liberty; freedom of opinion and speech; accessto employment, education, and an adequate standard of living; andprotection of physical and mental well-being. Yet despite the fact that wateris fundamental to human survival, until only a few years ago there was noformal acknowledgment or acceptance of the right to safe and affordablewater and sanitation in national laws or international conventions.That situation began to change when, after the fall of South Africa’sapartheid government in 1994, President Nelson Mandela asked Kader
Asmal to join his new cabinet as minister of water affairs and forestry.Asmal was a human rights lawyer and an early member of South Africanantiapartheid coalitions and had been living in exile in Ireland for manyyears. He wasn’t a water expert, per se, but he was deeply committed toequity and justice, especially in the long-neglected townships, and he was toplay a major role in crafting the final language about water in what was tobecome the new South African Constitution and the new National WaterLaw. In 1996 Minister Asmal invited my colleague Larry Farwell, an experton community water institutions, and me to talk with Mandela’s newgovernment about water resources, management, and human rights. Thatyear I had published a paper defining a basic water requirement for allhumans of fifty liters per person per day of safe water for drinking, cooking,cleaning, and sanitation—a concept the new government was considering intheir discussions.1Larry and I flew to South Africa and spent several weeks meeting withcommunity leaders in the townships, academic water experts from SouthAfrica’s universities, Minister Asmal and representatives of the newgovernment, managers from the major water utilities, and nonprofit groupsworking on ecological restoration in the region’s watersheds. Theatmosphere throughout the country was electric, supercharged withoptimism, excitement, and the promise of remaking the country after acentury of oppression, discrimination, and subjugation of the majorityBlack communities. We sat in on a major conference in the coastal town ofEast London in Eastern Cape province in mid-October that developed a setof innovative new legal tools and principles for addressing long-standinginequities in the management and use of water. While there we met withlegal scholars who would successfully rewrite the country’s constitution toinclude the official acknowledgment in a new Bill of Rights that “everyonehas the right to have access to sufficient food and water”i—the first nationalconstitution anywhere to include such rights. Asmal’s efforts also led, in1998, to passage of a new National Water Act that included radical newwater concepts: a right to water for all South Africans, formal allocations ofwater for aquatic ecosystems, the principle of cooperation with neighboringcountries over shared watersheds, and calls for cooperative managementwith communities and people at their heart.2 In recognition of these
advances, Asmal received the Stockholm Water Prize—the world’spreeminent award for water—in 2000.Today, South Africa still struggles with water challenges, including therisk of extreme droughts and floods, inequitable water use, and inconsistentaccess to safe water and sanitation, but the country has made vastimprovements from the days of apartheid. The Mandela governmentshowed that asserting a formal human right to water can be both adeclarative statement about what’s right and just and an aspirational goal towork toward. It is also one of the core organizing principles of the ThirdAge of Water.The history of human rights goes far back in time and reflects evolvingmorals, ethics, biases, and cultural beliefs. In ancient Mesopotamia,proclamations and treaties addressed basic rights and privileges for specificgroups, typically only free men, while denying those rights to others, suchas women or slaves. In early Greece, free citizens were given the right tospeak and vote. The Magna Carta, an English constitutional documentwritten in 1215, set out rights against unlawful imprisonment, clarifieddisputed rights of English kings and their subjects, and influencedsubsequent declarations such as the 1689 English Bill of Rights, the 1789French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the 1789 USConstitution and subsequent Bill of Rights. Early writers and philosophers,including John Locke, promoted the idea that humans were all created equaland had “natural rights” that superseded any rights that governmentsprovided, including the right to “life, health, liberty, or possessions,” as wellas to religious freedom and expression.3The concept of broad and inalienable human rights continued to evolvethrough the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but took on greatersignificance following World War II, when, in 1948, the UN GeneralAssembly debated and ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.The UDHR is accepted worldwide as the heart of modern internationalhuman rights and enumerated for the first time an integrated set offundamental political and civil rights to be universally protected. Access towater and sanitation—or food, health, education, and many other basichuman necessities—weren’t included in the UDHR, but by the 1960s and
1970s, these economic, social, and cultural rights started to beacknowledged and protected as well.As the water crisis rose on the development agenda, there wereincreasing calls for the global community to add access to safe andadequate water to the list of protected human rights. In 1977, at the Mar delPlata international water conference, the water community issued abreakthrough statement explicitly elaborating the human right to adequate,safe drinking water: “All peoples, whatever their stage of development andtheir social and economic conditions, have the right to have access todrinking water in quantities and of a quality equal to their basic needs.”4In 1986 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rightto Development,5 which urged nations to take all necessary measures toprotect the right to development and equality of opportunity in access to“basic resources,” including water. In 1992 Stephen McCaffrey, lawprofessor at the University of the Pacific and a member of the UNInternational Law Commission, wrote a groundbreaking paper exploring thedomestic and international implications of a human right to water.6 In 1998I published the first comprehensive paper calling for formalacknowledgment of a global human right to water based on a legal analysisof human rights laws. In it I wrote:Access to a basic water requirement is a fundamental human rightimplicitly and explicitly supported by international law, declarations,and State practice. Governments, international aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local communities should work toprovide all humans with a basic water requirement and to guaranteethat water as a human right. By acknowledging a human right to waterand expressing the willingness to meet this right for those currentlydeprived of it, the water community would have a useful tool foraddressing one of the most fundamental failures of 20th centurydevelopment.7By the close of the twentieth century, the issue was on the agenda of allmajor water conferences, including the Second World Water Conference inThe Hague in 2000 and the International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn
in 2001. But progress was slow: at each of these meetings, a few influentialgovernment delegations, including the United States, either ignored oractively opposed any explicit declaration of a right to water.ii Part of theresistance was based on the reluctance of some countries to expand human-rights protections beyond narrow political and civil rights to broader social,cultural, and economic rights. Part of it was based on concern that declaringsuch a right would shine a spotlight on their failure to satisfy such a rightwithin their own countries. And part of the resistance was based on thetension between the idea of a basic human right to water and the push toturn everything into a monetizable commodity. The concept of the humanright to water is at odds with the idea of water as something to be sold orwater services to be provided at a cost by a utility.Despite opposition, pressure in favor of the right to water grew. In 2002the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights approved“General Comment 15,” a groundbreaking acknowledgment that a humanright to water was part and parcel of other accepted human rights:The right to water clearly falls within the category of guaranteesessential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly sinceit is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival.… The right towater is also inextricably related to the right to the highest attainablestandard of health and the rights to adequate housing and adequatefood.… States parties have to adopt effective measures to realize,without discrimination, the right to water, as set out in this generalcomment.8In 2003 the Vatican published a message stating: “There is a growingmovement to formally adopt a human right to water. The dignity of thehuman person mandates its acknowledgment.… The right to water is thusan inalienable right.”In September 2003, the European Parliament declared that “access todrinking water is a basic human right,” and the European Council onEnvironmental Law passed a resolution in January 2004 stating that “accessto drinking water and sanitation is a fundamental right of the individual.The implementation of this right shall be ensured by law.”9
Governments, nongovernmental organizations, communities, andindividuals began to follow suit. Following the lead of South Africa, somecountries began to acknowledge the right to water in their nationalconstitutions.10 In 2003 the Supreme Court of India ruled, “The right toaccess to clean drinking water is fundamental to life and there is a duty onthe state under Article 21 [of the Indian Constitution] to provide cleandrinking water to its citizens.”11 The 2010 Kenyan Constitution states:“Every person has the right… to reasonable standards of sanitation; and toclean and safe water in adequate quantities.”Finally, in July 2010, the UN General Assembly approved Resolution64/292, recognizing the human right to water and sanitation, andacknowledging that these are essential to the realization of all other humanrights: “The General Assembly… Acknowledging the importance ofequitable access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as anintegral component of the realization of all human rights… Recognizes theright to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that isessential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”12Shortly thereafter, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted acomparable resolution, affirming that “the human right to safe drinkingwater and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard ofliving and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standardof physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and humandignity,” and that “States have the primary responsibility to ensure the fullrealization of all human rights, and that the delegation of the delivery ofsafe drinking water and/or sanitation services to a third party does notexempt the State from its human rights obligations.”13Declaring water a human right does not require that water be providedfree. It is reasonable to require that water providers recover the costs ofproviding safe water and water services to ensure that water services aresustainable and can be improved over time. Evidence also shows that evenextremely poor communities are willing to pay for reliable, safe water,14and in fact they typically pay far more as a fraction of their income forwater services than do the wealthy. The human right to water does,however, require that countries and water providers cannot deny access to
basic water services to those who are unable to pay for it and that allcountries have a responsibility to move progressively and systematically toprovide services to those who lack it.The declarations by the United Nations in 2010 are not the end of thestory—by itself such resolutions are not binding. The UN formallyrecognized a human right to food in 1966 in Articles 11.1 and 11.2 of theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,iii yethundreds of millions of people, mostly children, still go to bed hungrytoday, unsure of where their next meal will come from. But suchdeclarations are effective tools for pressuring nations to acknowledge thehuman right to water and to act to satisfy that right, and the UN actions alsoidentify a set of core obligations on the part of nations. These includeensuring access to a minimum amount of water necessary for personal anddomestic use to prevent disease and to deliver water and water facilities ona nondiscriminatory basis to all groups. The UN resolutions also urgednations—especially the wealthier nations—to act to provide internationalfinancial and technical assistance to help developing countries fulfill theseobligations.More and more countries are acting to acknowledge the human right towater and sanitation in their constitutions, laws, or policies. By 2015 morethan fifty countries, with a total population of some 4.5 billion people, hadformally acknowledged some form of this right.15 Even states and localcommunities are acting. In 2012 the state of California passed a billrecognizing that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable,and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, andsanitary purposes,”16 and it is providing enhanced funding to support safewater services in communities that currently lack them.Declaring a human right to water, alone, will not magically solve thelong-standing failure of governments to meet these basic needs. Indeed,more than a decade has gone by since the 2010 UN declarations, andhundreds of millions of people still lack access to safe affordable water andbillions still lack access to adequate sanitation. But recognizing thefundamental right to water is an important step on the long road to apositive Third Age of Water, and providing basic safe water and sanitationservices for all must continue to be a focus of government policies,
development priorities, and world aid organizations and funds. Anothervital step is changing the way water—and the benefits a healthy watersystem provides—are valued. This requires new thinking about economicsand how we define, quantify, and integrate ecological values into policy andpractice.Footnotesi Bill of Rights, Constitution of South Africa, Section 27(1)(b).ii I served as a scientific adviser to the official US delegation to the 2000Hague conference and watched in frustration and dismay as they explicitlyremoved calls for a human right to water from the ministerial conferencestatement despite my objections and strong calls from conferenceparticipants to acknowledge this right.iii The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and CulturalRights acknowledges “the right of everyone to an adequate standard ofliving for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing andhousing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions,” andstates that urgent steps may be needed to ensure “the fundamental right tofreedom from hunger and malnutrition.” United Nations, “InternationalCovenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (UN Office of the HighCommissioner for Human Rights, 1966).
25RECOGNIZE THE TRUE VALUE OF WATERNowadays people know the price of everything and the value ofnothing.—OSCAR WILDE, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAYMANY OF THE FAILURES OF THE SECOND AGE OF WATER stemmed from theview that water is an inexhaustible resource and from the failure tounderstand its true value. These failures have been, for the most part,unintentional—the result of ignorance about the functioning of naturalecosystems and the narrow way society thinks about money and economics.Traditional economists are very good at assigning dollar values to a big damor the goods and services produced by stripping water out of naturalecosystems, but they have long ignored the comparable values ofmaintaining ecological health and biodiversity, avoiding conflict over water,or reducing poverty.Over the course of the Second Age of Water, traditional economics andprofessional economists developed metrics that assessed different forms ofwealth, including manufactured capital, inputs of labor and materials, andthe value of extracted resources. But these metrics have excluded things forwhich there are no markets, like ecosystem services, pollution, greenhousegases, and the depletion of natural resources. Some economists recentlyhave tried to account for these increasingly important factors. ElinorOstrom, a Nobel laureate, did groundbreaking work elaborating the role andfunctioning of institutions, management, and governance around commonproperty resources, including water. She explored why some water bodiesare more polluted than others, why some farmers use more efficientirrigation systems, and how to avoid overexploitation of shared water
systems.1 But there are numerous areas where economists, even thosefocused on environmental and resource economics, still face greatdifficulties in quantifying values for things such as ecosystem services,large-scale toxification from understudied pollutants, resource exhaustion,and the consequences of truly extreme events like climate change andnuclear war.2When the environmental movements of the 1960s and 1970s startedasking if society was properly evaluating whether to pursue large,environmentally destructive water projects, the response of governmentswas to require “cost-benefit” analyses that were supposed to facilitate adirect economic comparison of the advantages provided by a big project,like a major dam, with the costs those projects would impose. This effortwas a failure for several reasons, but primarily because while economistsand accountants could tally up the value of hydroelectricity, floodprotection, or the recreational benefits of a dam, they did not put dollarestimates on the loss of free-flowing rivers, dislocated communities,flooded sacred sites of indigenous peoples, impacts on future generations,and the extinction of species. Only the actual water (or power or food)extracted from the environment and put to some industrial or commercialuse had any quantifiable value.In traditional economics, if farmers overdraft fossil groundwater and useit to grow crops, those crops have a measurable value, but local wells,streams, prairie wetlands, and other ecosystems dried up by fallinggroundwater levels have none. If water agencies take all the renewable flowof a river and use it for agriculture and growing cities, or build dams on allthe rivers for power, an economist can assign values to that water orelectricity, but the account books discount or ignore the death of the river’sdelta, the extinction of plants and animals along the river, and disruptions toriverine and ocean fisheries. Fill in wetlands and marshes for commercialand residential development, and real-estate agents can tell you what theproperty is worth, but they assign zero value to the migratory birds that willdie because their feeding grounds are lost. Repairing our relationship to theenvironment requires that we eliminate these blind spots in traditionaleconomics and begin to define, quantify, and integrate human and
ecological values into economic thinking. This is the goal of the nascentfield of ecological economics.Over the past few decades, forward-thinking economists have tried todevelop new concepts and tools for defining and quantifying the value ofecological goods and services. In early 2021, Sir Partha Dasgupta ofCambridge University organized and published the most comprehensiveassessment of the economics of biodiversity—a multiyear effort of many ofthe world’s leading ecologists and economists.3 That report defines six keyvalues to biodiversity long ignored or underrepresented by traditionaleconomics, values that must be considered if there is to be any hope ofslowing the destruction of the planet.The first is the value of human existence, acknowledging that the failureto meet basic human needs and the destruction of ecosystems andbiodiversity also threaten the loss of life through toxic water pollution,floods, increased exposure to extreme weather, and water-related diseases.The second is the value of human health and accounting for the costsimposed by increased pollution, pandemics, millions of cases of water-related diseases, the loss of the plants and animals from which manymedicines come, as well as the mental health costs of the loss of wildernessand nature.The third is the environment’s amenity value, including the enjoymentgained from being in nature—what many are willing to spend on hiking,camping, birding, fishing, whale watching, or ecotourism. A 2011 surveyby the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there were 47 million birdersin the US, 18 million of whom take active trips away from home and all ofwhom spend money—an estimated $40 billion a year just on birding tripsand equipment4—but even this kind of monetary estimate assigns no valueto the actual enjoyment of seeing nature in the wild, or even the backyard.The fourth is “use value,” a measure of the goods and services like cleanair and water provided by the natural functioning of ecosystems. Traditionaleconomists can estimate what it will cost to build a wastewater-treatmentplant to restore the quality of contaminated water, but they typically ignorethe value of natural ecosystems that provide the same service.The fifth value is unrelated to any expected use of a species orecosystem, but simply the very fact it exists: what is called existence value.
Pushing a species or ecosystem to the brink of extinction, or wiping it out,has no economic cost in traditional evaluations. But something of real valueis being lost.Finally, Dasgupta and his colleagues describe nature’s intrinsic value—the idea that nature has a sacred or moral value whether humans recognizeor measure it.5 As the hidden costs of past practices have become more andmore apparent, society can no longer claim it is ignorant of the connectionsbetween withdrawals or contamination of water and the impacts on the pooror the environment, and can no longer claim ecosystems don’t matter or thathuman health is unrelated to the health of the environment. The Third Ageof Water requires acknowledging and measuring these values and weighingthem against actions and projects that destroy them. That, in turn, will leadto a rebalancing of human and ecological water uses.We have to assign traditional economic values to these nontraditionalgoods and services. For example, if one can determine what individuals orcommunities are willing to pay to improve services they already receive, oreven to protect previously unvalued ecosystems or endangered species, onecan apply a value to preserving them. These expressions of a “willingnessto pay” are influenced by numerous factors, including the ethical beliefs ofthe individual. An early study evaluating the willingness of the Americanpublic to pay for improving water quality to swimmable, fishable, andboatable standards concluded the public would be willing to pay $40 to $50billion a year (in 1990 dollars) for those improvements.6 A recentassessment of residents in southern China found they were willing to paynearly twice their current water bills for improvements in water quality andthe reliability of water services.7 Hundreds of studies have now been donearound the world evaluating the willingness of different communities to payfor improved water services and reliability, higher water quality, and otherbenefits, and this tool is providing important information for policy makerstrying to set and support budgets for the water sector and for utilities settingrates to cover water infrastructure investments.Economists are also starting to apply “contingent valuation methods” toput numbers on ecosystem and environmental services that have nottraditionally been valued or priced. This approach involves surveys to elicitwhat people might be willing to pay for environmental services that have
previously been provided for free and is based on what people say theywould do. Contingent value methods are used to evaluate the economicbenefits of improving air and water quality, reducing contamination ofwater, protecting and conserving wetlands and endangered species,providing basic drinking water and sanitation services, and even the optionof protecting the ability of future generations to visit protected lands, orwatch birds, or catch fish. The results and interpretation of contingent valuestudies, however, remain controversial, and integrating them into actualbudgetary or investment decisions has been slow.8The most comprehensive assessments of the value of ecosystem servicesadvance the principle that human wealth, well-being, and societalsustainability rely on natural assets and natural capital and that ecosystemservices are the benefits that people derive from the existence andfunctioning of ecosystems.i While acknowledging the fundamentaldifficulties in tracing the complex links among different ecosystem servicesand then quantifying the benefits they provide in traditional monetaryterms, ecological economists have estimated the annual value of all globalecosystem services in 2011 at $125 trillion (in 2007 dollars), far more thanthe value of the traditional global economy. Of this, the value of wetlands,lakes, and rivers was $29 trillion a year. By comparison, total annual globalgross domestic product was around $75 trillion.9 Equally important,however, was their estimate that global land-use changes from 1997 to 2011resulted in a loss of between $4.3 and $20.2 trillion per year, with as muchas half of this loss due to the loss of wetlands.10 Almost none of theseservices are traded or accounted for in any traditional economic market, andas a result their value continues to be misunderstood or ignored in decisionsby governments, developers, and the public.This new thinking is slowly transforming how societies andgovernments appreciate and value water. Many estimates have been madeof the cost of meeting universal human needs for water and sanitation, butfew of these estimates include the many benefits of doing so. For example,delivering a higher level of safely managed water services to those currentlyunserved would cost around $114 billion per year, three times the historicallevel of investment.11 But when that cost is compared with the benefits of
doing so (or the costs of failing to do so), it becomes crystal clear that thebenefits vastly outweigh the costs.ii Among the biggest improvementswould be gains in health and a reduction in water-related disease, betterworkplace productivity, and greatly expanded educational and businessopportunities for girls and young women previously forced to spend theirlives collecting water. The World Health Organization estimates that every$1 invested in water and sanitation actually returns more than $4 in benefitsand that such investments would significantly boost the global economy.12A report released in July 2022 by DigDeep concluded that the failure toprovide millions of Americans with running water and working toilets intheir homes costs the US economy more than $8.5 billion a year, but thatevery $1 spent fixing this problem returned nearly $5 in benefits in the formof improved health, better work opportunities, and improved economicproductivity.13The Third Age of Water requires that we no longer turn a blind eye tothe true value of water in all its forms and functions so that we can makeinformed decisions about water management and use. When we recognizethe true value of water, a whole new way of thinking—and doing—emerges, and water and ecosystems become resources to protect, conserve,and even restore, rather than pollute, consume, and destroy. One result is agrowing number of innovative efforts now under way to restore theenvironment, another principle at the heart of the soft path for water and theThird Age of Water.Footnotesi See especially the work of ecologists and economists like NicholasGeorgescu-Roegen, Herman Daly, Gretchen Daily, and Robert Costanza.ii I would note that even this level of investment is modest and well withinthe capability of the international community.
26PROTECT AND RESTORETo keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligenttinkering.—ALDO LEOPOLDA KEY STEP IN THE TRANSITION TO A SUSTAINABLE THIRD AGE of Water is torebalance human and ecological water uses, protect the water that supportsecosystems, and help these systems recover from the relentless assaults thatwere a consequence of the Second Age. We can no longer claim we’reignorant of the connections between the use of water and the consequencesfor the environment, and we can no longer scientifically or economicallyclaim ecosystems don’t matter or that our own health is unrelated to thehealth of the environment.The trends are still in the wrong direction. A recent assessmentconcluded that more than half the world’s rivers, whose watersheds covermore than 40 percent of the surface area of the planet, have suffered heavylosses of biodiversity, species richness, and ecosystem functioning andstability.1 Yet out-of-touch water planners and politicians are still trying tobuild even more dams and find the next source of water to suck dry orpollute. China continues to build massive dams on rivers in Asia and Africawith little apparent interest or concern about the impacts on those rivers orlocal communities. Old-school water planners in the western United Statesstill believe building more dams, or tapping water from ever-more distantrivers, will once and for all solve water challenges despite the fact thatthere’s no new water to be had.But there is also a rival movement to restore rivers and wetlands andheal the environment, and efforts to manage and reverse the past
consequences of old water policies are slowly picking up speed. The firstphase in these efforts was to cut down on industrial and human waterpollution through regulations focused on pollution discharges. Well-publicized disasters, and the public response to them, led governments toimpose or strengthen water-quality protections, and by the 1980s and ’90smany nations were adopting water-pollution laws.The second phase was the realization that natural ecosystems depend asmuch on the quantity and timing of water as on water quality. This has ledto growing efforts to define and protect minimum flows needed to maintainthe ecological health and functioning of rivers and wetlands, or even grantexplicit “rights” to the environment.2 In the United States, 20,000kilometers of relatively pristine rivers and streams have been protected bythe federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and similar state laws.i Large waterprojects are starting to be required to provide negotiated minimum flows tomaintain downstream river habitats. In December 2020, China passed theYangtze River Protection Law with standards for water quality andecological flows, limits on the discharge of pollutants, guidelines forenvironmental restoration and water-resources conservation, protections ofbiodiversity, and policies for disaster prevention and mitigation.3 Slovenia,Finland, and Sweden have explicit laws protecting specific rivers, and theEuropean Union’s Water Framework Directive has provisions that couldform the basis for comprehensive river-protection rules. A 2017 act ofparliament in New Zealand, in a settlement with the Māori people,recognized the Whanganui River as an independent entity and appointedguardians to act and speak on its behalf. In Canada in 2021, the MagpieRiver was granted legal “personhood” for the first time and given nineexplicit rights, including the right to flow, be safe from pollution, and evensue for its own protection. These kinds of laws begin the necessary processof preserving and protecting the natural, cultural, and recreational values ofwater.4The third phase of reversing the damage of the past involves nascentefforts to begin the process of ecosystem restoration to repair decades oreven centuries of harm. Efforts by the academic community andenvironmental advocates are broadening the field of ecological restoration,
including projects to restore wetlands and remove some of the mostdamaging dams that have degraded free-flowing rivers and fisheries. Theseactions set the stage for what must become permanent protections andimprovements for aquatic ecosystems during the Third Age of Water.Tens of thousands of large dams and reservoirs around the worldgenerate hydropower, store water in wet periods for use in dry ones, reduceflood risks, and provide recreational opportunities. They also kill free-flowing rivers, devastate anadromous and native fish populations, preventnutrients and sediments from replenishing ecologically important riverdeltas, and dislocate local communities. At least 80 million people have hadtheir homes flooded out by the vast reservoirs created by dams, 15 millionin China alone, and these projects often leave displaced communities moreimpoverished and marginalized.5Over time, dams can silt up with the natural sediment of a river andbecome old, unsafe, and uneconomic. As the adverse impacts of dams haveslowly been recognized, and as the field of ecological economics has begunto put a value on previously ignored ecological goods and services, it isnow understood that the true costs of some dams greatly exceed theirbenefits. This in turn has led to a new field of engineering and practicalenvironmental science—dam removal.Over the past couple of decades, largely in the United States, butincreasingly elsewhere around the world, dams have been decommissionedand sometimes completely removed. Most of the dams that have comedown have been old, small, dangerous, and uneconomic, but even thesemodest efforts have helped restore segments of free-flowing rivers,revitalize fish populations, and enhance environmental values. According toAmerican Rivers, an organization devoted to protecting river systems, 1,951dams have been removed in the United States between 1912 and 2021,including 57 dams removed in 2021.6The largest intentional dam-removal project in the world to date was thedeconstruction of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha Riveron the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington.ii The Elwha Riverruns from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is one ofthe few rivers in the Pacific Northwest that originally hosted all five speciesof North American Pacific salmon (pink, sockeye, coho, chum, and
chinook) as well as spawning runs of native steelhead, cutthroat, and bulltrout. Salmon hatch in freshwater rivers and migrate to the oceans to feedand mature before returning to their birth rivers to reproduce. Healthysalmon runs are a sign of healthy rivers and Elwha’s fisheries were a vitalsource of food for the Klallam native peoples and local communities.NOAA Fisheries, the US agency responsible for monitoring and protectingsalmon and steelhead, has listed twenty-eight different fish populations inrivers on the West Coast as threatened or endangered under the federalEndangered Species Act, including three threatened with extinction in theElwha River alone: the Puget Sound chinook salmon, steelhead, and bulltrout.7Elwha Dam was built in 1913; Glines Canyon Dam was completed in1926. Both were built solely for the purpose of generating hydropower forthe area’s towns and lumber mills, but their construction severely damagedthe river’s health. The Elwha Dam was thirty-three meters high; GlinesCanyon Dam was even larger, at sixty-four meters high. Beforeconstruction of these dams, an estimated 400,000 salmon swam up theElwha from the ocean to spawn, but the dams cut off the upper hundredkilometers of river and devastated the fish populations. By the beginning ofthe twenty-first century, fewer than 4,000 salmon were spawning in the fewstretches of habitat remaining below the dams.Work to remove the dams began on September 17, 2011.iii Elwha Damwas gone half a year later, and the Glines Canyon Dam was removed in2014, freeing the river, uncovering sacred Native American sites that hadbeen flooded by the reservoirs created by the dams, and starting the processof ecological healing.8 I visited the Elwha Dam site in 2017 and was struckby how quickly the river was coming back to life. Traces of the dam canstill be seen on the banks of the river, but the Elwha has begun to take onthe characteristics of a wild, free-flowing river.Ecological destruction is fast; ecological restoration will take a longtime. For rivers, restoring a natural flow regime by removing the concretebarriers in the river is just a first step. Long-term restoration of any riversystem also requires guaranteeing minimum flows, managing sediment inthe river and its delta, restoring native plant species, and rebuilding fish,bird, and insect habitat. As a river slowly heals, scientists must monitor the
system and adjust strategies and policies over time. In the Elwha River,scientists have noted signs of recovery for steelhead and bull trout,increased migration upstream of the former dam sites for chinook and cohosalmon, and other improvements.9 Unexpectedly, another fish listed underthe Endangered Species Act has also reappeared after being missing fromthe Elwha system for more than sixty years: in 2015 scientists studying theriver delta found hundreds of spawning eulachon or candlefish, a small fishthat provides food for salmon and other marine animals.10 First Nationspeople called eulachon the “salvation” fish because its reappearance incoastal rivers in the spring could mean the difference between life and deathafter the harsh deprivations of Pacific Northwest winters.11Other countries are beginning to launch efforts to restore rivers. TheVezins and La Roche Qui Boit hydroelectric dams on the Sélune River inNormandy, France, were built in the early decades of the twentieth century,but by the end of the century their reservoirs had filled with sediment, theirability to produce hydroelectricity had dropped, and toxic cyanobacteriawould form in the hot summers, killing organisms in the river. Underpressure from the Water Framework Directive of the European Union, thedams were declared uneconomic and dangerous by the French governmentin 2012, and a plan was launched to dismantle them. By 2020 the two damshad been removed, opening up ninety kilometers of the river in an effort tobring back migratory salmon, eels, and other wildlife and to improve waterquality.12Dam removal and river restoration are even slowly gaining traction inChina, a country that has massively dammed, channelized, and dried up itsrivers and streams in its drive to industrialize and modernize. In a frenzy ofeconomic development and ecological destruction, China has built tens ofthousands of dams, from the world’s largest—the Three Gorges Dam on theYangtze River—to small dams on streams and creeks in every corner ofevery province and in countries around the world. Many of these dams werebuilt with poor or no environmental assessments or any systematicunderstanding of their long-term hydrological or environmental impacts,and the consequences have been devastating. Rivers have dried up, anduncounted species have been driven to the edge, or over the edge, of
extinction, including the famous Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle, Baijidolphin, giant Chinese paddlefish, and many others. Because of the hugesize of the Yangtze River and its extensive commercialization, pollution,and dam construction, the Yangtze has had more species become extinctthan any other river in the world.13 Acknowledging the problem, PresidentXi Jinping of China called for greater environmental protection after hevisited the Yangtze region in 2018 and initiated a national campaign toremove or improve 40,000 small hydro stations.14Just as water policies have damaged free-flowing rivers, much of theSecond Age of Water led to the destruction of wetlands and marshes. Theseecosystems provide vital habitat for breeding fish and migrating waterfowl,and they offer a wide range of global environmental benefits. Coastalwetlands such as mangroves can sequester carbon up to fifty-five timesfaster than tropical rainforests, while peatlands store 30 percent of all land-based carbon and help prevent both floods and droughts. But more than athird of global wetlands have been lost since 1970, and species that dependon these ecosystems are declining faster than any others.15It is hard to restore or re-create functioning ecosystems once they’vebeen destroyed. Wetland restoration efforts are often as much art as science,requiring re-creating the complex natural attributes and functions of water,soils, plants, insects, animals, and climate that together make a healthyecosystem. These efforts are complicated by the vast differences in types ofwetlands and the threats they face. Coastal and marine systems are affectedby pollution, sea-level rise, upstream water use, and outright destruction byfilling. Riverine and lake wetlands have been destroyed by dams, waterwithdrawals, pollution, and sediment loss. Marshes have been paved overand their water diverted to human uses.Like a medical intervention, the first step in any environmentalrestoration project is to stop the actions that are causing the damage in thefirst place. For wetlands, this means stopping the destruction by land-development projects, protecting vital water resources by guaranteeingaccess to the amount of water—with the appropriate quality—needed forecosystem health, and eliminating threats to the many species that wetlandssupport. Actual restoration is more difficult. Protected areas must be set upand water and land resources committed. Managing these areas also often
requires managing a complex set of pumps, water diversions, canals, andinstitutional and legal factors to ensure land is protected and water isdelivered in adequate quantities and at the right time of year. Pollutionlimits, and especially limits on water withdrawals, must be set andenforced. Ecological systems must be rebuilt, including species diversity,interactions, and functioning.Slowly, efforts are beginning to protect and restore wetlands. InCalifornia’s Central Valley, publicly and privately protected wetlandsconstitute about 83,000 hectares. Recent efforts in California to expandhabitat suitable for migrating waterfowl have included changingmanagement strategies on a couple of hundred thousand hectares ofprivately owned rice fields by altering crop varieties and developingharvesting strategies that support continued rice production while alsooffering better seasonal habitat for waterfowl. These rice fields provide onlyabout half the food value to birds of more natural wetlands, but they aresupporting a growing fraction of wintering waterfowl and offer an exampleof the potential for farmers and naturalists to cooperate to the benefit ofall.16 Unfortunately, in recent years, efforts to adapt rice fields to winterbird habitat have been hindered by drought and by the conversion of ricefields to planted orchards—which offer no benefits as waterfowl habitat—as farmers seek higher economic returns. A remaining challenge isestablishing a legal right to water for Central Valley wildlife refuges similarto rights long granted to farms and cities. The establishment of such waterrights continues to be stymied by political controversy and ideologicalbattles, and in many years even the modest amounts of water promised forthe environment are not delivered.Japan, a very densely populated nation with a high concentration ofpeople living in cities, a wet climate, and relatively short, steep rivers proneto flooding, has also launched a nascent wetlands restoration effort. Forcenturies, Japanese rivers and wetlands have been channelized, filled,diverted, straightened, and degraded in the name of economic progress andflood protection. Extensive floodplains around all of Japan’s urban centers,including in the Tone, Edo, Arakawa, and Naka Rivers around modernTokyo, were long ago converted into rice-paddy fields and urbanized land.Between 1868 and the start of the twenty-first century, Japan lost 60 percent
of its wetlands under the common philosophy of “build now, clean uplater.”The past few decades, however, have seen a change in public perceptionabout rivers and wetlands and a growing commitment to protect and restorethem. In 1990 the Japanese River Bureau, part of the Ministry of Land,Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, developed a program to conserve andrestore rivers and aquatic biodiversity. Although even today their focus ison traditional flood protection, dam construction, and sediment control, partof their work now addresses improving the quality of aquatic habitats andbiodiversity, reviving urban streams, and restoring rivers.17 From 1990 to2004, local and national agencies in Japan developed thousands of projectsto enhance riverine environments, and efforts are under way to restore somewet paddy fields to more natural conditions as one step toward improvedwetland health.18 Minimum flow requirements have been set on somerivers downstream of large dams, and restoration projects have beendeveloped for river floodplains and deltas, including the Itachi and ToneRivers and the Kushiro Mire, the largest remaining inland wetland in Japan,threatened by surrounding development pressures.19China has also recently begun to implement wetland restoration projects,including in the Sanjiangyuan (Three Rivers Source Region) innorthwestern China, home to the headwaters of the Yangtze, Huang He(Yellow), and Lancang (Mekong) Rivers. China has lost an estimated 53percent of its temperate coastal wetlands as well as vast areas of riverinehabitat.20 The central government has allocated nearly 10 billion yuan forwetland protection and restoration and established a national program forwetland parks, expanding overall wetland area by more than 200,000hectares between 2015 and 2020, increasing the area of lakes, andimproving water quality in rivers. In January 2021, a draft law on wetlandprotection with fines for wetland destruction and a requirement for at leastsome wetland restoration was presented to the National People’s Congressfor consideration.21These efforts to restore rivers and wetlands are modest, but they are astart. Other steps that must be taken include ending the filling of intertidalwetlands (especially in East Asia), protecting remaining forest and
grassland ecosystems from conversion to animal agriculture, enhancingspecies protections and reducing hunting of aquatic species, protecting keybird habitat and wetlands along migratory flyways, and ending the fillingand paving over of marshes, mangroves, and wetlands for urbandevelopment.This must be a pivotal lesson for the Third Age of Water: it is cheaper toprotect and maintain healthy ecosystems than it is to destroy them and thentry to restore them or suffer the consequences of failing to do so. As thatlesson has begun to sink in, efforts are intensifying to strengthen water-pollution laws, restore impaired rivers and wetlands, and constraindamaging development efforts, but the lesson also highlights the growingrealization that we must protect our water resources from the acceleratingthreat of climate change.Footnotesi The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 USC 1271–1287), Public Law 90-542(October 2, 1968). This is still less than 1 percent of the nation’s rivers.National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, “About the National Wild andScenic Rivers System” (2020), https://www.rivers.gov.ii As this book was going to press, an even larger dam-removal project—onthe Klamath River in Oregon and northern California—was approved andwill begin soon.iii In 1992 Congress passed the Elwha River Ecosystem and FisheriesRestoration Act, authorizing the removal of both dams and the restorationof the river and native fisheries.
27TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGEAfter all, what’s the use of having developed a science well enough tomake predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand aroundand wait for them to come true?—F. SHERWOOD ROLAND, PROFESSOR OF ATMOSPHERIC CHEMISTRY AND NOBEL LAUREATETHE WORLD IS FINALLY AWAKENING TO THE THREAT OF HUMAN-caused climatechange. Because water is at the heart of the climate system and also closelyconnected to how energy is produced and used, water problems must besolved in a way that simultaneously helps tackle climate change. There aretwo priorities: mitigate unmanageable climate risks by reducing theemissions of greenhouse gases, including those directly associated withwater systems; and adapt to those climate impacts that can no longer beavoided by strengthening the resilience of water infrastructure andinstitutions to climate extremes. Mitigate and adapt.Energy and water systems are tightly linked. It takes a tremendousamount of energy to collect, purify, deliver, use, and treat the water used inhomes, agriculture, and industries. Whenever that energy is produced byburning fossil fuels, it worsens climate disruption. In addition, many formsof energy production, especially power plants that burn fossil fuels, requirehuge amounts of water for cooling, putting pressure on water resources,especially in arid and drought-prone regions. It’s only in recent years thatresearchers have identified and explored these connections and producedthe first “energy footprint” of water systems and “water footprint” of energysystems. In California, for example, a remarkable 20 percent of annualstatewide electricity use, a third of non-power-plant natural gas
consumption, and billions of liters a year of diesel fuel are used by thewater sector, including the energy used in homes to heat water.1The simplest, fastest, and cheapest way to cut the energy needs of wateris to cut the amount of water used—the concept of improving water-useefficiency and productivity. But once as many of the inefficiencies aresqueezed out as possible, there are still ways to cut greenhouse gasemissions by improving the efficiency of pumps and treatment systems,replacing carbon-based fuels with renewable sources, balancinggroundwater extraction with recharge so that pumping needs don’tcontinually grow, and improving access to local water supplies in order tocut the distances water must be moved to meet human needs.The first step in any water system is obtaining the actual water needed—for example, by diverting it from rivers or lakes, pumping it fromgroundwater to the surface, or extracting it from seawater. Water must thenbe conveyed to a treatment plant for purification or directly to the point ofuse. Energy is required for each of these steps. The California State WaterProject, for example, which is responsible for transferring vast amounts ofwater from Northern California to distant farms and cities, is the singlelargest user of electricity in the state, in part because of the enormousenergy cost of pumping water over the Tehachapi Mountains to the majorcities of Southern California.The second step is purifying water to the standards needed before use,typically to potable “drinking water” standards, but occasionally to evenhigher standards for the pharmaceutical industry or for manufacturingsemiconductors. Water treatment requires combinations of filtering,purification, and sterilization, each step of which requires energy.Once water is treated and distributed, it is used for drinking, cooking,cleaning, growing food, and making all the goods and services a societydemands. Because so much water used is actually hot water, the energyused to heat water turns out to be the single largest contributor to the energyfootprint of the water system. To heat water, we burn wood or fossil fuelslike natural gas or propane or oil, or we use electric water heaters. Gaswater heaters, common in many places, are typically about 63 percentefficient, meaning more than a third of the energy in the fuel never heats thewater. Electric water heaters are often more than 90 percent efficient, so
shifting from gas to electric water heaters reduces emissions. Improvementsin water-use efficiency, especially improvements in appliances that use hotwater, like washing machines, dishwashers, showerheads, and certainindustrial uses, all reduce the energy footprint of water use and can cutgreenhouse gas emissions, as does eliminating fossil fuels from theelectricity mix to begin with. More and more regions are pushing toeliminate fossil fuels from their electricity generation. Germany has set agoal of achieving this by 2050 and is pushing to accelerate that to 2035.California, Hawaii, and Maine have all set a target of producing 100 percentof their electricity from noncarbon sources in the coming years.Finally, after water is used, it is often thrown away in the form ofwastewater. Energy is required to collect wastewater from users and move itto a wastewater treatment plant (assuming it is treated at all), and energy isrequired to treat the water to whatever standard is required by local lawsand regulations. Reusing that water saves having to find and treat newsources of water.Energy can be saved in every step. A recent study from the PacificInstitute shows that feasible and cost-effective water-conservation and -efficiency improvements could cut the total electricity and natural gas needsof California’s water system by 15 to 19 percent between 2015 and 2035,even with population growth. When combined with state efforts todecarbonize the overall electricity system, an efficient scenario of the futureresults in a dramatic decline of nearly 70 percent in greenhouse gasemissions from California’s water sector.2 These kinds of programs couldbe implemented worldwide, helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissionsand contributing to desperately needed efforts to slow and ultimately stopclimate changes.Unfortunately, even aggressive emissions reductions will take time toimplement. This means society must also deal with the consequences of theunavoidable climate changes already happening and in the pipeline fortomorrow by strengthening the resilience of vulnerable water systems. Thisis the “adaptation” side of the equation. The bad news is a lot must be doneto address the impacts of climate changes on both natural and built watersystems. The good news is that almost all of the smart strategies for asustainable Third Age of Water also build resilience to climate change.
Three key areas for adapting water systems to climate change areguaranteeing access to all for basic safe and affordable water and sanitation,protecting vulnerable communities from extreme hydrologic events, andensuring the continued health and function of natural ecosystems under newand changing conditions.The concept of water resilience has emerged in recent years in responseto both the growing threat of climate change and the realization that manypast efforts to solve water problems have failed over time because ofcomplex social, cultural, and economic factors. A water well put into anAfrican village by a well-meaning Western aid group may, a short timelater, no longer work because it cannot be repaired when it breaks down orbecause no effort was made to train and support a community group tomanage and maintain it. A wastewater-treatment plant built along the coastmay be vulnerable to rising seas and worsening coastal storms. A dam orlevee built to protect against expected droughts and floods may beoverwhelmed by extreme events worsened by climate change. This is wherethe concept of “resilience” becomes important. The Pacific Institute defineswater resilience as “the ability of water systems to function so that natureand people, including those on the frontlines and disproportionatelyimpacted, thrive under shocks, stresses, and change.”3 In the context ofclimate change, this means that water systems must be able to continue toprovide water services under a wider range of conditions than traditionallyexpected, they must be flexible enough to adapt to changes incircumstances and to accommodate and recover from disruptions, and theymust be just, equitable, and inclusive.No system, of any kind, can be built to withstand all disasters. Butclimate change is throwing into question all previous assumptions andwarning us that historical experience is no longer an adequate guide to thefuture. That’s why the Third Age of Water will have to include afundamental rethinking of what a truly resilient water system looks like inthe context of a changing climate. Rather than building higher and higherlevees to protect from flooding, communities will have to be rebuilt outsideof floodplains entirely. Rather than building coastal desalination orwastewater-treatment plants, smaller distributed treatment plants that canefficiently recycle and reuse local waters can be built in communities that
are less vulnerable to sea-level rise. Rather than continuing to plant water-intensive outdoor landscaping like turf, outdoor water use can besubstantially reduced by shifting to more attractive, environmentallyfriendly, water-efficient landscapes that are also less vulnerable to risingtemperatures and more extreme drought. These kinds of actions would helpsolve existing water problems, while also building the necessary resiliencefor a more climate-dangerous future.Protecting aquatic ecosystems from rising seas, higher temperatures, andchanging rainfall patterns may be the most difficult of the climate-adaptation challenges. Ecosystems evolve very slowly over time, and onlywhen they have the opportunity to do so. For example, billions of dollarshave gone into trying to protect and restore the heavily damaged FloridaEverglades—one of the most remarkable freshwater ecosystems on theplanet. Yet uncontrolled sea-level rise from climate change threatens towipe out the Everglades, along with much of coastal Florida. Millions ofhectares of wildlands have been protected around the world, but they arenow threatened with wildfire and changes in temperature and precipitationthat are driving species to extinction or forcing them to attempt to migrateto more favorable climates, movements that are often constrained by thelack of suitable contiguous habitat, encroaching urban and agriculturaldevelopment, and natural limits on the speed with which ecosystems canadapt.Humans can help. The first priority must be protecting as much of theremaining natural environment as possible, while ensuring that efforts torestore ecosystems are planned with climate change in mind. We can protectlarger areas of land in more diverse ecosystems than have been protected todate. This includes saving wetlands and marshes, breeding grounds for fish,and free-flowing rivers. We can provide contiguous corridors for migratingbirds, animals, and plants seeking more favorable climates. We canguarantee minimum water flows and water quality for all ecosystems, evenunder more extreme drought, and continue to remove the worst dams thatblock rivers, cut sediment flows to marshes and deltas, and raisedownstream water temperatures.The challenge of climate change adds further urgency to the need fornew thinking about how we use our water and ensuring that the new sourcesand systems are developed to provide secure supplies for everyone under
changing conditions. A key element of this is how to do more with thewater we already use by cutting waste and increasing the efficiency andproductivity of every drop of water, rather than seeking to extract morewater from nature.
28AVOID WASTEWaste not, want not.—MY MOTHERTHE FOCUS OF OUR CURRENT AGE HAS BEEN FINDING AND tapping new watersupplies. If populations were growing, it was assumed that more water mustbe found to satisfy their needs. If economies were expanding, it wasassumed that water demand would also grow, and more water must be takenfrom natural systems for human use. Always more, more, more. Whensupplies are abundant and ecosystems are resilient, this approach can work.But it can’t work forever.It’s time to rethink this reflex and to look at the other side of theequation: demand. A key to the Third Age of Water is finding ways tosatisfy demands by improving water-use efficiency, doing more with lesswater, cutting waste and unproductive use, and squeezing more benefit fromevery drop. Using water more carefully and efficiently isn’t the idea taughtin engineering and resource schools. It’s not the way city planners andwater managers think about the future. But once one starts thinking thisway, the old way of thinking suddenly seems not only antiquated, butdangerous.In the United States, unbeknownst to most people, even water experts,the link between an expanding economy and population and ever-increasingwater demand was broken decades ago. From 1900 to 1980, the grossdomestic product of the United States rose by a factor of fifteen, and totalwater withdrawals increased more than tenfold.i But remarkably, between1980 and 2015, while GDP nearly tripled again, total water withdrawalsactually declined (see Figure 25 in Chapter 22). On a per capita basis
between 1980 and 2015, water withdrawals have dropped almost 50percent, from around 7,200 liters per person per day to 3,800.ii A similarpattern can be seen in other industrialized countries, and even somedeveloping countries are decoupling total water use from population andeconomic growth.1With the exception of some truly basic needs like drinking, we don’thave to use water. We want certain benefits or goods or services, like cleanclothes and healthy bodies, food to eat, industrial products, art and culture,and the security and stability of strong communities. Water is currently usedin some form to produce all of these things, but we must now find ways toprovide them with as little water as possible, or, conversely, we mustincrease the water-use productivity of our wants and desires.Most people in the richer countries of the world have the luxury ofreliable access to safe sanitation in the form of a flush toilet. Even in theFirst Age of Water, running water was used to carry away human wastes,but bringing the technology indoors for the masses took until the middle ofthe Second Age of Water. A version of the now-standard indoor flush toiletwas first described in 1596 by the godson of Queen Elizabeth I, JohnHarington. He took the old traditional “throne of comfort” and added awater pipe and valve that let thirty liters of water flush away the wastes.iii Itwas such an improvement that the queen had one installed in the palace. Inthe nineteenth century, an inventor named Thomas Crapperiv produced oneof the first widely used flush toilets. In the industrialized world, the entirehuman waste-disposal system has now been built around this idea: takeperfectly potable fresh water, a lot of it, to flush human wastes from thetoilet to a septic tank or down the sewer to a centralized wastewater-treatment plant.It is hard to come up with a better way to contaminate a huge volume ofclean water quickly than the flush toilet. Understanding the concept ofefficiency is to understand what the true objective is: in this case, the safe,reliable, nonsmelly disposal of human wastes. If that objective can beachieved with less water, or, even better, no water, we’ve addressed twocore challenges of sustainable water use: how to reduce the magnitude of
human water demand and how to reduce the severity and extent of humanwater pollution.We’re already moving in the right direction. In the 1970s in the UnitedStates, the standard flush toilet with an unreliable metal float that openedand closed a water valve used at least 23 liters of water (6 gallons) everytime it was used—hardly any improvement over John Harington’s inventionfour centuries earlier. And those old toilets were terrible. They cloggedregularly, and they leaked incessantly. In the mid-1970s, the first toilets thatused 13 liters (3.5 gallons) per flush came on the market, though there waslittle demand for them, and they often performed poorly. Then, motivated inpart by severe drought in 1976 and 1977 and then again in the late 1980s,the state of California passed regulations requiring new toilets to meetstricter and stricter standards. Other states soon began setting comparablewater-efficiency standards. In 1988 Massachusetts became the first state torequire the use of efficient toilets in all new construction and remodeling,and a growing number of similar state laws stimulated the appliancemanufacturers to design low-flow toilets that worked well and to support asingle national water-conservation standard rather than try to produceappliances for many different state standards. In 1992 President George H.W. Bush signed the National Energy Policy Act,v mandating new toiletsmeet a federal standard of 6 liters (1.6 gallons) per flush for all newresidential and commercial construction.vi The act also included efficiencystandards for urinals, faucets, and showerheads, and these regulations havecontributed to a substantial drop in national water use as new houses havebeen built and old ones have been remodeled with new fixtures.Efforts to improve the efficiency of water-using appliances havecontinued. In 2006 the US Environmental Protection Administrationlaunched the national “WaterSense” program, defining performancestandards for a wide range of plumbing products. California has regularlytightened its own standards, first requiring that all toilets and urinals sold inthe state meet WaterSense standards and then, after another severe drought,requiring all toilets sold in the state to use no more than 4.8 liters per flushand setting tighter restrictions on showers, urinals, and faucets. Standardshave been set for other appliances as well. Older dishwashers use 35 to 60liters per load; new ones use fewer than 20. Front-loading washing
machines are slowly replacing the old top-loading machines, cutting bothwater and energy use in half or more. Fully implementing the currentefficiency standards for water-using appliances could cut total water use inCalifornia by literally hundreds of millions of liters a year, and the worldhas a lot of toilets, washing machines, and dishwashers. These watersavings not only free up water for other uses, but also cut water bills, reducewastewater flows, and reduce the energy needed to collect, treat, anddistribute water.2Savings are also possible in the commercial and industrial sectors,cutting the water required to produce the goods and services societyconsumes. In the United States before World War II, the process of makingsteel required a tremendous amount of water—nearly 200 tons of water forevery ton of steel. Today, the most efficient steel plants use fewer than 10,and sometimes fewer than 4, tons of water per ton of steel—a vastimprovement in water-use efficiency.3 The water requirements of aluminumare even lower, and as aluminum replaces steel for many products likeautomobiles, housing, and appliances, the overall water footprint ofmanufacturing has declined over time. In 2016 the World SemiconductorCouncil reported that from 2001 to 2015, the semiconductor industry hadreduced the water required to produce a square centimeter of silicon wafersby 49 percent and reduced the wastewater produced by 25 percent.4 Thedairy industry in the 1970s required between 3 and 6 liters of process waterto make a liter of milk; today, the most efficient dairies use less than 1 literof water per liter of milk.5And then there’s agriculture.In May 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the delegates ofthe International Conference on Water for Peace organized by the UnitedStates and the United Nations in Washington, DC, saying, “As much asanything, water holds the key to that simple question: water to drink; waterto grow the food we must eat; water to sustain industrial growth. Today,man is losing his race with the growing need that he has for water.”6A paper prepared for that conference by Robert Hagan, Clyde Houston,and Robert Burgy was titled “More Crop per Drop.” The authors arguedthat we need to learn how to use water in agriculture more efficiently, to
produce more food with every drop of water applied. The phrase then beganto appear regularly: in a May 1970 conference paper on desalination andwater use from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,7 a report the same yearfrom the Agricultural Institute of Canada,8 a 1973 periodical published inIndia, Farm and Factory, urging improved irrigation practices,9 a 1974Agricultural Research Institute publication from the National ResearchCouncil,10 and increasingly in other places. Sandra Postel in her 1999book, Pillar of Sand, noted, “Just as land productivity—the amount of cropsproduced per hectare of land—became the frontier to exploit during thelatter half of the twentieth century, so water productivity—getting morecrop per drop—is the agricultural frontier for the twenty-first century.”11By 2000 the phrase “More Crop per Drop” was in common use becauseit succinctly recognizes a universal truth: worsening pressures on waterresources make it urgent to grow more food with less water.From the earliest efforts to intentionally cultivate crops thousands ofyears ago by capturing and storing rainfall or digging simple ditches fromthe rivers of ancient Mesopotamia to flood nearby fields, much of thehuman manipulation of water has been for the purpose of growing food.Today as much as 80 percent of all the water humans take from nature goesto agriculture.One of the trends at the end of the Second Age of Water was thegrowing mismatch between rising populations, increasing demand for meatand fish protein, and a fixed, limited water supply. The UN Food andAgriculture Organization estimated that between 720 and 811 millionpeople faced hunger in 2020, lacking access to food, money to buy food, orother resources. For the first time in many years, world hunger is on therise.12 Hunger is the result of many factors, not all of them water related.The world already grows enough food to feed everyone, but a vast amountof grain is diverted to feed animals to produce meat. There are substantiallosses and unnecessary waste in the food system, from food that isn’tharvested and rots in the fields, to losses in processing plants and grocerystores, to overconsumption and waste in homes. In a sense, theseinefficiencies and losses are good news—they indicate that even today, wehave the potential to feed everyone on the planet a healthy diet. But
systemic inefficiencies and losses also represent a massive footprint ofwater taken from nature and used to produce food that doesn’t fill stomachs.The goal of improving “crop per drop” on the farm is to reduce theamount of water applied in ways that do not affect the production of the partof the plant eaten, in other words to increase the “water-use productivity” ofagriculture by getting as close to the minimum water use as possible, whilestill protecting the health of soils and the reliability of the food supply. Thewater required to grow a crop depends on the type of plant and soil, theclimatic conditions, and how farmers apply water to their fields. Theminimum amount of water required to grow a plant is typically referred toas the reference crop evapotranspiration or the potential evapotranspiration,but the amount of water actually used to grow crops always greatly exceedsthis minimum.The problem facing agriculture today is not the lack of land that can beirrigated, but the lack of water to irrigate it. Reliable water supplies areincreasingly scarce in South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan, whichalready use more than 40 percent of their renewable water resources; in theMiddle East and North Africa, which uses almost 60 percent of itsrenewable water; and in California and the Great Plains of the United Stateswhere surface water is disappearing and groundwater is overtapped. Pressedby increased competition for water from other sectors, policy-makers facehard decisions about either dramatically improving the efficiency ofagricultural water use or shifting away from local production to worldmarkets for food.13More food must be produced with less water if there is to be any hope oftransitioning to a more stable Third Age of Water with healthy ecosystemsand safe water and sanitation for all. Three strategies are key: First, reduceunproductive water losses—the use of water that never actually goes togrowing food. Second, improve crop yields to increase the amount of foodproduced for every unit of water applied. Third, change the kinds of cropsgrown and foods eaten to reduce the water footprint of diets.Water applied to fields to grow crops but never used by those crops is anunproductive loss if it cannot be recovered and reused. Unproductive waterlosses include water that evaporates into the air, leaches down below theroot layer, or runs off and is never recovered. Water badly contaminated by
agricultural chemicals so it can’t be reused is also an unproductive waterloss. Flood irrigation—the most common form of irrigation—involvessimply diverting water onto a field to cover it, and it is well-known to beless efficient than other irrigation methods because of these losses.14 Earlyirrigation systems—from the time of ancient Sumerians and farmers in theIndus Valley up until the middle of the twentieth century—relied almostentirely on flood irrigation, and it wasted vast amounts of water. Theseunproductive water losses can be reduced by switching from floodirrigation to precision sprinklers or drip, choosing crops that make betteruse of rainfall, reducing evaporation from soils by mulching or growingcover crops, leveling fields to reduce losses to runoff, and applying wateronly when and where it is needed by more precisely monitoring soil-moisture levels.More than 80 percent of the world’s rice is grown in Asia, and rice is awater-thirsty crop. Alone, it consumes a third of all water humans use.Fourth-fifths of rice production is so-called wet rice grown with floodirrigation where as much as half or more of the water is lost toevaporation.15 A study in Malaysia by the International Water ManagementInstitute showed that planting dry seeding rice rather than using ricevarieties that required flooding fields could reduce water losses by as muchas 25 percent.16 Other studies have shown that unproductive water lossesfrom many crops traditionally grown with flood irrigation, like cotton,could be dramatically reduced if farmers used drip irrigation systemsinstead of flooding fields, and farmers are now shifting their irrigationmethods toward more precision application of water. In the western UnitedStates in 1984, only 37 percent of all irrigated cropland used precisionsprinklers or drip irrigation systems; by 2018 this figure had increased to 72percent.17In addition to increasing the productive use of water, modern irrigationapproaches can improve crop yields and quality. Careful irrigationscheduling designed for the crop and local soil and climate conditionspermits irrigation to be applied precisely when and where water is actuallyneeded. Deficit irrigation techniques can improve crop quality whilereducing water use by limiting irrigation at certain times in a crop’s growth
when water is not needed.18 Advances such as irrigation controllers, soil-moisture sensors, and integrating irrigation scheduling with more accurateweather forecasting have all helped increase the water-use productivity ofagriculture. Inexpensive probes can now collect data on soil moisture andrelay it wirelessly to computer controllers that deliver water only whenneeded. Drones and satellite systems provide real-time data to watermanagers and farmers, and new software applications help growers morecarefully and precisely apply water. California’s Irrigation ManagementInformation System maps crop conditions, water requirements, and soilmoisture to produce field-level data accessible to growers through onlinetools.These advances are having an effect. In the United States between 1969and 2017, the amount of irrigation water applied to every unit of landdropped by 25 percent, while yields and farm income have continued torise,19 and similar improvements are happening in other parts of the world.There is also a growing effort to find or develop crop varieties that canmaintain or increase crop yield under drier and hotter conditions, animportant concern given the effects accelerating climate change may haveon global food production. Drought is already a major cause of crop lossesworldwide, and research has been under way for many years to try todevelop varieties of important food crops that are less vulnerable to waterstress.20In addition to using different techniques to cut the amount of waterrequired to grow food, one of the most important strategies for saving waterin agriculture is to change diets away from water-intensive foods. Thetrends over the past century have been the other way, with a rapid increasein the consumption of water-intensive animal products and a relatedincrease in the water required to produce each calorie of food consumed.This has led to a growing conversation about the consequences of differentfood choices and identifying more sustainable diets that improve healthwhile also reducing the environmental impacts of producing food. More andmore research indicates that the production and consumption of beef, pork,and poultry meats are especially water (and land) intensive compared todiets where the calories are provided primarily by grains, fruits, andvegetables.
The standard metric used to assess the water used to produce goods andservices is the “water footprint,” which quantifies the volume of waterneeded during production. The water footprint is often further differentiatedinto water applied from groundwater and surface water (blue water) versuswater obtained from rainfall (green water),21 a distinction first introducedby the Swedish water expert Malin Falkenmark.vii Part of the problem withdiets heavy in meat is that the water footprint of most crops includes thewater needed to grow the crop itself, while the water footprint of meatincludes all the water needed to grow the grain fed to the animal over itslifetime as well as the water used for the factory processing of the meat. Forexample, the water footprint of beef is estimated to be around 15,000kilograms of water to produce a single kilogram of beef, compared to just500 to 1,000 kilograms of water to produce a kilogram of typical fruits andvegetables.22 As a result, switching to diets with less meat could decreasethe total water footprint of agriculture by as much as 20 to 50 percent.23Even modest reductions in meat consumption, especially in the richerregions of the world like Europe and the United States, where meat is alarger part of the average diet, would save tremendous amounts of water.
FIGURE 26. The economic productivity of water use in the UnitedStates in 2020 dollars per unit water used. Data from US Bureau ofEconomic Analysis, “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in CurrentDollars (SAGDP2)” (US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019); and C.A. Dieter et al., “Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2015”(US Geological Survey, 2018).Improving water-use efficiency in industry, homes, and agricultureproduces other “cobenefits,” including reductions in surface-water andgroundwater pollution from agricultural fertilizers, herbicides, andpesticides; less pressure on land and forests; cutbacks in energy use andgreenhouse gas emissions; the elimination or delay of additional capitalinvestments for new water systems; and lower costs for consumers. Theseare real and often extremely valuable benefits.The effect of improvements in urban and agricultural water-useefficiency has already been dramatic. For the entire first three-quarters ofthe twentieth century, using a cubic meter of water in the United Statesproduced around six to ten dollars of economic well-being. Then, starting inthe late 1970s, the country saw a dramatic increase in water-use
productivity, and today that same cubic meter of water generates more thanforty dollars of economic goods and services (all measured in 2020 dollars)(see Figure 26).Another way to look at the importance and value of improving water-useefficiency and productivity is to look at the alternative. In the United States,if there had been no improvement in the efficiency of water use since the1970s, total demand for water would be more than twice as large as it istoday. Where would that water have come from? Even at the current levelof water use, major water systems are deeply stressed. The major river inthe southwestern part of the country, the Colorado, is completely tappedout. The two largest rivers in California, the Sacramento and San Joaquin,are also completely overextended, and the political debates there are how toactually return water to the system for struggling ecosystems. Water use inthe groundwater basins of the Great Plains and California’s Central Valleymust decrease, not increase. The more humid East, and the large amounts ofwater in the Great Lakes or the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, could, intheory, support more water diversions in some wet years, but moving thatwater to where it is needed is prohibitively expensive, environmentallydestructive, and politically impossible.In contrast, the soft-path approach of improving the efficiency andproductivity of water use works. It saves money, prevents environmentaldamage, reduces political disputes over access to scarce resources, andshows that a new way of thinking about the demand for water in a world ofincreasing scarcity, competition, and climate change can provide benefitsthat far exceed the dead-end approach of trying to strip endless newsupplies of water from overextended natural systems. When combined withthe portfolio of other strategies that make up the soft path for water, theadvantages of efficient water use become even more apparent. And just asrethinking the concept of water demand is critical for the Third Age ofWater, so is rethinking the concept of water supply and identifying new,nontraditional sources of water that do not require taking more from nature.Footnotesi Gross domestic product is a highly imperfect but traditional measure of
economic health. It includes values for bad things that can be measured,like a devastating flood that requires costly rebuilding, and it excludesvalues for important things that cannot be measured, like ecosystem healthand the consequences of water pollution.ii These numbers reflect the total water use in the United States for allpurposes, including for domestic, industrial, agricultural, and energy uses.Our individual water use at home is far lower than this, of course, thoughour water use per person at home has shown the same dramatic decrease.iii Legend says this is where the nickname “the john” comes from.iv Seriously, that’s his name. No jokes, please.v Public Law No. 102-486.vi There are also many technologies for safely dealing with human wastesthat use no water at all, from well-designed latrines to sophisticatedcomposting toilets.vii I’ve had the pleasure of working with Malin many times over the years.She contributed one of the chapters in my first book, Water in Crisis(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), and I remember when sheintroduced my wife and me to her homemade “moose mousse.” Hercomplex thinking about water was easier to digest.
29RECYCLE AND REUSEThe closed economy of the future might similarly be called the“spaceman” economy, in which the earth has become a singlespaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either forextraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find hisplace in a cyclical ecological system.—KENNETH BOULDING, ECONOMIST, SOCIAL SCIENTIST, AND PEACE ACTIVISTEVEN WITH A SLOWDOWN IN POPULATION GROWTH AND THE potential for greatimprovements in the efficiency of water use, it will be necessary to findmore water for more people, new industrial development, and ecosystemprotection. The biggest new source of water is right in front of us: the waterwe use once and then throw away. One of the hallmarks of the Second Ageof Water has been the idea that clean water can be taken from nature, usedonce, contaminated, and then discarded. In the short run, that’s cheaper forindustry—why pay to clean up a mess that can be passed along to nature forfree? But in the long run, nothing is free, and this practice is costly to theplanet. The challenge is to move away from the old “use it and throw itaway” mentality that considered wastewater to be a liability to the mind-setthat every drop of water is a valuable asset, to be treated and reused.When our ancestors got rid of wastewater in the First Age of Water byjust throwing it in the nearest river, it didn’t matter. Populations were smalland dispersed, and most wastes were easily assimilated by nature. For thefirst part of the Second Age of Water, communities did this because theydidn’t know any better and because the technologies for doing somethingdifferent hadn’t been invented. But the massive water-pollution problems ofthe current water crisis, coupled with the fact that we not only know better
now but can do something about it, offer a clear goal. In the Third Age,water systems can be redesigned and rebuilt to comprehensively recycleand reuse water for purposes ranging from simply watering outdoorlandscapes or recharging groundwater, to indirect and direct potable reuse,to producing ultrapure water for high-valued industrial uses, to recyclingand reusing precious water for space missions.Four hundred kilometers above Earth, the International Space Stationprovides a home and a research platform for up to six astronauts at a time.The ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000, and bymid-2022 more than 250 individuals had lived and worked there.Everything these astronauts need except the sunlight that powers the station—the equipment, rocket fuel, the astronauts themselves, and all of theirfood and water—must be sent up to the station on rockets.Water is heavy: a single liter of water weighs a kilogram. A cubic meterof water (1,000 liters) weighs a ton. Since the beginning of operations onthe ISS, more than 50,000 kilograms of water have been launched to space,more than 1 of every 7 kilograms of cargo sent up, and blasting things tospace is extremely expensive—thousands of dollars per kilogram. As CaseyHonniball, a lunar scientist at NASA, put it, “Water is central to human lifebut is expensive to launch into space.”1Astronauts on the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and early Soviet andChinese missions brought their water with them and used it once, withwastes either returned to Earth or literally tossed out of the airlock. Whenthe landing sites of the six Apollo missions are turned into museums orhistorical sites, curators and researchers will have to decide what to do withthe ninety-six bags of frozen human wastes left on the surface.2The first American and Russian space stations, Skylab and Mir, reliedon resupplied water and oxygen and collected water from condensation toprovide part of their water supply. The US space shuttles used fuel cells toturn hydrogen and oxygen into power and water.3 But none of these earlysystems was satisfactory as a way to support long-term space missions orcolonies. As a result, great effort has gone into designing and testing moresophisticated and sustainable water systems for use in the exploration ofspace. The key, just as it ultimately will be a key here on Earth as part of theThird Age, is recycling and reusing water.
To avoid having to launch large amounts of water into space, the ISS hasa sophisticated water system that collects and recycles wastewater andwater filtered out of the air and produces high-quality purified water fordrinking, washing, reconstituting food, and other purposes.i At present,more than 90 percent of the space station’s water is recycled and reused—afantastic improvement over earlier systems. But for longer space missionsnot capable of being resupplied from Earth, even that will have to beimproved.The ISS has two separate sections, one managed by Russia and one bythe United States, with separate water-recycling systems. The US systemcollects and reprocesses water vapor, faucet and sink runoff, and urine,producing around fourteen liters of purified water per day. The Russiansystem recycles only water vapor and shower runoff and produces less.NASA uses iodine for additional water disinfection; the Russians use silver.The water produced by these recycling systems exceeds the highest water-quality standards on Earth.4On Earth a basic minimum amount of water to support a human isaround fifty liters of water per day, for drinking, cooking, cleaning, andminimal sanitation, though hundreds of millions of people are still forcedby poverty and the failure of their governments to get by on even less.5 Theaverage American may use three to four hundred liters of water a day athome flushing toilets, washing clothes and dishes, cooking, and wateringgardens, not including the water required to produce the food they eat or thegoods and services they use. In space these needs have been stripped to aminimum, and astronauts use less than five liters per day for basic survivalto replace water lost from sweating, breathing, and going to the bathroom.For drinking and eating, the astronauts mix water with dehydrated foodsand suck water from refillable pouches supplied from the water-purificationsystem.If you’ve ever wondered how astronauts shower in space, they don’t. Asastronaut Mike Fossum said in 2011, “We can’t take a normal showerbecause the water doesn’t know how to find the drain” without gravity topull it down. Instead, they typically wash with a combination of water and
soap on a towel, or take a waterless shampoo, and any water used thenevaporates and is recovered through the air-circulation system.iiThe water cycle on the ISS starts when a crew member drinks waterfrom the potable water-storage system or mixes water with food torehydrate it. They breathe out water vapor when they exhale. They have touse the toilet. Space toilets all work on the same basic principle: suction todraw liquids and solids into chambers for processing. Solids are stored inwaste containers and removed from the station when other trash, old orbroken equipment, and finished experiments are either returned to Earth orburned up in the atmosphere on reentry. The urine, however, is valuable. Acrew of six generates about nine liters of urine a day, which is separatedinto the urine-processing system that treats, filters, and evaporates the waterand rejects a concentrated salty brine, which also goes out with the trash.The evaporated water is condensed and added to the wastewater-storagetank.In order to save water and prevent corrosion and damage to stationsurfaces and electronics, the water vapor exhaled in the ISS by astronauts(and laboratory animals)iii is recovered and added to the storage tank alongwith water from other onboard processes, including water generated duringspace walks, recovered from payload missions, discharged from the oxygengenerator, and produced by the carbon-dioxide-removal system.6 The waterin the wastewater tank is then processed through a Water Recovery System(WRS).7An oxygen-generating system takes water, splits it into oxygen andhydrogen in an electrified membrane, and recirculates the oxygen for theastronauts to breathe. The hydrogen is captured and sent to a Sabatierreactor, named after French chemist Paul Sabatier who discovered in 1897that carbon dioxide and hydrogen can react under high temperatures andpressures to form methane and water. The hydrogen is combined withcarbon dioxide recovered from the air, preventing CO2 buildup, which couldkill the astronauts.iv The water produced in the Sabatier reactor also goes tothe WRS. Before the Sabatier reactor was installed on the ISS, oxygengenerators used electricity to split precious water molecules into hydrogen
and oxygen, venting the hydrogen to space. The Russian side of the ISS stillhas this type of oxygen generator. With the combination of the oxygengenerators and the Sabatier reactor, much less water and only modestamounts of hydrogen need to be resupplied.All the different waters sent to the WRS are purified in a multistagesystem that filters out particles, soaps, debris, and other organic andinorganic contaminants. The water then goes to a reactor that oxidizes andbreaks apart organic material and kills any viruses or bacteria. In a finalstep, the water is treated with iodine, the same purification process used bymany backpackers, and returned to the potable-water dispenser. The WaterProcessor Assembly can clean 13 liters of water an hour, and it produceswater that is far cleaner than water available to most of us here on theground.8Despite the sophistication and efficiency of the space station’s watersystem, not all the water is recovered. Some leaves in the unusable brineand the solid wastes from the toilets, some is lost if airlocks are vented tospace, and the CO2 and oxygen systems each lose some water over time.While the station also maintains a 2,000-liter emergency water supply,9water lost must be replaced from Earth, along with components to repair thewater system and new designs that might be used on missions to the moonor Mars.Future missions to the moon, Mars, or beyond will require minimizingwater use by the astronauts and maximizing water recycling, furtherimproving on the high-tech water system of the International Space Station.The same principles apply here on Earth—our own spaceship spinningthrough the cosmos.Globally, more than 380 trillion liters of wastewater are produced everyyear, a number expected to increase to over 570 trillion liters by 2050. Thelargest volume of wastewater is produced in Asia (42 percent of all urbanwastewater), followed by Europe and North America (around 18 percenteach).10 This is enough water to irrigate tens of millions of hectares offarmland or satisfy the minimum basic water needs of everyone on theplanet. The more of this water that can be recycled and reused, the lesswater must be extracted from natural systems, the less damage is done to
the environment, and the more people, goods, services, and food can besupported by limited supplies.Water recycling on Earth uses the same fundamental approaches as thewater system on the International Space Station: remove solid wastes; usefiltration, distillation, and chemical and biological purification to producewaters of any quality desired; and reuse it. Any highly contaminated, salty,or mineralized source of water can be turned into high-quality, pure, safe,drinkable water that could be used again. But with a few exceptions, thiswater is used once and thrown away.In 1996 I visited Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, for discussions withtheir national water agency and to witness what at the time was the mostsophisticated direct potable-water reuse system in the world—a collectionof technologies that had for nearly thirty years filtered, purified, anddisinfected wastewater at the Goreangab Reclamation Plant and blendedthat water directly into the city’s drinking-water pipes. Namibia is one ofthe driest countries on the planet, and Windhoek has long had tosupplement its limited natural supply with water reuse. The water, which Idrank for the entire time I was there, was fine, and the small system and theearly experience of the Windhoek water agencies helped pave the way fortoday’s modern wastewater-reuse systems.More than a decade later, I visited the newly christened NEWater projectin Singapore, a set of massive, modern, gleaming water-treatment plantsthat take the country’s wastewater and treat it to the highest possiblestandards before reintroducing it to the water system for reuse. Singaporehas been a leader in managing a transition to advanced treatment and reuseof water and built these plants as part of an integrated strategy to increasetheir water-supply options, cut inefficient water use, and reduce the politicalliability of depending on water from neighboring Malaysia. Today,Singapore’s NEWater plants produce a remarkable 40 percent of the waterused in the country, largely for use in commercial buildings and theircomputer-wafer fabrication industry, which requires water far cleaner thandrinking water. A small fraction of NEWater is used for indirect potablereuse—blended with drinking water, treated again, and then distributed forhuman use. All this water far exceeds the national drinking-water qualitystandards in Singapore, or in the United States. The US National Academyof Sciences concluded that the health risk from drinking water produced by
advanced treatment of wastewater “does not appear to be any higher, andmay be orders of magnitude lower,” than any risk from conventionallytreated water.11At the beginning of Singapore’s water-reuse program, public concernand opposition were common. To counter this, the Singapore PublicUtilities Board launched an education program around their reuse plans.The program included a two-year scientific study to evaluate the quality ofthe water and possible health risks that concluded NEWater was “purer thantap water.”12 The utility followed up that study with public films,widespread advertisements, community discussions, and school informationmeetings, and the project has now been largely accepted by the public. ASingapore craft brewery is now even advertising a popular blond ale madefrom NEWater.13Israel has made a similar effort to reuse wastewater. It now recycles 85percent or more of all wastewater, and this supplies half of all the waterIsrael uses in agriculture.14 Most of this receives less comprehensivetreatment than provided by Singapore, but it is quite suitable for agriculture.These efforts have reduced the need to extract scarce and politicallycontentious river and groundwater resources and cut wastewater dischargesto the ocean. Wastewater has become so valuable that Israel diverts sewageproduced in occupied Gaza to its own treatment plant near Sederot andreuses that water on Israeli agricultural fields.Californians have also been reusing water for more than a century. In1910 recycled water that had received simple treatment was used for small-scale agriculture, and by the 1950s more than one hundred Californiacommunities were using some forms of recycled water for outdoorlandscaping and agriculture.15 More recently, California has demonstratedthat the technology to produce high-quality purified water from wastewateris mature, effective, and a core component of a more resilient water system,and it now makes up an important part of the future water plans of most oftheir large water districts. Decades ago, the Orange County Water District inSouthern California was overpumping coastal groundwater to meet thedemands of its growing population, but as it extracted more fresh water,saltwater was beginning to infiltrate and contaminate the remaining
groundwater. To counter this threat to its water supply, Orange County builtWater Factory 21 in the mid-1970s, which treated wastewater to a highstandard and then injected it in twenty-three wells along the coast to createa freshwater barrier to saltwater intrusion. The process was successful,producing around 85,000 cubic meters of water a day, reducing aquifercontamination, and cutting the discharge of treated wastewater to the ocean.As experience with the technology improved and as the demand formore treated wastewater grew, Orange County expanded the system,building the Groundwater Replenishment System, now the world’s largestwater-purification system for indirect potable reuse.16 The region’swastewater is collected and purified with microfiltration, reverse-osmosismembranes, and ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide, producing 380,000cubic meters a day of clean water. Two-thirds of this water is pumped togroundwater percolation basins where it naturally filters through sand andgravel to the deep aquifers, increasing local drinking water supply. The restis still injected in coastal wells to safeguard groundwater from saltwaterintrusion. A further expansion of the system to nearly 500,000 cubic metersa day is under way, enough water to meet the current indoor and outdoorresidential needs of a million Californians. Overall California now producesand reuses a billion cubic meters a year of treated water and has a target ofexpanding this to more than 3 billion cubic meters a year by 2030.17The transition in thinking about wastewater as an asset rather than aliability has not been a smooth one; it bucks up against literally millennia ofhuman experience learning about the links between untreated wastewaterand disease, mores and customs about bodily functions, and whatunscientifically is called the “yuck” factor. Despite the fact that allwastewater is eventually treated and recycled by nature, and that portions ofthe water anyone drinks today have almost certainly been cycled manytimes through the digestive tracks of ancient dinosaurs as well as theirimmediate upstream neighbors, the idea that cities and communities wouldintentionally and directly reuse treated water has been hard to swallow,literally and figuratively. Early recycling projects were often planned andbuilt with little public awareness or participation, in part because they wererelatively small, developed behind closed doors, or designed in an era when
trust in public systems was higher. But as such projects expanded in scopeand size, they began to draw public attention, and opposition.In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a major new project to purifywastewater and replenish a declining local aquifer was proposed on the SanGabriel River near Los Angeles. The project drew significant publicopposition, not least because a large Miller Brewing Company plant ownedat the time by Philip Morris Co. was located in the basin. The company wasespecially stung when Jay Leno on The Tonight Show started making jokesabout the project and the color of Miller beer, asking if the company wasreplacing beechwood aging with “porcelain aging.”In response, the company supported a local citizens’ group that protestedwith the slogan “toilet-to-tap,” a phrase researcher Anna Sklar suggests wasactually coined by Miller Brewing public relations people.18 This catchy, ifgrossly inaccurate, phrase was quickly adopted by project opponents, andthe media found the shorthand useful for attracting eyeballs to their stories—inappropriately, it is still being used today.19 In 1994 Miller Brewingfiled suit to stop the project and supported local politicians who quickly fellin line, and the purification project was eventually abandoned.Around the same time, other California cities began planning their ownadvanced water-treatment processes that could provide a new source ofwater to recharge groundwater, supplement supplies at local reservoirs, orprovide water for landscaping and industrial uses. San Diego, whichimports around 90 percent of its water, proposed a project to take 75 millionliters a day of already high-quality treated water from the North City WaterReclamation Plant, purify it further, and then blend it with water in the SanVicente Reservoir where it would have to undergo even more treatmentbefore supplementing the city’s drinking water. The city had been running asmall pilot project at the Aqua 2000 Research Center that processed nearly4 million liters a day of wastewater for outdoor irrigation use.Another early project was proposed in the Los Angeles basin to reducetheir dependence on imported water. The proposal was to build the EastValley Water Recycling plant to pump billions of liters of treated waterfrom the Tilman Water Reclamation plant to the Sepulveda basin where itwould filter to groundwater, mix with other water, be pumped up andtreated again, and serve 70,000 households in the San Fernando Valley and
southeast Los Angeles. Public opposition to both the San Diego and LosAngeles projects relied heavily on anti-“toilet-to-tap” campaigns thatoverwhelmed local water planners and successfully killed both projects. Inthe fight over the Los Angeles project, this misleading phrase was used atleast eighty-three times in newspaper stories.20 Despite the fact that SanDiego was experiencing severe water restrictions due to drought, a 2004public-opinion survey conducted for the local water authority found thatpotable reuse was opposed by 63 percent of the city residents.21But things are changing, driven by necessity and experience.“Necessity” in the sense that there simply isn’t any significant new,untapped source of water in California and many other places, and growthin demand together with a relentless, decades-long drought are driving asearch for alternatives. “Experience” in the sense that improvements inpurification technology, better understanding of how to educate andinfluence public opinion, and actual experience with the use of recycledwater are all leading to smarter and more comprehensive reuse programsand growing public acceptance.The Singapore NEWater Program was a success explicitly because itincluded a well-thought-out public education effort to inform the publicabout the project, with a museum, visitor center, advertising, and high-profile media events with the country’s leaders. In California the tide ofpublic opinion also began to change after the mid-2000s due to concernsabout water supplies and a better public communication effort to inform andtransform public perception about water reuse. San Diego launched the“Pure Water San Diego” effort, a multiyear reuse program that aims toprovide more than 40 percent of San Diego’s water supply locally by theend of 2035 and includes fact sheets, newsletters, community presentations,an independent advisory board, and engagement with local communitygroups.These new efforts are working. By 2011 public opinion in San Diegohad completely shifted from two-thirds of the public opposed to two-thirdseither strongly or somewhat favoring adding advanced recycled water to thesupply of drinking water.22 That same year, the city of San Diego beganoperating the Pure Water Demonstration Facility, producing 4 million litersa day of advanced purified water. By April 2015, during the fourth year of a
severe drought, 71 percent of respondents understood that it is possible topurify recycled water to augment drinking-water supplies, and a similarnumber (73 percent) strongly or somewhat favored using advanced treatedrecycled water.23What do these places—Namibia, Singapore, California, and Israel—have in common that has led them to make water-reuse commitments? Allare running up against peak water constraints and limits on the availabilityof traditional sources of water. Namibia is one of the driest countries on theplanet. Singapore is a small island nation, with no major rivers and apolitically vulnerable dependence on water deliveries from Malaysia.California and Israel have semiarid climates with large populations, rapidlyworsening water scarcity, and the wealth and technical expertise to test andbuild sophisticated water-treatment systems.Each of them demonstrates the key point that the concept of“wastewater” is outmoded. Wastewater must no longer be considered aliability, to be hidden, shunned, and thrown away. In the Third Age ofWater, recovered and treated water will be considered a valuable asset and areliable new source of water, to be used for a variety of landscape,agricultural, industrial, and domestic purposes. In a closed environmentwith a fixed amount of a precious resource, whether it’s a space station orthe planet Earth, no truly sustainable water future can ignore the option ofexpanding water recycling and reuse.Another potentially significant source of new supply here on Earth thatisn’t available to astronauts is the vast reserves of water in the oceans. Thatwater is too salty to drink or to grow crops, but some of the sametechnologies used in wastewater-treatment plants to filter out impuritiesalso filter out salts. As peak-water limits to freshwater resources worsen,turning to the oceans has become increasingly attractive.Footnotesi The new Chinese space station, Shenzhou, also reportedly has a systemthat collects and reprocesses water from the air and from the urine system,as well as a fuel cell that converts oxygen and hydrogen into water. China
Global Television Network, “Space Log: How to Ensure Water Supply atChina’s Space Station?,” July 24, 2021.ii And don’t ask about laundry. They don’t do laundry in space.iii Over time, humans have launched lots of organisms into space, includingdogs, monkeys, chimpanzees, mice, rats, rabbits, a wide variety of fish,guinea pigs, turtles and tortoises, wine flies, mealworms, spiders, newts,crickets, snails, jellyfish, amoebae, geckos, algae, fungi, ants, earthworms,Madagascar hissing cockroaches, scorpions, Hawaiian bobtail squid,tardigrades, and one French cat. A bronze statue of the cat, Félicette, is atthe International Space University in Strasbourg, France.iv Carbon-dioxide buildup was one of the crises faced by the Apollo 13astronauts, leading to one of the most famous MacGyvers in space history,nicely depicted in the popular Hollywood movie with Tom Hanks.
30DESALTI have said that I thought that if we could ever competitively, at acheap rate, get fresh water from salt water, that it would be in thelong range interests of humanity which would really dwarf any otherscientific accomplishment.—PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDYNO WATER SUBJECT PRODUCES MORE EMAILS, TEXT, TWEETS, or letters to methan the possibility of desalinating water from the oceans. When I speak togeneral audiences about global water challenges, one of the first questionsasked is about the potential of desalination. Desalination is thetechnological optimist’s dream, and it’s completely understandable: Howcould there possibly be a shortage of water when it surrounds us in theoceans and when we know how to take salt out of that water? And indeed,it’s hard to understand how there can be thirst and water scarcity andconflict over water on a water planet.All natural waters contain some salts, absorbed when rainwater movesthrough soils, dissolving minerals, and flowing back to the oceans. Overbillions of years, these minerals have accumulated in the oceans, where thenatural process of evaporation takes fresh water into the atmosphere,leaving salts behind. A liter of drinking water typically contains less than ahalf gram of salts. Today the oceans contain around thirty-five grams of saltdissolved in each liter of water. Some terminal lakes that have no outletother than evaporation can have even higher salt concentrations. The watersof the parts of Great Salt Lake in Utah and the Dead Sea shared by Israel,Jordan, and Palestine contain more than three hundred grams per liter—more than 30 percent salt.
This contradiction of suffering water scarcity on a planet covered inwater has long been apparent. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of theAncient Mariner, an old sailor tells the sad tale of those in a cursed andbecalmed ship at sea:Day after day, day after day,We stuck, nor breath nor motion;As idle as a painted shipUpon a painted ocean.Water, water, every where,And all the boards did shrink;Water, water, every where,Nor any drop to drink…1Finding fresh water was a constant challenge for the earliest sailors: theystored water in barrels and hoped it wouldn’t go bad. They collectedrainwater off their sails. Early Greeks would collect evening dews insheepskins and wring them out into bowls in the morning. Sailing shipswould reprovision their water supplies from rivers and springs wheneverpossible, and prime watering spots were noted on early navigational charts.Navies offered prize money for technologies to make saltwater potable.And eventually sailors learned they could boil seawater and capture thefresh water coming off as steam, or in today’s navies filter it throughincreasingly sophisticated membranes that separate salt from water.The earliest known references to desalination date from the time of theancient Greeks. Aristotle observed 2,300 years ago that when seawater isheated, fresh water evaporates and the oceans are then replenished by thecycle of rainfall and river runoff. He wrote, “I have proved by experimentthat salt water evaporated forms fresh and the vapor does not—when itcondenses—condense into sea water again.”2 A century later, Alexander ofAphrodisias offered a clear description of intentional desalination throughdistillation: “Some obtain fresh water from the sea in the following way:they place large vessels containing sea water on the fire and collect thevapor in appropriate covers, placed on the vessels; by condensation of thevapor they obtain fresh water.”3
In the early fourth century AD, Saint Basil, archbishop of Caesarea,described how sailors would collect freshwater vapor in sponges suspendedover pots of boiling water. Sir Richard Hawkins, a British sailor and lateradmiral who fought with Sir Francis Drake against the Spanish Armada in1588,i voyaged to the South Seas in the early 1590s and used fresh water hedistilled from the seas: “Although our fresh water had fayled us many daysby reason of our long navigation, without touching any land… yet with aninvention I had in my shippe, I easily drew out of the water of the seasufficient quantitie of fresh water to sustaine my people… for with fourebillet [of wood] I stilled a hogshead of water.… The water so distilled wefound to be wholesome and nourishing.”4By the late 1600s and early 1700s in England and Europe, variousinventions for distilling water for use on ships, described in pamphlets,advertisements, and patents, were competing for attention,commercialization, and approval by governments and navies. Experimentswere conducted by British and French warships, and simple distillation wassubsequently used on many long voyages. Captain James Cook, in hissecond expedition around the world (1772–1775), recorded in his logs thathe obtained fresh water from ice floes and from a distillation still that couldproduce thirty to forty gallons of water a day.5 Thomas Jefferson, in areport to the US House of Representatives in 1791, wrote:The obtaining fresh from salt water was for ages considered as animportant desideratum for the use of Navigators. The process for doingthis by simple distillation is so efficacious, the erecting an extemporestill with such utensils as are found on board of every ship is sopracticable, as to authorize the assertion that this desideratum issatisfied to a very useful degree. But tho’ this has been done forupwards of 30 years, tho its reality has been established by the actualexperience of several vessels which have had recourse to it, yet neitherthe fact nor the process is known to the mass of seamen, to whom itwould be the most useful, and for whom it was principally wanted. TheSecretary of State is therefore of opinion that, since the subject has nowbeen brought under observation, it should be made the occasion of
disseminating its knowledge generally and effectually among the sea-faring citizens of the U.S.6An 1811 pamphlet described conversations between a British member ofParliament and the officers of a man-of-war, including a discussion of testsof new “fire hearths” for providing fresh water. Included were enthusiasticletters and testimonials from officers lauding the distillation devices fromthe captains and commanders of the HMS Royal Oak, HMS Aboukir, HMSTrusty, and others, such as this one from Captain Joseph Yates, commanderof the East Indiaman City of London: “The new-invented Condenser, byMessrs. Lamb and Co. for rendering sea-water fresh, has been tried onboard the Hon. East-India Company’s ship, City of London, under mycommand, and from its wonderful effects, I think it a duty incumbent on meto recommend the same to the Owners and Captains in the service, as itanswers a most valuable purpose, that of affording a constant supply of purewholesome fresh water from the briny sea.”7Despite these successes, until modern desalination processes weredeveloped, distillation never became the principal source of obtainingdrinking water on naval sailing ships because of the high cost of wood orcoal required to distill large quantities of water and the risk of fire onwooden ships often loaded with gunpowder. Today, however, with thedevelopment of modern desalination technologies, all large naval ships havedesalination units, some of substantial size. Submarines and destroyers candesalinate 20,000 to 45,000 liters of water a day. A US aircraft carrier,which may have a crew of as many as 6,000, can desalinate up to a quarterof a million liters of water a day.8 In 2010 the nuclear-powered USS CarlVinson (CVN-70) used its desalination capabilities to provide emergencywater to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there.9
FIGURE 27. Racks of reverse-osmosismembranes at the Ashdod DesalinationPlant, Israel. Photo by Peter Gleick, 2019.Few modern desalination plants still use distillation. Instead, thedevelopment of sophisticated membranes that can selectively separate saltfrom water has led to the creation of an entirely new industry anddesalination approach. These “reverse osmosis” membranes are partiallypermeable, and when seawater is placed under pressure, fresh water passesthrough the microscopic pores, leaving behind the larger molecules of saltsand other dissolved minerals in a concentrated brine. The fresh water isrecovered, and the brine is thrown away. All recent large-scale desalinationplants now use reverse-osmosis membranes because they are cheaper andmore efficient than distillation.These plants are technological and engineering marvels, yet remarkablyunimposing. I’ve had the opportunity to visit experimental and commercialseawater desalination facilities in Singapore, Israel, California, Florida, andthe United Arab Emirates, and they are effectively large warehouses filledwith big pumps, kilometers of pipes, and floor-to-ceiling racks ofmembranes, separating fresh water from saltwater, sending the rejectedbrine back to the ocean and the fresh water to thirsty cities and industries(see Figure 27).By 2020 there were approximately 16,000 desalination plants operatingaround the world, producing nearly 100 million m3/day of desalinated water
for human use. Half of this capacity was in the highly water-scarce areas ofthe Middle East and North Africa, with the rest scattered around the worldin other arid and semiarid areas where other sources of water wereinsufficient.10While desalination capacity is growing,ii it remains a tiny part of totalmunicipal and industrial water supply, providing only around 1 percent ofcurrent global demand.11 Why so little? The simplicity of the idea ofdesalination belies the complexities of the real world and the fact that somany water challenges are not technical, but economical andenvironmental.The greatest challenge to the widespread use of desalination is the higheconomic cost of building and operating the plants and providing the energyto strip salt out of water. These plants require a lot of physical infrastructurein the form of plumbing, concrete, pumps, pipes, and control systems. Thecostly membranes must be replaced regularly. And while moderndesalination plants have become more efficient in recent years, there is nogetting around the fact that breaking the bonds that chemically bind saltions to water molecules still requires a lot of energy. For these reasons,desalination of seawater will never be cheap compared to eitherimprovements in water-use efficiency that reduces water demand or newsources such as wastewater treatment and reuse. A research assessment byHeather Cooley and colleagues at the Pacific Institute concluded that acomprehensive set of urban water-use efficiency options, wastewatertreatment and reuse, and storm-water capture for California were all far lesscostly per unit of water than seawater desalination—the most expensiveoption evaluated.12Desalination also has significant environmental liabilities, includingimpacts on fish and other ocean organisms from pumping large quantities ofseawater into the plant and then disposing of large volumes of highlyconcentrated salty brine—the product left over after fresh water isextracted. Some of these impacts can be partly addressed with sophisticatedintake filters and pipes and by slowly and carefully diffusing the wastebrines over a wide area, permitting it to safely mix back into the oceans, butmost commercial plants do not do these things, instead choosing the
cheaper approach of building large intake and outflow pipes and simplydumping brines in concentrated form back into enclosed bays or seas. Thesebrines can affect local ecological conditions near outflow areas and mayalso contain low levels of chemicals used during the desalination process.An important additional environmental impact is caused by the hugeenergy needs of desalination plants. Because most desalination plantsdepend on traditional fossil-fuel energy sources at present, producingdesalinated water also produces large amounts of greenhouse gases,contributing to the climate problem. Unless future desalination plants aremore efficient and powered by renewable energy, and moreenvironmentally sensitive about their intake and outflow of water and brine,their contributions to the water supply will continue to come with highenvironmental costs.Despite these liabilities, growing scarcity of traditional water supplieswill inevitably lead to a greater reliance on desalination, at least in areaswhere other approaches like demand management and water reuse havebeen exhausted and where water has a high enough value that consumersare willing to pay desalination’s full economic cost. There is also a growingvalue of having relatively reliable, drought-proof sources of supply that donot depend on draining rivers and aquifers. But desalination is the mostexpensive of the broad portfolio of available solutions, and if it is to make amajor contribution, it must be pursued in a way that doesn’t add newpressures to those society already faces.Footnotesi Hawkins was also one of the first explorers to understand that citrus fruitswere a cure for scurvy, more than a century before James Lind, who is oftencredited with proving the efficacy of citrus against the disease. “That whichI have seene most fruitful for the sicknesses [scurvy] is sower oranges andlemmons.… This is a wonderful secret of the power and wisedome of God,that hath hidden so great and unknown virtue in this fruit, to be a certaineremedie for this infirmitie.” D. McDonald, “Dr. John Woodall and HisTreatment of the Scurvy,” Transactions of the Royal Society of TropicalMedicine and Hygiene 48 (1954): 360–365.
ii A modest amount of desalination capacity has also been built to desaltless salty brackish water in inland areas. This is somewhat technologicallyand economically easier than desalinating ocean water because less salt hasto be removed, but this option must still compete against other local sourcesof water and the brine must still be disposed of in a safe way.
31A VISION FOR THE FUTUREThe farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely tosee.—WINSTON CHURCHILLA CORE PREMISE OF THIS BOOK HAS BEEN THAT BY LEARNING from the past,humanity can better understand the present and then imagine and build abetter future. We’re now at a critical fork. Two possible paths lead to theThird Age of Water. But each has a distinctly different outcome.One path leads to an ugly, dystopian future. We’re all familiar with thispossibility, ubiquitous in popular culture, movies and books, television, andsocial media streams in the form of sci-fi, cli-fi, robot overlords, alieninvasions, nuclear Armageddon, global pandemics, zombies, asteroidobliteration, geostorms, and artificial intelligence run amok. I love thesestories. I watch all those shows, good and (mostly) bad, and a large subsetof them has water as a central theme in the form of water wars,manipulation and control of water by evil masterminds, and worlds withcorrupt politicians, greedy corporations, and postapocalyptic settings wherewater is the most valuable resource.In the 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worryingand Love the Bomb, a mad general goes to war with the Soviet Unionbecause he thinks the communists are conspiring to pollute the water supplyand the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people. Rip Torn andDavid Bowie star in the 1976 sci-fi story The Man Who Fell to Earth, abouta humanoid alien who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet. Inthe campy 1995 movie Tank Girl, a maniacal Malcolm McDowell plays theevil head of megacorporation Water and Power, Inc., gloating over
controlling the postapocalyptic world’s remaining water. In Quantum ofSolace (2008), James Bond battles an evil mastermind trying to control thewater resources of a South American country.Other sci-fi movies depict Earth as a desert wasteland where fresh wateris controlled by corporations or megalomaniacs, including Solarbabies(1986), Steel Dawn (1987), Waterworld (1995), Xian dai hao xia zhuan(Executioners, 1997), and the Japanese anime Sabaku no kaizoku! CaptainKuppa (2001). I liked the dark story in V for Vendetta (2005) with HugoWeaving, Natalie Portman, and Rupert Graves, about an anonymous herogalvanizing the public to rise up against corrupt fascistic governmentleaders seeking to spread fear and gain political power by secretlypoisoning England’s water supply. In Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), allpower comes from the control of water in a postholocaust world.This book doesn’t need to offer another dystopian vision. That’s a futurewe can clearly imagine but don’t want to go to if we have the choice. Andthat’s precisely the point: we have a choice, the option of a path to adifferent future, a future worth wanting, designing, and building. Instead ofdystopia, let’s pursue that, a positive vision of the future of water.RETROSPECTIVE: LOOKING BACK FROM 2099The twenty-first century is drawing to a close, and a new era is beginning.A remarkable transition is under way, offering an opportunity to look backand reflect on years of turmoil, conflict, and ultimately social andenvironmental renewal. For hundreds of thousands of years, humanpopulations have grown, and our influence and footprint on the planet haveexploded as we evolved from small, roving bands of Homo sapiensexpanding outward from our evolutionary home in Africa to the firstisolated settlements of hunter-gatherers and the growing villages andempires in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. We’ve been witness tothe acceleration of scientific, industrial, and social revolutions and, finally,the crushing growth of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuriesthat brought the planet’s population to 10 billion, driving a global crisis ofsocial inequity, resource depletion, climatic disruption, and violence.
The changes wrought since the late nineteenth century have been moredramatic, and potentially civilization ending, than any seen over the past200,000 years. Decisions made during this period brought humanitysimultaneously to the height of development and the brink of collapse andraised questions about whether a coherent, just, and sustainable civilizationwould survive. By the early 2000s, three existential global threats loomedespecially large: societal breakdown over cultural, religious, and politicalideology; the specter of nuclear self-annihilation; and the risk ofenvironmental and ecological collapse from misuse and abuse of water,energy, the oceans, and the planet’s very atmosphere.The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were characterized by forms ofdevelopment that ignored—or were ignorant of—their direct and indirectconsequences for the environment. In 2099 we now know that all extractionand use of water comes at the expense of the health of ecosystems andflowing streams. Any overdraft of groundwater risks depleting a limitedstock or affects delicate, interconnected rivers and lakes. All disposal ofhuman and industrial wastes or waste heat into fresh waters harms aquaticlife or water users downstream.Water problems arising in the 1800s led to the first glimmerings ofenvironmental awareness, which then accelerated in the latter half of the1900s as new forms of global communication started to share images andstories of dying lakes, burning rivers, disappearing wilderness and animals,and devastating storms. Writers such as Henry David Thoreau, GeorgePerkins Marsh, Aldo Leopold, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Rachel Carson,Anne and Paul Ehrlich, E. F. Schumacher, John McPhee, Edward Abbey,Donella and Dennis Meadows, and many others helped inspire a globalmovement to understand and protect ecological values central to the idea ofunderstanding and protecting humanity itself. And by the start of thetwenty-first century, scientists had recognized that humans were changingthe very climate of the planet, with new threats to every aspect of theplanet’s water cycle.Finally, after a century-long series of worsening environmental andsocial disasters, we witnessed the beginnings of a remarkable transitionfrom a dangerously unstable and inequitable world toward a more balanced,environmentally sustainable one. Progress was made in restoring theecological health needed to protect humankind in the coming centuries.
Global threats have been identified, acknowledged, and faced, bringingdisparate political and cultural communities together in a shared objective.More work, difficult work, is needed, of course. Still to be completed isthe first-ever intentional transition from a growing global population to ashrinking one, the restoration of vital ecosystems that were destroyed orseverely damaged during the drive to a modern industrial and technologicalcivilization, and the final stabilization and partial reversal of disruptions tothe planet’s atmosphere, waters, and climate. But now the threats have beenacknowledged and the path to a positive future has been identified and isbeing aggressively pursued. Perhaps nowhere is the evidence for thispositive transition more apparent than in how society manages and usesfresh water for food, industry, and human and ecological survival. This isthe story of the shift to the Third Age of Water.In the second century AD in ancient Greece, Pausanias wrote that noplace deserves the name of “city” if it can’t provide fresh water for itscitizens. Yet at the start of the twenty-first century, billions of people stilllacked access to safe, affordable water and sanitation, and millions diedevery year from preventable water-related diseases. Today, at the cusp ofthe twenty-second century, for the first time in human history, everyone hasaccess to safe and affordable water and sanitation. Providing universalaccess to safe water and sanitation freed women and girls who used to betied to the backbreaking work of walking long distances to bring oftenunsafe water back home. As they returned to school or entered theworkforce, economies boomed. Cholera and diarrheal diseases fromcontaminated water are now relics of the past. The great drop in preventablewater-related diseases has reduced human misery and pressures onstruggling healthcare systems and boosted human productivity around theworld. Innovative small-scale and distributed wastewater treatment systemsnow permit wastewater to be captured, treated, and reused, expandingavailable water supplies and restoring the quality and health of previouslycontaminated rivers and lakes.We have seen the end of a wildly destructive and fatuous industry thatthrived for a few decades in the late twentieth and early twenty-firstcenturies devoted to putting clean water in plastic bottles and selling it forthousands of times more than the cost of safe water from well-run publicwater systems. Today, with universal access to safe drinking water, bottled
water has been relegated to a niche role providing emergency supplies forshort-term disasters. And of course, 100 percent of plastic water bottles arenow returned, reused, or recycled as part of the global drive to cut plasticproduction and waste.No single magic technological solution brought global access to cleanwater. Individual, community, agricultural, and industrial water needs were,and continue to be, met with a combination of old and new technologies,including traditional water sources from rivers, lakes, and groundwater;newer technologies of ultrapurification and reuse of wastewater; thedesalination of saline water and seawater; and even air capture of watervapor—the same technologies now being used to provide water for the firstMartian colonies. Water-distribution systems have been built where theywere previously missing or have been restored or upgraded where they werefalling into disrepair. Modern sanitation systems collect and treat allindustrial and human wastes, removing contaminants and recyclingnutrients, carbon, nitrogen, energy, and water for local reuse. Traditional,large-scale, centralized high-tech systems are now being complementedwith commitments to smaller-scale investments and approaches that havebrought full access to all.These new sources of water have been bolstered by the water-efficiencyrevolution. By the early twenty-first century, it was increasingly clear thatvast quantities of water were being used wastefully and unproductively inindustry, homes, and agriculture. Part of the problem was the way waterwas priced: some of the wealthiest water users or largest industries paidalmost nothing to use vast quantities of high-quality water, while thepoorest paid far more, relative to their income, for intermittent andunreliable supplies of unsafe water or to buy water from private vendors orbottled-water corporations. Some farmers paid almost nothing for water,which helped encourage food production but also resulted in wasteful andinefficient irrigation. The successful revolution in water-use efficiency hasbeen driven by advances in water-using technologies, proper pricing ofwater, and better management, vastly boosting both industrial andagricultural production while using less water.Perhaps the most dramatic change in recent years has been the launchingof global efforts at ecosystem restoration as part of the bid to slow andreverse the devastating effects of unsustainable water use, climate change,
deforestation, and land degradation. Damage from human-caused climatechanges, especially to the hydrologic cycle, will continue to be felt into thefuture, but the transition to noncarbon energy sources is now complete, andefforts to couple ecological restoration with the accelerated removal ofgreenhouse gases from the atmosphere is working. The close connectionsbetween the use of water resources and each of these components ofenvironmental destruction have meant that every action that shifts fromunsustainable water use to the new soft path for water comes with multiplebenefits.Reduced reliance on, and the removal of, river-destroying dams in NorthAmerica, China, and Europe has led to improved water quality and healthierfisheries. Wetlands and marshes are being restored, improving natural watertreatment, accelerating carbon storage in soils, and expanding habitat formigrating birds and endangered fish, plants, and animals. Groundwateroverdraft is being eliminated, and systematic groundwater management hasrestored stream flows, stopped land subsidence, and provided more reliableand consistent water availability for millions of farmers. Elimination ofwater-greedy fossil-fuel power plants freed up massive amounts of waterfor ecological restoration and human use. And the importance of water toeveryone means that public participation in water management is now thenorm, not the exception. Decisions that used to be made behind closeddoors are now made by the communities most affected by those decisions.The threat of water wars and violence over access to and the control ofwater has also receded. The long history of water or water systemstriggering violence, or being used as weapons or targets of violence, beganto end when universal access to safe water was achieved and wheninternational laws and norms protecting that access were strengthened andenforced. Water agreements have been signed for every major river andgroundwater basin on the planet, all based on the principles of fair andequitable use, joint basin management, and the open sharing of data onwater availability and quality. Satellite and Earth-based sensors now permitreal-time monitoring of water-system failures, pollution, accidents, extremeweather events, and other disruptions, and problems are quickly identifiedand resolved by national or international responses.It’s not all good news. Many challenges remain, but as the Second Ageof Water came to an end, and as the flowering of the Third Age has begun,
we’re well along the path to a sustainable water future and the world is abetter place because of it.
32GETTING FROM HERE TO THEREAlice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go fromhere?”Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to getto.”—LEWIS CARROLL, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (1865)I BELIEVE THAT A POSITIVE FUTURE IN THE THIRD AGE OF WATER is not onlypossible but inevitable. Indeed, this optimism is what has permitted me tocontinue working on the critical global challenges of climate, water, andsustainability. Perhaps that’s because the alternatives—the dystopianvisions of our sci-fi novels, apocalyptic movies, and pessimisticdoomsayers—are simply too depressing to accept. It would be a cosmicshame if, alone in this small corner of the universe, our spark of intelligentlife was not quite intelligent enough to overcome the challenges of living ona finite, delicate planet and fell back into a dark age of chaos, or, worse,went the way of the dinosaurs.That’s possible. But it needn’t be that way. If we fail to achieve thepositive future for water, it won’t be because we can’t. It will be because wedidn’t. The hopeful vision for water I offer here is achievable and reachable,and the pieces of it are already apparent in innovative, successful waterefforts under way around the world.Don’t get me wrong: the problems that have resulted from our failure toovercome water challenges will continue until a positive Third Age takeshold. The consequences of unconstrained and inequitable waterconsumption have been unsustainable use of resources; the inability tosatisfy basic human needs for everyone; preventable diseases; ecological
deterioration; disruption from global-scale climate changes; the economicchallenges of providing jobs, housing, education, water, energy, andtransportation for more and more people; and even violent conflict,especially in the poorest regions of the world.The core assumption of planners, economists, and institutions forcenturies has been that exponential growth in population, consumption, andproduction is not only necessary but good. The technologies and institutionsof the Second Age of Water that permitted us to reach our present level ofdevelopment relied on extracting resources and consuming or degradingnature. Slowly but surely, those assumptions and policies are now beingchallenged, rejected, and replaced with the understanding that healthybiodiversity and a stable climate are the real foundation of a healthy,resilient society. The technologies and institutions of the Third Age ofWater must be focused on resilience, efficiency, social equity and justice,and ecological protection. Sometime in the coming decades, for the firsttime in the entire history of Homo sapiens, the global population will reacha peak and start to fall. Global population growth is already slowing, andone remarkable day it will be lower, not higher, than it was the day before.That day will mark the dividing line between a world dominated by growthand one that has the opportunity to lock in the transition to true long-termsustainability. The sooner we understand and accept this, the faster thetransition to a positive future can happen.There are actions each of us can take as individuals. There are actionscommunities and corporations must take. There are actions governmentsand political leaders must take:End water poverty and provide safe water and sanitation services toeveryone on the planet. Many different technologies and approaches areavailable to meet basic water requirements, but a far greater commitment ofmoney and effort on the part of governments, nongovernmentalorganizations, and communities is needed to end water poverty. Theeconomic, social, and health benefits of universal access to safe water andsanitation are far larger than the costs of achieving this goal, and, frankly,can we truly call ourselves a “civilized society” if we fail to provide basicsafe water services to everyone?Value water and the ecological benefits it provides in both philosophicaland economical senses. People already care about water—every opinion
poll, public demonstration of support, and personal conversation I have hadaround the world confirms this. But economic and political systems havetraditionally valued only extraction, monetization, and consumption ofresources rather than efficiency, long-term sustainability, and environmentalprotection. That is slowly changing with the growing awareness of the trueimportance of a healthy environment and efforts at ecological restoration.Let us continue to fight to reject the still too common presumption that theonly value of natural resources comes from extracting, consuming, andpolluting them.Increase the efficiency and productivity of all water use. There must bean efficiency revolution in the use of water, focused on increasing thebenefits that water use provides while reducing the amount of water neededto achieve those benefits, from growing food to making consumer goods toimproving the quality of life. Such a revolution is already under way, but itmust be accelerated in homes and communities, businesses and industries,and agriculture. Part of this revolution is technological—developing thetools to do more of what we want with less water. Part of it is investing inthe right kinds of infrastructure. Big dams used to be considered waterinfrastructure; now efficient washing machines, dishwashers, and toiletsmust be as well. But another part of the efficiency revolution must be socialand institutional—switching from the outmoded idea that more and morenew supply is needed to the idea that more can be done with what wealready use.Develop new sources of water. Finding new sources of water that do notrequire taking more from nature is both necessary and possible. High-quality water produced from wastewater is an asset, not a liability.Wastewater, much of which today simply flows untreated into theenvironment, must be collected, cleaned, and put back to use. We have theability and technology to produce incredibly clean water from any qualityof wastewater, and we should rapidly expand the capacity to do so. Thebenefits of recovering and reusing this water include cutting extraction ofwater from natural systems and greatly reducing the discharge of industrialand human wastes. More storm water can also be captured and used torecharge groundwater, restore ecosystem flows, and provide new supplies.Under the right circumstances, desalination of seawater can provide high-quality water in places with no other options.
Reform existing water institutions or build new ones. Water resourcesmust not be managed in isolation; they must be managed together withinstitutions responsible for energy, agriculture, land use, and planning. TheThird Age of Water requires institutions that are focused on efficiency,equity, resilience, and integration across all elements of society. These newinstitutions will use combinations of engineering, economic, and socialtools and must be sensitive to the forms, needs, and priorities of localcommunities.There is a role for each of us to rethink and reimagine our relationshipwith water. The great biologist E. O. Wilson once said, “The real problemof humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medievalinstitutions, and godlike technology.”i For water, Stone Age emotions maybe a good thing—people care at the deepest level about water. Medievalinstitutions can be brought into the modern age, but that requires everydaypeople to act, and demand political representatives act, to challenge thestatus quo. What served humanity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuriesis no longer acceptable for the twenty-first century.National and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, andinternational agencies need to take action to change economic thinking,expand development and funding efforts focused on meeting universalwater needs, demand new project planning and design approaches, and putin place laws, guidelines, and regulations that support long-termsustainability rather than short-term priorities.As individuals, let’s learn where our water comes from and what ourown communities can do to protect watersheds, rivers, and streams. We canuse water more efficiently to do the things we want: to wash clothes anddishes, to flush toilets, to water gardens, or to grow food with less water.We can advocate for better local water institutions and vote for moreinformed and accountable politicians, or, better yet, build those newinstitutions, become those informed politicians, run for local water boards,join watershed organizations, reduce our own water footprints, and teachthe next generation about water.There is also a role for corporations to move toward responsible waterstewardship of their operations and supply chains. Every company, eventhose that don’t sell water as a product, uses water to produce the goods and
services they provide. Every company therefore has a social responsibilityto understand their water use, to minimize it, to ensure they protect the localwatersheds and communities where they operate, and, in doing so, to reducetheir own water-related risks associated with shortages, contamination, andthe loss of their reputation and right to operate. Organizations like thePacific Institute have been working for years spearheading the effort of theUnited Nations’ CEO Water Mandate to work with forward-thinkingcompanies to help them understand their water risk and their opportunitiesfor improving water stewardship in watersheds around the world. Industriesand companies failing to step up and accept responsibility for their impacton the world’s water should be educated or regulated. Those actively tryingto do the right thing offer a model for what a Third Age company will haveto be, and they should be spotlighted and applauded.I’m often asked who, if anyone, is doing the right thing now in the hopesthat an example, model, or replicable experience proves the Third Age ofWater is possible and not just a dream. There are success stories all aroundus, as I’ve described in the previous chapters: from the individual action ofeveryone who shuts off the water to brush their teeth or buys a water-efficient appliance or replaces a water-guzzling lawn with a beautifuldrought-resistant garden; to the efforts of activists, nongovernmentalorganizations, and governments to bring safe water and sanitation to theunserved; to the farmers growing more food with less water; to theinventors and engineers figuring out new ways of cleaning and purifyingwastewater or seawater; to the companies working to reduce their impact onwatersheds and water resources; and to local communities working togetherfor ecological protection and restoration.The First Age of Water started humanity on the road from the Stone Ageto the beginning of the modern era. The Second Age of Water produced theindustrial, agricultural, and technological revolutions that helped build ourmodern civilization, but it also brought unintended consequences. It’s timefor another revolution and the Third Age of Water. My experience and thesuccess stories of water I see all around give me hope and support myconviction that a positive, sustainable Third Age of Water is coming. Let’sdo what we can to make it come sooner.
Footnotei Said in a debate at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge,Massachusetts, September 9, 2009.
AcknowledgmentsPERHAPS IT’S FOLLY TO THINK ANOTHER BOOK ABOUT WATER will be appreciatedor read or make any difference in dealing with the many water challengeshumanity faces at this point in history, but while all writers hope to be read,that’s not the only reason we write. I live and work in a damaged world, aworld where humans are destroying the life-support systems of the onlyplanet we know with life. My experiences, my science, my day-to-day workexpose me daily to new information on the threats around us. In order tocontinue to wake up and face this world, I have to believe that an alternativefuture is possible, a positive vision for the world. Having studied, assessed,and analyzed how such a positive future can be achieved, I write to sharethat vision.Anaïs Nin wrote:I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one canlive. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me—the world ofmy parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create aworld of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which Icould breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living.That’s the genesis and rationale for this book—I had a hopeful storyabout water that I wanted to tell, as much to myself as to others. Stories ofwater have been told in many forms, many times, by journalists, writers,storytellers, and scientists. What I’ve written here is a synthesis of the longhuman history of water drawing from archaeology, mythology, legends,climatology, hydrology, and my own personal journey, life experiences, andmental and physical wanderings.It is impossible to remember and acknowledge all of the manycolleagues and friends I’ve had the pleasure to interact with and who haveinfluenced me over my six-plus decades. Forgive any omissions.
My deepest debt, to be placed up front rather than at the end, is owed toNicki Norman, the love of my life. Her personal and emotional support forme has made life worthwhile, but her intellectual contributions run equallydeep: her ability to listen, understand, and then reflect new ideas, newdirections, and new ways of thinking back to me, without making me feellike the idiot I sometimes am, is truly remarkable. She also had the patienceto read a draft of this book and helped turn gibberish into, I hope, somewhatmore coherent ramblings. Any remaining idiocy herein is, of course, only areflection on me.Special thanks to my wonderful sister Betsy, who helped me navigatethe arcane world of book publishing with insights and sage advice. Thankyou to Curtis Lomax, who took my author’s photo when I think he’d muchrather have been out photographing nature.My intellectual debts run deep, including early academic mentors,colleagues, and giants in their fields, including John Holdren, RogerRevelle, Gilbert White, Malin Falkenmark, Helen Ingram, Anne and PaulEhrlich, Stephen Schneider, Sandra Postel, Rita Colwell, Amory Lovins,Ismail Serageldin, Margaret Catley-Carlson, Kirk Smith, and FeliciaMarcus. My many colleagues over years at the Pacific Institute have been acontinual source of inspiration and insight, including especially HeatherCooley. Morgan Shimabuku, who has worked with me for several years onthe issue of water and conflict, also produced the map of water conflicts inthe Tigris and Euphrates river basins.Writing during a global pandemic made it challenging to track downphysical artifacts, visit museums, and view archival records. This bookcouldn’t have been written without access to materials now available indigital form, from translations of ancient cuneiform tablets to digitization ofold books, letters, and notes, to the outputs from sophisticated globalclimate models. Thanks are owed to friends, colleagues, and sometimescomplete strangers who helped me track down references, find data andpoints of information, review drafts of my chapters (Phil Plait, MichaelMcGuire, Alex Timmermann, Huw Groucutt, and Jay Famiglietti), or diginto physical archives to find things still not available digitally, includingCarl and Eileen Ganter, Ross Woods, Rhea Graham, Charles Fishman,Lauren O’Conner, Joe Manning, Michael Greshko, Matthew Murrey, andSheila Curran Bernard. Hugh Jamison, Stephanie Schierholz, and their team
at NASA kindly compiled data for me on how much water has beenlaunched to the International Space Station. Thanks to Carolyn Porco andthe remarkable Cassini imaging team at NASA/JPL/Space Science Institutefor their astounding photos of the water geysers jetting off of Saturn’s moonEnceladus (and thousands of other photos that distracted me for hours).Yuka Otsuki Estrada helped turn many of my numbers and graphs here intoreadable figures. Jeremy Seto kindly provided the photo of the bust ofRobert Broom at the archaeological site of Sterkfontein, South Africa. Jean-Luc Frérotte provided his photograph of the Sadd el-Kafara Dam in Egypt,Philippe Mattmann provided the photo of the Stele of the Vultures from theLouvre Museum, and Hans-Jürgen Krackher provided the photo of theantique Schweppes bottle from his collection.There are many stories to tell about water, and many ways to tell them.My shelves are lined with books by others who have worked on waterissues for years and by writers who had an important contribution to make,including Mark Arax, Edward Barbier, Cynthia Barnett, Giulio Boccaletti,Robin Clark, Cheryl Colopy, Marq de Villiers, Charles Fishman, Erica Gies,Robert Glennon, Daniel Hillel, Gerald Koeppel, Jacques Leslie, AlanMoorehead, Sandra Postel, Alex Prud’homme, Marc Reisner, David Sedlak,Seth Siegel, Paul Simon, Steven Solomon, Wallace Stegner, DonaldWorster, and many, many more. I’m honored to be able to add another bookto these shelves.Thanks to the staff of the Mesa Refuge for accepting me into theirunique writers’ retreat program—the time spent there was enormouslyvaluable in helping me turn a pile of notes, ideas, and musings into mostlythe right words, in mostly the right order—and to Marion Weber forawarding me a Marion Weber Healing Arts Fellowship, supporting my stayat the Refuge.Finally, thank you to the many hands at PublicAffairs who helped turnthese words into an actual book, including my editor Clive Priddle, whooften knew what I wanted to say and helped me say it, Kiyo Saso, ShenaRedmond, and copyeditor Annette Wenda. Thanks also to my agent, KimWitherspoon, for believing my idea might actually be a book.
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NotesINTRODUCTION1. A. Klesman, “How Did the First Chemical Element Appear in theUniverse?,” Astronomy (December 12, 2018).2. R. Trager, “Oxygen First Formed in the Universe at Least 13 BillionYears Ago,” Chemistry World (March 10, 2017).CHAPTER 1: A UNIVERSE OF WATER1. S. Jarugula et al., “Molecular Line Observations in Two Dusty Star-Forming Galaxies at z = 6.9,” Astrophysical Journal 921, no. 97 (2021).2. J. Aléon et al., “Determination of the Initial Hydrogen IsotopicComposition of the Solar System,” Nature Astronomy 6 (February 3, 2022):458–463; L. Piani et al., “Earth’s Water May Have Been Inherited fromMaterial Similar to Enstatite Chondrite Meteorites,” Science 369 (2020):1110–1113.3. M. Fischer-Gödde and T. Kleine, “Ruthenium Isotopic Evidence for anInner Solar System Origin of the Late Veneer,” Nature 541 (2017): 525–527; A. H. Peslier et al., “Water in the Earth’s Interior: Distribution andOrigin,” Space Science Reviews 212 (2017): 743–810.4. H. Genda, “Origin of Earth’s Oceans: An Assessment of the TotalAmount, History and Supply of Water,” Geochemical Journal 50 (2016):27–42; J. Wu et al., “Origin of Earth’s Water: Chondritic Inheritance PlusNebular Ingassing and Storage of Hydrogen in the Core,” Journal ofGeophysical Research: Planets 123 (2018): 2691–2712.5. G. Budde, C. Burkhardt, and T. Kleine, “Molybdenum IsotopicEvidence for the Late Accretion of Outer Solar System Material to Earth,”Nature Astronomy 3 (2019): 736–741.6. D. C. Lis et al., “Terrestrial Deuterium-to-Hydrogen Ratio in Water inHyperactive Comets,” Astronomy and Astrophysics 625 (2019).
7. A. N. Deutsch, G. A. Neumann, and J. W. Head, “New Evidence forSurface Water Ice in Small-Scale Cold Traps and in Three Large Craters atthe North Polar Region of Mercury from the Mercury Laser Altimeter,”Geophysical Research Letters 44 (2017): 9233–9241.8. M. Delva et al., “First Upstream Proton Cyclotron Wave Observationsat Venus,” Geophysical Research Letters 35 (2008).9. P. Lowell, Mars and Its Canals (New York: Macmillan, 1906).10. R. Orosei et al., “Radar Evidence of Subglacial Liquid Water onMars,” Science 361, no. 490 (2018); P. Plait, “So Is There Liquid WaterUnder the Martian Ice Cap or Not?,” SYFY Wire (January 26, 2022).11. Y. Liu et al., “Zhurong Reveals Recent Aqueous Activities in UtopiaPlanitia, Mars,” Science Advances 8, no. 19 (2022).12. A. Fedorova et al., “Multi-annual Monitoring of the Water VaporVertical Distribution on Mars by SPICAM on Mars Express,” Journal ofGeophysical Research: Planets 126, no. 1 (2021); J. I. Lunine et al., “TheOrigin of Water on Mars,” Icarus 165 (2003): 1–8; E. L. Scheller et al.,“Long-Term Drying of Mars by Sequestration of Ocean-Scale Volumes ofWater in the Crust,” Science 372 (2021): 56–62.13. S. Hall, “Soaked in Space: Our Solar System Is Overflowing withLiquid Water,” Scientific American 314, no. 1 (2016): 14–15.14. F. Nimmo and R. Pappalardo, “Ocean Worlds in the Outer SolarSystem,” Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 121 (2016): 1378–1399.15. G. L. Bjoraker, “Jupiter’s Elusive Water,” Nature Astronomy 4(2020): 558–559; C. Li et al., “The Water Abundance in Jupiter’s EquatorialZone,” Nature Astronomy 4 (2020): 609–616.16. NASA Science, “Enceladus: Ocean Moon,” NASA Solar SystemExploration (2018).17. I. Shiklomanov, “World Fresh Water Resources,” in Water in Crisis:A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources, ed. P. H. Gleick, 13–24(New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).CHAPTER 2: THE MIRACLE OF LIFE1. E. Wasilewska, Creation Stories of the Middle East (Philadelphia:Jessica Kingsley, 2000).
2. Canadian Museum of History, “Egyptian Civilization—Myths—Creation Myth,” Creation Myths of Egyptian Civilization (2022).3. L. Mays and A. Angelakis, “Ancient Gods and Goddesses of Water,” inEvolution of Water Supply Through the Millennia, 1–42 (London: IWA,2012).4. A. Gregory, Ancient Greek Cosmogony (London: Bristol ClassicalPress, Bloomsbury, 2007).5. Vatican, “La Santa Sede: The Book of Genesis,” Vatican.va (n.d.).6. T. Itani, Quran in English—Clear and Easy to Read (n.p.: CreateSpace,2014).7. R. M. Berndt and C. H. Berndt, The Speaking Land: Myth and Story inAboriginal Australia (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1994); D. A.Leeming and M. A. Leeming, A Dictionary of Creation Myths (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1994).8. M. S. Dodd et al., “Evidence for Early Life in Earth’s OldestHydrothermal Vent Precipitates,” Nature 543 (2017): 60–64; B. K. D.Pearce et al., “Constraining the Time Interval for the Origin of Life onEarth,” Astrobiology 18 (2018): 343–364.9. J. W. Schopf et al., “SIMS Analyses of the Oldest Known Assemblageof Microfossils Document Their Taxon-Correlated Carbon IsotopeCompositions,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(2018): 53–58.10. L. M. Longo et al., “Primordial Emergence of a Nucleic Acid-Binding Protein via Phase Separation and Statistical Ornithine-to-ArginineConversion,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117 (2020):15731–15739.11. P. Schmitt-Kopplin et al., “High Molecular Diversity ofExtraterrestrial Organic Matter in Murchison Meteorite Revealed 40 YearsAfter Its Fall,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(2010): 2763–2768.12. J. E. Elsila, D. P. Glavin, and J. P. Dworkin, “Cometary GlycineDetected in Samples Returned by Stardust,” Meteoritics and PlanetaryScience 44 (2009): 1323–1330; K. Altwegg et al., “Prebiotic Chemicals—Amino Acid and Phosphorus—in the Coma of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko,” Science Advances 2, no. 5 (2016).
13. M. C. De Sanctis et al., “Bright Carbonate Deposits as Evidence ofAqueous Alteration on (1) Ceres,” Nature 536 (2016): 54–57.14. Q. H. S. Chan et al., “Organic Matter in Extraterrestrial Water-Bearing Salt Crystals,” Science Advances 4, no. 1 (2018).CHAPTER 3: THE EVOLUTION OF HUMANITY1. P. Forster, “Ice Ages and the Mitochondrial DNA Chronology ofHuman Dispersals: A Review,” Philosophical Transactions of the RoyalSociety B: Biological Sciences 359 (2004): 255–264; J. Agustí and D.Lordkipanidze, “Out of Africa: An Alternative Scenario for the FirstHuman Dispersal in Eurasia,” Mètode Science Studies Journal 8 (2018):99–105.2. M. A. Maslin, S. Shultz, and M. H. Trauth, “A Synthesis of theTheories and Concepts of Early Human Evolution,” PhilosophicalTransactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 370 (2015).3. Maslin, Shultz, and Trauth, “Synthesis of the Theories and Concepts ofEarly Human Evolution”; W. H. Kimbel and B. Villmoare, “FromAustralopithecus to Homo: The Transition That Wasn’t,” PhilosophicalTransactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371 (2016); M.Grove, “Palaeoclimates, Plasticity, and the Early Dispersal of Homosapiens,” Quaternary International 369 (2015): 17–37.4. A. Timmermann et al., “Climate Effects on Archaic Human Habitatsand Species Successions,” Nature 604 (2022): 495–501.5. A. L. Billingsley, “Pan-African Climate Variability Since the Plio-Pleistocene and Possible Implications for Hominin Evolution” (PhD diss.,University of Arizona, 2019); M. A. Maslin and M. H. Trauth, “Plio-Pleistocene East African Pulsed Climate Variability and Its Influence onEarly Human Evolution,” in The First Humans: Origin and Early Evolutionof the Genus Homo, 151–158 ([Dordrecht]: Springer, 2009).6. R. B. Owen et al., “Progressive Aridification in East Africa over theLast Half Million Years and Implications for Human Evolution,”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (2018): 11174–11179.7. Timmermann et al., “Climate Effects on Archaic Human Habitats andSpecies Successions.”
8. W. D. Gosling, E. M. L. Scerri, and S. Kaboth-Bahr, “The Climate andVegetation Backdrop to Hominin Evolution in Africa,” PhilosophicalTransactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 377 (2022); E. M.L. Scerri et al., “Did Our Species Evolve in Subdivided Populations AcrossAfrica, and Why Does It Matter?,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 33(2018): 582–594; P. Raia et al., “Past Extinctions of Homo SpeciesCoincided with Increased Vulnerability to Climatic Change,” One Earth 3(2020): 480–490.9. A. Mondanaro et al., “A Major Change in Rate of Climate NicheEnvelope Evolution During Hominid History,” iScience 23 (2020).10. H. S. Groucutt et al., “Multiple Hominin Dispersals into SouthwestAsia over the Past 400,000 Years,” Nature 597 (2021): 376–380; R. M.Beyer et al., “Climatic Windows for Human Migration Out of Africa in thePast 300,000 Years,” Nature Communications 12 (2021).11. Beyer et al., “Climatic Windows for Human Migration Out ofAfrica.”12. A. Timmermann and T. Friedrich, “Late Pleistocene Climate Driversof Early Human Migration,” Nature 538 (2016): 92–95.13. C. Clarkson et al., “The Archaeology, Chronology and Stratigraphy ofMadjedbebe (Malakunanja II): A Site in Northern Australia with EarlyOccupation,” Journal of Human Evolution 83 (2015): 46–64; C. Clarkson etal., “Human Occupation of Northern Australia by 65,000 Years Ago,”Nature 547 (2017): 306–310.14. Forster, “Ice Ages and the Mitochondrial DNA Chronology of HumanDispersals.”15. M. R. Bennett et al., “Evidence of Humans in North America Duringthe Last Glacial Maximum,” Science 373 (2021): 1528–1531; J. Clark et al.,“The Age of the Opening of the Ice-Free Corridor and Implications for thePeopling of the Americas,” Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences 119 (2022); L. Becerra-Valdivia and T. Higham, “The Timing andEffect of the Earliest Human Arrivals in North America,” Nature 584(2020): 93–97; L. Bourgeon, A. Burke, and T. Higham, “Earliest HumanPresence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: NewRadiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada,” PLOS One 12 (2017).
CHAPTER 4: THE BEGINNING OF AGRICULTURE1. T. D. Price and O. Bar-Yosef, “The Origins of Agriculture: New Data,New Ideas: An Introduction to Supplement 4,” Current Anthropology 52(2011): S163–S174.2. D. R. Piperno, “The Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication inthe New World Tropics: Patterns, Process, and New Developments,”Current Anthropology 52 (2011): S453–S470; T. D. Price, “AncientFarming in Eastern North America,” Proceedings of the National Academyof Sciences 106 (2009): 6427–6428.3. D. Q. Fuller, “Contrasting Patterns in Crop Domestication andDomestication Rates: Recent Archaeobotanical Insights from the OldWorld,” Annals of Botany 100 (2007): 903–924; D. R. Piperno et al.,“Processing of Wild Cereal Grains in the Upper Palaeolithic Revealed byStarch Grain Analysis,” Nature 430 (2004): 670–673; M. A. Zeder, “TheOrigins of Agriculture in the Near East,” Current Anthropology 52 (2011):S221–S235.4. S. Manning et al., “The Earlier Neolithic in Cyprus: Recognition andDating of a Pre-pottery Neolithic A Occupation,” Antiquity 84 (2015): 693–706; J.-D. Vigne et al., “First Wave of Cultivators Spread to Cyprus at Least10,600 Y Ago,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(2012): 8445–8449.5. L. Liu et al., “Paleolithic Human Exploitation of Plant Foods Duringthe Last Glacial Maximum in North China,” Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences 110 (2013): 5380–5385.6. S. Jiang et al., “The Holocene Optimum (HO) and the Response ofHuman Activity: A Case Study of the Huai River Basin in Eastern China,”Quaternary International 493 (2018): 31–38; H. Y. Lu, “New Methods andProgress in Research on the Origins and Evolution of PrehistoricAgriculture in China,” Science China Earth Sciences 60 (2017): 2141–2159.7. D. J. Cohen, “The Beginnings of Agriculture in China: A MultiregionalView,” Current Anthropology 52 (2011): S273–S293; M. A. Sameer, “ACritical Appraisal of Ancient Agricultural Genesis in China Emphasis onRice, Millet and Mixed Farming: An Archaeobotanical Endeavor,” AsianJournal of Advances in Agricultural Research 1, no. 11 (2019); X. Yang et
al., “Early Millet Use in Northern China,” Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences 109 (2012): 3726–3730.8. Lu, “New Methods and Progress.”9. K. He et al., “Prehistoric Evolution of the Dualistic Structure MixedRice and Millet Farming in China,” Holocene 27 (2017): 1885–1898.10. M. H. Fisher, An Environmental History of India: From EarliestTimes to the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2018).11. D. R. Harris, ed., The Origins and Spread of Agriculture andPastoralism in Eurasia (London: UCL Press, 1996).12. K. Gangal, G. R. Sarson, and A. Shukurov, “The Near-Eastern Rootsof the Neolithic in South Asia,” PLOS One 9 (2014); J.-F. Jarrige,“Mehrgarh Neolithic,” Pragdhara 18 (2008): 136–154, paper presented atthe international seminar “First Farmers in Global Perspective,” Lucknow,India, January 18–20, 2008.13. L. Giosan et al., “Fluvial Landscapes of the Harappan Civilization,”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (2012): E1688–E1694.14. Giosan et al., “Fluvial Landscapes of the Harappan Civilization.”15. Jarrige, “Mehrgarh Neolithic”; Y. Enzel et al., “High-ResolutionHolocene Environmental Changes in the Thar Desert, Northwestern India,”Science 284 (1999): 125–128; A. Sarkar et al., “New Evidence of Early IronAge to Medieval Settlements from the Southern Fringe of Thar Desert(Western Great Rann of Kachchh), India: Implications to Climate-CultureCo-evolution,” Archaeological Research in Asia 21 (2020).16. A. K. Pokharia et al., “Altered Cropping Pattern and CulturalContinuation with Declined Prosperity Following Abrupt and Extreme AridEvent at ~4,200 Yrs BP: Evidence from an Indus Archaeological SiteKhirsara, Gujarat, Western India,” PLOS One 12 (2017).17. Giosan et al., “Fluvial Landscapes of the Harappan Civilization”; Y.Dixit et al., “Intensified Summer Monsoon and the Urbanization of IndusCivilization in Northwest India,” Scientific Reports 8 (2018); G.MacDonald, “Potential Influence of the Pacific Ocean on the IndianSummer Monsoon and Harappan Decline,” Quaternary International 229(2011): 140–148; T. H. Maugh, “Migration of Monsoons Created, ThenKilled Harappan Civilization,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2012.
18. L. Prates, G. G. Politis, and S. I. Perez, “Rapid Radiation of Humansin South America After the Last Glacial Maximum: A Radiocarbon-BasedStudy,” PLOS One 15 (2020).19. R. M. Rosenswig, “A Mosaic of Adaptation: The ArchaeologicalRecord for Mesoamerica’s Archaic Period,” Journal of ArchaeologicalResearch 23 (2015): 115–162.20. R. E. W. Adams, Prehistoric Mesoamerica, 3rd ed. (Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 2005); R. E. Blanton and S. A. Kowalewski,Ancient Mesoamerica: A Comparison of Change in Three Regions(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).21. Piperno, “Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication”; Piperno etal., “Processing of Wild Cereal Grains in the Upper Palaeolithic”; D. R.Piperno and B. D. Smith, “The Origins of Food Production inMesoamerica,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology,ed. D. L. Nichols and C. A. Pool, 151–164 (Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress, 2012).22. T. D. Dillehay, H. H. Eling, and J. Rossen, “Preceramic IrrigationCanals in the Peruvian Andes,” Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences 102 (2005): 17241–17244.23. J. Haas, W. Creamer, and A. Ruiz, “Dating the Late ArchaicOccupation of the Norte Chico Region in Peru,” Nature 432 (2004): 1020–1023.CHAPTER 5: THE GREAT FLOOD1. A. R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, CriticalEdition and Cuneiform Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).2. “Society of Biblical Archaeology,” London Daily News, December 4,1872; “Chaldean History of the Deluge,” Times, December 5, 1872.3. “The Chaldean Account of the Deluge,” London Daily News (1872).4. “Chaldean History of the Deluge.”5. “Find Oldest Record of Noah’s Flood; Nippur Clay Tablet of 2000 BCTells Story Very Like the Later Bible Narrative,” New York Times, March19, 1910.6. J. Bottéro, Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia (Chicago: University ofChicago Press, 2001).
7. R. D. Biggs and D. P. Hansen, Inscriptions from Tell Abu Salabikh,Oriental Institute Publications (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1974).8. Y. S. Chen, The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and EarlyDevelopment in Mesopotamian Traditions (Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress, 2013); W. G. Lambert, A. R. Millard, and M. Civil, Atra-H‒asīs: TheBabylonian Story of the Flood (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999).9. J. A. Black et al., The Literature of Ancient Sumer (Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 2004).10. A. R. Millard, “The Atrahasis Epic and Its Place in BabylonianLiterature” (PhD diss., University of London, 1966).11. S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh,and Others, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).12. J. H. Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (1982; reprint,Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2002).13. S. N. Kramer, “The Epic of Gilgameš and Its Sumerian Sources: AStudy in Literary Evolution,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 64,no. 1 (1944): 7–23.14. S. Garth, ed., Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books, Translated bythe Most Eminent Hands (London: Jacob Tonson, 1717).15. Garth, Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Fifteen Books.16. W. B. F. Ryan et al., “An Abrupt Drowning of the Black Sea Shelf,”Marine Geology 138 (1997): 119–126.17. H. Brückner and M. Engel, “Noah’s Flood—Probing an AncientNarrative Using Geoscience,” in Palaeohydrology: Geography of thePhysical Environment, ed. J. Herget and A. Fontana, 135–151 (Dordrecht:Springer, 2020); J. O. Herrle et al., “Black Sea Outflow Response toHolocene Meltwater Events,” Scientific Reports 8 (2018): 1–6; V. Yanko-Hombach et al., “Holocene Marine Transgression in the Black Sea: NewEvidence from the Northwestern Black Sea Shelf,” QuaternaryInternational 345 (2014): 100–118.18. S. Langdon and L. Ch. Watelin, Excavations at Kish: The HerbertWeld (for the University of Oxford) and Field Museum of Natural History(Chicago) Expedition to Mesopotamia (Paris: Librairie P. Geuthner, 1930).19. V. M. A. Heyvaert and C. Baeteman, “A Middle to Late HoloceneAvulsion History of the Euphrates River: A Case Study from Tell ed-Dēr,
Iraq, Lower Mesopotamia,” Quaternary Science Reviews 27 (2008): 2401–2410; M. Mallowan, “Noah’s Flood Reconsidered,” Iraq 26 (1964): 62–82;R. Raikes, “The Physical Evidence for Noah’s Flood,” Iraq 28 (1966): 52–63.20. A. Dundes, ed., The Flood Myth (Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress, 1988); D. MacDonald, “The Flood: Mesopotamian ArchaeologicalEvidence,” Creation/Evolution Journal 8 (1988): 14–20; L. Woolley,“Stories of the Creation and the Flood,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 88(1956): 14–21.21. China Heritage Project, “Chinese Myths of the Deluge,” ChinaHeritage Quarterly (Australian National University), no. 9 (2007); Q. Wuet al., “Outburst Flood at 1920 BCE Supports Historicity of China’s GreatFlood and the Xia Dynasty,” Science 353 (2016): 579–582.CHAPTER 6: CONTROLLING WATER1. H. W. F. Saggs, The Babylonians: A Survey of the Ancient Civilisationof the Tigris-Euphrates Valley (London: Folio Society, 1999).2. S. D. Walters, Water for Larsa: An Old Babylonian Archive Dealingwith Irrigation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970); D. R.Frayne, A Struggle for Water: A Case Study from the Historical Records ofthe Cities Isin and Larsa (1900–1800 BC) (Toronto: Canadian Society forMesopotamian Studies, 1989); J. Neumann, “Five Letters from and toHammurapi, King of Babylon (1792–1750 B.C.), on Water Works andIrrigation,” Journal of Hydrology 47 (1980): 393–397.3. B. Liu et al., “Earliest Hydraulic Enterprise in China, 5,100 YearsAgo,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (2017).4. China Heritage Project, “Chinese Myths of the Deluge,” ChinaHeritage Quarterly (Australian National University), no. 9 (2007); Q. Wuet al., “Outburst Flood at 1920 BCE Supports Historicity of China’s GreatFlood and the Xia Dynasty,” Science 353 (2016): 579–582.5. B. F. Chao, “Anthropogenic Impact on Global Geodynamics Due toReservoir Water Impoundment,” Geophysical Research Letters 22 (1995):3529–3532.6. A. Poidebard, La trace de Rome dans le désert de Syrie: Le limes deTrajan à la conquête Arabe; Recherches aériennes, 1925–1932 (Paris:
Geuthner, 1934).7. Cercle Aeronautique Louis Mouillard, “Antoine Poidebard,photographe et aviateur” (accessed December 31, 2021),https://calm3.jimdofree.com/app/download/7283481851/Poidebard+CALM+%282%29.pdf..8. B. Müller-Neuhof, A. Betts, and G. Wilcox, “Jawa, NortheasternJordan: The First 14C Dates for the Early Occupation Phase,” Zeitschrift fürOrient-Archäologie 8 (2015): 124–131.9. S. W. Helms, Jawa, Lost City of the Black Desert (Ithaca, NY: CornellUniversity Press, 1981).10. G. Garbrecht, “Sadd el-Kafara: The World’s Oldest Large Dam,”International Water Power & Dam Construction 27 (1985): 71–76.11. H. Fahlbusch, “Early Dams,” Proceedings of the Institution of CivilEngineers: Engineering History and Heritage 162 (2009): 13–18.12. S. C. R. Markham, Ocean Highways: The Geographical Review(London: N. Trubner, 1874).13. K. Romey, “‘Engineering Marvel’ of Queen of Sheba’s City Damagedin Airstrike,” National Geographic, June 3, 2015.14. S. Dalley, The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: AnElusive World Wonder Traced (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); S.Dalley and J. P. Oleson, “Sennacherib, Archimedes, and the Water Screw:The Context of Invention in the Ancient World,” Technology and Culture44 (2003): 1–26.15. A. A. S. Yazdi and M. L. Khaneiki, Qanat Knowledge: Constructionand Maintenance (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2017).16. M. Fattahi, “OSL Dating of the Miam Qanat (KĀRIZ) System in NEIran,” Journal of Archaeological Science 59 (2015): 54–63; M. Manuel, D.Lightfoot, and M. Fattahi, “The Sustainability of Ancient Water ControlTechniques in Iran: An Overview,” Water History 10 (2018): 13–30.17. P. W. English, “Qanats and Lifeworlds in Iranian Plateau Villages,”Transformation of Middle Eastern Natural Environment, Bulletin Series 3(Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies) (1998),https://web.archive.org/web/20180819210054/https://environment.yale.edu/publication-series/documents/downloads/0-9/103english.pdf; M. Honari,“Qanats and Human Ecosystems in Iran,” in Qanat, Kariz and Khattara:Traditional Water Systems in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. P.
Beaumont, M. Bonine, and K. MacLachlan, 61–85 (London: Middle EastCentre, SOAS and Middle East and North African Studies Press, 1989).18. P. W. English, “The Origin and Spread of Qanats in the Old World,”Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 112 (1968): 170–181;D. R. Lightfoot, “The Origin and Diffusion of Qanats in Arabia: NewEvidence from the Northern and Southern Peninsula,” GeographicalJournal 166 (2000): 215–226.19. English, “The Origin and Spread of Qanats in the Old World”; M.Honari, “Qanats and Human Ecosystems in Iran with Case Studies in aCity, Ardakan, and a Town, Xur (Khoor)” (PhD diss., University ofEdinburgh, 1979); J. Laessøe, “The Irrigation System at Ulhu, 8th CenturyBC,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 5 (1951): 21–32.20. Laessøe, “Irrigation System at Ulhu, 8th Century BC.”21. Lightfoot, “The Origin and Diffusion of Qanats in Arabia”; D. D.Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1927); O. W. Muscarella, “The Location of Ulhu andUiše in Sargon II’s Eighth Campaign, 714 B.C.,” Journal of FieldArchaeology 13 (1986): 465–475.22. British Museum, “Paradise on Earth: The Gardens of Ashurbanipal,”British Museum (blog), October 4, 2018,https://www.britishmuseum.org/blog/paradise-earth-gardens-ashurbanipal.23. T. Jacobsen and S. Lloyd, Sennacherib’s Aqueduct at Jerwan(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1935).24. A. Frumkin and A. Shimron, “Tunnel Engineering in the Iron Age:Geoarchaeology of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem,” Journal ofArchaeological Science 33 (2006): 227–237.25. The Complete Jewish Bible: Melachim II—II Kings—Chapter 20(Brooklyn: Judaica Press, 2022).26. M. S. Rosenzweig, “Ordering the Chaotic Periphery: TheEnvironmental Impact of the Neo-Assyrian Empire on Its Provinces,” inThe Provincial Archaeology of the Assyrian Empire, ed. J. MacGinnis et al.,49–58 (Oxford: Oxbow Press, 2016).27. Walters, Water for Larsa.CHAPTER 7: THE FIRST WATER WAR
1. G. A. Barton, “Inscription of Entemena #7,” in The Royal Inscriptionsof Sumer and Akkad, Library of Ancient Semitic Inscriptions (New Haven,CT: Yale University Press, 1929).2. W. Sallaberger and I. Schrakamp, eds., Arcane III: History & Philology—Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and theEastern Mediterranean (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2015).3. J. S. Cooper, Reconstructing History from Ancient Inscriptions: TheLagash-Umma Border Conflict (Malibu: Undena, 1983).4. P. H. Sand, “Mesopotamia, 2550 B.C.: The Earliest Boundary WaterTreaty,” Global Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology 5 (2018).5. Sallaberger and Schrakamp, Arcane III; J. B. Nies, “A Net Cylinder ofEntemena,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 36 (1916): 137–139.6. Sand, “Mesopotamia, 2550 B.C.”7. Sallaberger and I. Schrakamp, Arcane III; Cooper, ReconstructingHistory from Ancient Inscriptions.8. Sallaberger and Schrakamp, Arcane III.9. Barton, “Inscription of Entemena #7.”10. S. Lloyd, Twin Rivers: A Brief History of Iraq from the Earliest Timesto the Present Day, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961).11. S. M. Burstein, The Babyloniaca of Berossus (Malibu: Undena,1978).12. Herodotus, Herodotus (London: W. Heinemann, 1920); G.Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus (New York: D. Appleton, 1861).13. P. Gleick, “The Water Conflict Chronology,” The World’s Water:Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security(2022).14. F. Hirth, “The Story of Chang K’ién, China’s Pioneer in WesternAsia: Text and Translation of Chapter 123 of Ssï-Ma Ts’ién’s Shï-Ki,”Journal of the American Oriental Society 37 (1917): 89–152; A. Janku,“China: A Hydrological History,” Nature 536 (2016): 28–29.CHAPTER 8: LAWS AND INSTITUTIONS1. M. T. Roth, “Laws of Ur-Namma,” in Law Collections fromMesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).
2. T. Chandler, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An HistoricalCensus (Lewiston, NY: St. David’s University Press, 1987).3. R. Koldewey, The Excavations at Babylon (London: Macmillan, 1914);D. J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon: The Schweich Lectures of theBritish Academy, 1983 (Oxford: British Academy by Oxford UniversityPress, 1991).4. C. J. Gadd, Hammurabi and the End of His Dynasty (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1965); M. Rutz and P. Michalowski, “TheFlooding of Ešnunna, the Fall of Mari: Hammurabi’s Deeds in BabylonianLiterature and History,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 68 (2016).5. L. W. King, The Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi, King ofBabylon, About B.C. 2200 (London: Luzac, 1900).6. King, Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi; N. Adamo and N. Al-Ansari, “In Old Babylonia: Irrigation and Agriculture Flourished Under theCode of Hammurabi (2000–1600 BC),” Earth Sciences GeotechnicalEngineering 10 (2020): 41–57.7. Hammurabi, “The Avalon Project: The Code of Hammurabi” (2008),https://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/hammenu.asp; R. F. Harper, TheCode of Hammurabi, King of Babylon: About 2250 BC, 2nd ed. (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1904).8. I. E. Kornfeld, “Mesopotamia: A History of Water and Law,” in TheEvolution of the Law and Politics of Water, ed. J. W. Dellapenna and J.Gupta, 21–36 (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2009).9. S. D. Abulhab, The Law Code of Hammurabi: Transliterated andLiterally Translated from Its Early Classical Arabic Language (New York:Blautopf, 2017); J. Postgate and M. Powell, Irrigation and Cultivation inMesopotamia (Cambridge: Sumerian Agriculture Group, University ofCambridge, 1988).10. Hammurabi, “Avalon Project.”11. G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws (Eugene, OR:Wipf and Stock, 2007); R. C. Ellickson and C. D. Thorland, “Ancient LandLaw: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 71 (1995):321–411.12. J. Krasilnikoff and A. N. Angelakis, “Water Management and ItsJudicial Contexts in Ancient Greece: A Review from the Earliest Times tothe Roman Period,” Water Policy 21 (2019): 245–258.
13. D. A. Caponera and M. Nanni, Principles of Water Law andAdministration: National and International, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge,2019).CHAPTER 9: FROM THE FIRST TO THE SECOND AGE1. P. B. Ebrey, The Cambridge Illustrated History of China (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1996); X. Y. Zheng, “The Ancient UrbanWater System Construction of China: The Lessons from History for aSustainable Future,” International Journal of Global Environmental Issues14 (2015): 187–199.CHAPTER 10: SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS1. H. Cavendish, “Three Papers, Containing Experiments on FactitiousAir, by the Hon. Henry Cavendish, F.R.S.,” Philosophical Transactions 56(1766).2. American Chemical Society, “Joseph Priestley, Discoverer of Oxygen:National Historic Chemical Landmark,” American Chemical Society(2000).3. A. J. Berry, Henry Cavendish, His Life and Scientific Work (London:Hutchinson, 1960).4. A. Burnaby, Travels Through the Middle Settlements in North Americain the Years 1759 and 1760: With Observations upon the State of theColonies (London: T. Payne, 1775).5. G. T. Koeppel, Water for Gotham: A History (Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversity Press, 2000).6. W. Nelson, Josiah Hornblower and the First Steam-Engine inAmerica: With Some Notices of the Schuyler Copper Mines at Second River,N.J., and a Genealogy of the Hornblower Family (Newark, NJ: DailyAdvertiser Printing House, 1883).7. Koeppel, Water for Gotham; J. L. Bishop, A History of AmericanManufactures, from 1608 to 1860: Exhibiting the Origin and Growth of thePrincipal Mechanic Arts and Manufactures, from the Earliest ColonialPeriod to the Adoption of the Constitution and Comprising Annals of theIndustry of the United States in Machinery, Manufactures and Useful Arts,
with a Notice of the Important Inventions, Tariffs, and the Results of EachDecennial Census (Philadelphia: Edward Young, 1866).8. C. Colles, “Copy of a Proposal of Christopher Colles, for Furnishingthe City of New-York with a Constant Supply of Fresh Water, to theWorshipful the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonality, of the City of New-York, in Common Council” (1774).9. M. A. Pierce, “Documentary History of American Water-Works:Christopher Colles 1774 Water System,” Documentary History of AmericanWater-Works (2015).10. J. Thacher, A Military Journal During the American RevolutionaryWar: From 1775 to 1783, Describing Interesting Events and Transactions ofthis Period, with Numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes, from theOriginal Manuscript. To Which Is Added an Appendix, ContainingBiographical Sketches of Several General Officers, 2nd ed. (Boston:Cottons & Barnard, 1827).11. D. E. Popper, “Poor Christopher Colles: An Innovator’s Obstacles inEarly America,” Journal of American Culture 28 (2005): 178–190; SaintPaul’s Chapel and Churchyard, New York, Christopher James Colles Burial(1816).12. M. A. Pierce, “List of Steam Engines Used in AmericanWaterworks,” Documentary History of American Water-Works (2020).CHAPTER 11: TACKLING THE SCOURGE OF WATER-RELATEDDISEASES1. A. R. David, ed., The Manchester Museum Mummy Project:Multidisciplinary Research on Ancient Egyptian Mummified Remains(Manchester: Manchester Museum, Manchester University Press, 1979).2. D. I. Grove, A History of Human Helminthology (Wallingford, UK:CAB International, 1990).3. M. M. Sajadi, D. Mansouri, and M.-R. M. Sajadi, “Ibn Sina and theClinical Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine 150 (2009): 640–643.4. Grove, History of Human Helminthology; G. F. H. Küchenmeister, Diein und an dem Körper des lebenden Menschen vorkommenden Parasiten(Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von B.G. Teubner, 1855).
5. S. N. DeWitte, “Mortality Risk and Survival in the Aftermath of theMedieval Black Death,” PLOS One 9 (2014); S. N. DeWitte and J. W.Wood, “Selectivity of Black Death Mortality with Respect to PreexistingHealth,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (2008):1436–1441; N. Chr. Stenseth, “Plague Through History,” Science 321(2008).6. Vitruvius, Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1914).7. M. T. Varro, Cato and Varro: On Agriculture, Loeb Classical Library283 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934).8. World Health Organization, “Safer Water, Better Health” (2019).9. World Health Organization, “Safer Water, Better Health”; L.-D. Wanget al., “China’s New Strategy to Block Schistosoma japonicumTransmission: Experiences and Impact Beyond Schistosomiasis,” TropicalMedicine and International Health 14 (2009): 1475–1483.10. A. Prüss-Üstün et al., Preventing Disease Through HealthyEnvironments: A Global Assessment of the Burden of Disease fromEnvironmental Risks (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2016).11. H. Thompson, “France Warns of Increased Risk of Dengue Feverfrom Tiger Mosquitoes,” Connexion France News in English (2022).12. Prüss-Üstün et al., Preventing Disease Through HealthyEnvironments.13. J. C. Peters et al., A Treatise on Asiatic Cholera, ed. E. C. Wendt(New York: William Wood, 1885).14. J. P. Byrne, ed., Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues:A–M, ABC-CLIO (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008).15. Byrne, Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues; J. Duffy,“The History of Asiatic Cholera in the United States,” Bulletin of the NewYork Academy of Medicine 47 (1971): 1152–1168.16. Byrne, Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues; C. E.Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).17. H. Pennington, “The Impact of Infectious Disease in War Time: ALook Back at WW1,” Future Microbiology 14 (2019): 165–168.18. J. T. Veitch, “Cholera in the Black Sea Fleet: GeneralCorrespondence,” Medical Times Gazette 9 (1854): 360–361.
19. Veitch, “Cholera in the Black Sea Fleet.”20. M. V. Pettenkofer, “Cholera III: Modes of Propagation,” PopularScience Monthly 26 (1885): 750–759.21. R. D. Mason, “Medical and Surgical Journal of Her Majesty’s ShipAlbion: January 1 1854–January 5 1856,” fol. 73–76,https://discovery.national archives.gov.uk/details/r/C4107054..22. W. Smart, “On Asiatic Cholera in Our Fleets and Ships,”Transactions: Epidemiological Society of London 5 (1887): 65–103.23. “Cholera’s Seven Pandemics,” CBC News, May 9, 2008.24. Byrne, Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues; J. G.Morris Jr. and R. E. Black, “Cholera and Other Vibrioses in the UnitedStates,” New England Journal of Medicine 312 (1985): 343–350.25. Byrne, Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues; Duffy,“History of Asiatic Cholera in the United States.”26. Byrne, Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues.27. R. R. Colwell, “Global Climate and Infectious Disease: The CholeraParadigm,” Science 274 (1996): 2025–2031.28. J. Deen, M. A. Mengel, and J. D. Clemens, “Epidemiology ofCholera,” Vaccine 38 (2020): A31–A40; World Health Organization,“Cholera,” Health Topics (2021).29. A. Mutreja et al., “Evidence for Several Waves of GlobalTransmission in the Seventh Cholera Pandemic,” Nature 477 (2011): 462–465.30. D. Hu et al., “Origins of the Current Seventh Cholera Pandemic,”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (2016): E7730–E7739.31. D. Koo et al., “Epidemic Cholera in Latin America, 1991–1993:Implications of Case Definitions Used for Public Health Surveillance,”Bulletin of the Pan American Health Organization 30 (1996): 134–143.32. F. D. Orata, P. S. Keim, and Y. Boucher, “The 2010 Cholera Outbreakin Haiti: How Science Solved a Controversy,” PLOS Pathogens 10 (2014).CHAPTER 12: THE SCIENCE OF SAFE WATER1. E. A. Underwood, “The History of Cholera in Great Britain,”Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 41 (1947): 165–173.
2. S. Galbraith, “William Hardcastle (1794–1860) of Newcastle uponTyne, and His Pupil John Snow,” Archaeologia Aeliana 27 (1999): 155–170; M. A. E. Ramsay, “John Snow, MD: Anaesthetist to the Queen ofEngland and Pioneer Epidemiologist,” Proceedings of the Baylor UniversityMedical Center 19 (2006): 24–28.3. “Smells Like Thames Sewage,” BBC, June 5, 2009.4. “The Great Stink,” Illustrated London News, July 1858.5. J. Snow, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, 2nd ed. (London:John Churchill, New Burlington Street, 1855).6. “Review of Snow: On the Mode of Communication of Cholera,”London Medical Gazette (1849).7. W. Farr, On the Mortality of Cholera in England, 1848–1849 (London:W. Clowes and Sons, 1852).8. Snow, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera.9. J. Snow, “‘Dr. Snow’s Report,’ in the Report on the Cholera Outbreakin the Parish of St. James, Westminster, During the Autumn of 1854”(1855), http://johnsnow.matrix.msu.edu/work.php?id=15-78-55.10. Snow, “‘Dr. Snow’s Report.’”11. P. H. Gleick, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession withBottled Water (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010).12. “Testimony of John Snow to a Parliamentary Committee” (1855),https://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/snows_testimony.html.13. J. P. Byrne, ed., Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues:A–M, ABC-CLIO (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008).CHAPTER 13: BUILDING MODERN SYSTEMS1. “Jersey City’s Underground Railroad History: Thousands of FormerSlaves Sought Freedom by Passing Through Jersey City,” Hudson Reporter,March 23, 2007.2. “World Population Review, Jersey City, New Jersey Population 2020(Demographics, Maps, Graphs)” (2020),https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/jersey-city-nj-population..3. M. J. McGuire, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and theFight to Save Lives (Denver: American Water Works Association, 2013).
4. J. L. Leal, “An Epidemic of Typhoid Fever Due to an Infected WaterSupply,” Public Health Papers and Reports 25 (1899): 166–171.5. Leal, “Epidemic of Typhoid Fever.”6. T. Alcock, An Essay on the Use of Chlorurets of Oxide of Sodium andof Lime, as Powerful Disinfecting Agents, and of the Chloruret of Oxide ofSodium, More Especially as a Remedy of Considerable Efficacy, in theTreatment of Hospital Gangrene; Phagedenic, Syphilitic, and IllConditioned Ulcers; Mortification; and Various Other Diseases (London:Burgess and Hill, 1827).7. J. Race, Chlorination of Water (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1918).8. “The Typhoid Epidemic at Maidstone,” Journal of the SanitaryInstitute 18 (1897).9. M. H. G., “Sir Alexander Cruikshank Houston, 1865–1933: Obituary,”Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 1 (1934): 334–344.10. McGuire, Chlorine Revolution.11. W. J. Magie, “Report for Hon. W. J. Magie, Special Master on Cost ofSewers, etc., and on Efficiency of Sterilization Plant at Boonton” (1910),http://www.waterworkshistory.us/NJ/Jersey_City/1910Magie.pdf..12. Race, Chlorination of Water.13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Ten Great PublicHealth Achievements—United States, 1900–1999,” MMWR: Morbidity andMortality Weekly Report 48 (1999); Stacker Newswire, “100 LeadingCauses of Death in the U.S.” (2021), https://stacker.com/stories/1100/100-leading-causes-death-us.14. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, “DrinkingWater Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: Sixth Report toCongress” (Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018).15. Water Environment Federation, “Found in Philadelphia: 200-Year-Old Wooden Water Mains,” WEF Highlights (2017); S. Darmanjian, “WoodWater Mains Hundreds of Years Old Found in Albany,” WTEN/News10ABC, June 10, 2021.16. Value of Water Campaign, American Society of Civil Engineers(ASCE), “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure: Howa Failure to Act Would Affect the U.S. Economic Recovery” (2020).17. B. Lazovic, “The Rise and Fall of Flint, Michigan, Beginning in the1800s,” Odyssey Online (2016).
18. S. J. Masten, S. H. Davies, and S. P. Mcelmurry, “Flint Water Crisis:What Happened and Why?,” Journal of the American Water WorksAssociation 108 (2016): 22–34.19. R. Fonger, “Flint DPW Director Says Water Use Has Spiked AfterHundreds of Water Main Breaks,” MLive (2015).20. Masten, Davies, and Mcelmurry, “Flint Water Crisis.”21. M. Hanna-Attisha et al., “Elevated Blood Lead Levels in ChildrenAssociated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Riskand Public Health Response,” American Journal of Public Health 106(2016): 283–290.22. Masten, Davies, and Mcelmurry, “Flint Water Crisis.”23. C. Zdanowicz, “Flint Family Uses 151 Bottles of Water per Day,”CNN, March 5, 2016; R. Fonger, “State Spending on Bottled Water in FlintAveraging $22,000 a Day,” MLive (2018).24. M. Hanna-Attisha, “Opinion: Is Water in Flint Safe to Drink? It’s NotJust a Question of Chemistry,” Washington Post, April 26, 2019.25. D. Robertson, “Flint Has Clean Water Now. Why Won’t People DrinkIt?,” Politico, December 23, 2020.26. R. Fonger, “Youngest Flint Water Crisis Victims to Get 80 Percent ofHistoric $600 Million Settlement,” MLive (2020).27. D. Bostic, “At Risk: Public Supply Well Vulnerability UnderCalifornia’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act” (Oakland: PacificInstitute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, 2021).28. L. Feinstein, Measuring Progress Toward Universal Access to Waterand Sanitation in California: Defining Goals, Indicators, and PerformanceMeasures (Oakland: Pacific Institute for Studies in Development,Environment, and Security, 2018).29. P. H. Gleick and M. Edwards, “One Step to Help Restore Trust inFlint,” Detroit Free Press, March 5, 2016.CHAPTER 14: WATER POVERTY1. World Health Organization, “World Health Organization: WaterSanitation Hygiene,” Water-Related Diseases, Diarrhoea (n.d.) (accessedOctober 9, 2020).
2. A. Jain, A. Wagner, C. Snell-Rood, and I. Ray, “Understanding OpenDefecation in the Age of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Agency, Accountability,and Anger in Rural Bihar,” International Journal of EnvironmentalResearch and Public Health 17 (2020); World Health Organization andUNICEF, Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene,2000–2020: Five Years into the SDGs (Geneva: World Health Organizationand the United Nations Children’s Fund, 2021).3. World Health Organization and UNICEF, Progress on HouseholdDrinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; United Nations Department ofEconomic and Social Affairs, SDG 6 Statistics, Ensure Availability andSustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for All (United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division, 2017),https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/goal-06/; WHO/UNICEF JointWater Supply Sanitation Monitoring Programme, Progress on DrinkingWater, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and SDG Baselines (Geneva:World Health Organization [WHO] and the United Nations Children’s Fund[UNICEF], 2017).4. UN Water, “Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report onWater and Sanitation” (UN-Water United Nations, 2018).5. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World HealthOrganization (WHO), “Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitationand Hygiene, 2000–2017: Special Focus on Inequalities” (New York:United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization, 2019),https://www.ircwash.org/resources/progress-household-drinking-water-sanitation-and-hygiene-2000-2017-special-focus.6. “Cholera Outbreak in Kibera—What Are the Facts?,” Chaffinch:Supporting Children in Kenya (2017); “Cholera Cases Rise in Kenya’sCapital, Top Hospital Says,” Reuters, April 16, 2019; D. Mutonga et al.,“National Surveillance Data on the Epidemiology of Cholera in Kenya,1997–2010,” Journal of Infectious Diseases 208 (2013): S55–S61; “KenyaReports Cholera Outbreak, More Than 300 Cases in May,” Outbreak NewsToday, June 10, 2022; G. Cowman et al., “Factors Associated with Cholerain Kenya, 2008–2013,” Pan African Medical Journal 28 (2017); “MoreThan 30 Patients from Slums Admitted with Cholera in Nairobi—Kenya,”ReliefWeb, May 1, 2015.
7. G. Hutton and M. Varughese, “The Costs of Meeting the 2030Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, andHygiene,” World Bank Group (2016).8. “Global Military Expenditure Sees Largest Annual Increase in aDecade—Says SIPRI—Reaching $1917 Billion in 2019,” StockholmInternational Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), April 27, 2020.9. Pet Food Processing, “US Pet Spending Nears $100 Billion in 2019,”March 3, 2020.10. United Nations Economic and Social Council, “Progress Towards theSustainable Development Goals: Report of the Secretary-General” (UnitedNations, 2022).11. B. F. Rubin and S. Kapur-Gomes, “India Spent $30 Billion to Fix ItsBroken Sanitation. It Ended Up with More Problems,” CNET, September11, 2020.CHAPTER 15: COMMERCIALIZING AND PRIVATIZING WATER1. “Statista, Bottled Water—Worldwide: Statista Market Forecast,”Statista (2021).2. P. H. Gleick, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession withBottled Water (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2010).3. D. P. Crouch, Water Management in Ancient Greek Cities (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1993).4. R. Porter, “The Medical History of Waters and Spas: Introduction,”Medical History Supplement 10 (1990): vii–xii.5. S. Gianfaldoni et al., “History of the Baths and Thermal Medicine,”Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences 5 (2017): 566–568;Hippocrates, On Airs, Waters, and Places (400 BC),http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/airwatpl.html.6. A. L. Croutier, Taking the Waters: Spirit, Art, Sensuality (New York:Abbeville Press, 1992).7. D. F. Harris, “The Pioneer in the Hygiene of Ventilation,” Lancet(1910): 906–908.8. J. Priestley, Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air: InOrder to Communicate to It the Peculiar Spirit and Virtues of Pyrmont
Water, and Other Mineral Waters of a Similar Nature (London: printed forJ. Johnson, No. 72, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1772).9. “A Brief History of Bottled Water in America,” Great Lakes Law(March 2009).10. B. Rush, Directions for the Use of the Mineral Water and Cold Bath,at Harrogate, Near Philadelphia (Philadelphia: printed by Melchior Steiner,1786).11. T. Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York:Bloomsbury USA, 2009).12. S. Armijo, “Inventors and Patents,” History of the Soda Fountain(2016).13. M. G. Humphreys, “The Evolution of the Soda Fountain,” Harper’sWeekly 35 (1891): 923–924.14. “Bottled Water Advertising,” Bottled Water IBWA (2019); “BottledWater Market,” Bottled Water IBWA (2020).15. “Water Advertising,” Gourmet Ads (2021).16. Gleick, Bottled and Sold.17. Associated Press, “Cleveland Takes Offense at Fiji Water Ad,”Washington Post, July 20, 2006.18. C. Edwards, “Margaret Thatcher’s Privatization Legacy,” CatoJournal 37 (2017).19. World Bank, “Water and Sewerage Sector Snapshots—PrivateParticipation in Infrastructure (PPI)—World Bank Group,” PrivateParticipation in Infrastructure, Water and Sewerage Sector (2022),https://ppi.worldbank.org/en/snapshots/sector/water-and-sewerage.20. A. Kopaskie, “Public vs Private: A National Overview of WaterSystems,” Environmental Finance Blog (blog), October 19, 2016,https://efc.web.unc.edu/2016/10/19/public-vs-private-a-national-overview-of-water-systems.21. P. H. Gleick et al., The New Economy of Water: The Risks andBenefits of Globalization and Privatization of Fresh Water (Oakland:Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security,2002); D. A. McDonald, “Innovation and New Public Water,” Journal ofEconomic Policy Reform 23 (2020): 67–82; G. Wolff and E. Hallstein,Beyond Privatization: Restructuring Water Systems to Improve
Performance (Oakland: Pacific Institute for Studies in Development,Environment, and Security, 2005).22. S. Laville, “England’s Privatised Water Firms Paid £57bn inDividends Since 1991,” Guardian, July 1, 2020; S. Laville and A. Leach,“Water Firms’ Debts Since Privatisation Hit £54bn as Ofwat Refuses toImpose Limits,” Guardian, December 1, 2022.23. “English Water Industry Needs Re-nationalising,” UNISON National,October 28, 2021.24. McDonald, “Innovation and New Public Water.”CHAPTER 16: WATER AND CONFLICT1. U. Albrecht, “War over Water?,” Journal of European Area Studies 8(2000): 11–25; J. K. Cooley, “The War over Water,” Foreign Policy (Spring1984): 3–26; B. Otto and S. Böhm, “‘The People’ and Resistance AgainstInternational Business: The Case of the Bolivian ‘Water War,’” CriticalPerspectives on International Business 2 (2006): 299–320.2. A. T. Wolf, “Conflict and Cooperation Along InternationalWaterways,” Water Policy 1 (1998): 251–265; A. T. Wolf, “‘Water Wars’and Water Reality: Conflict and Cooperation Along InternationalWaterways,” in Environmental Change, Adaptation, and Security, 251–265(Dordrecht: Springer, 1999).3. P. Gleick, “The Water Conflict Chronology,” World’s Water: PacificInstitute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security (2022).4. A. T. Wolf et al., “International River Basins of the World,”International Journal of Water Resources Development 15 (1999): 387–427.5. J. R. Starr, “Water Wars,” Foreign Policy (Spring 1991): 17–36.6. R. Mars, “Barbed Wire’s Dark, Deadly History,” Gizmodo, March 25,2015.7. W. Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell andthe Second Opening of the West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,1953).8. J.-J. Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (1755).9. M. Bellis, “The History of Barbed Wire: How Barbed Wire Shaped theWest,” ThoughtCo, March 1, 2019.
10. F. T. McCallum and H. D. McCallum, The Wire That Fenced the West(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979).11. W. Gard, “Fence Cutting” (1952), Texas State Historical Association,updated September 21, 2019.12. S. Western, “The Wyoming Cattle Boom, 1868–1886,” WyomingState Historical Society, November 8, 2014.13. “The Trouble in Wyoming: An Attempt to Rid the State of CattleThieves,” New York Times, April 14, 1892.14. K. Weiser, “Johnson County War,” Legends of America, last updatedFebruary 2021.15. H. Herring, “The Johnson County War: How Wyoming SettlersBattled an Illegal Death Squad,” Field and Stream, April 12, 2013.16. Associated Press, “Videos Show Gunfire amid Iran Protests overWater Scarcity,” CNBC World News, July 1, 2018.17. US Army Corps of Engineers, “Applications of Hydrology in MilitaryPlanning and Operations,” Military Hydrology Bulletin 1 (June 1957).18. A. E. Kramer, “Ukrainians Flood Village of Demydiv to KeepRussians at Bay,” New York Times, April 27, 2022.19. M. Rodionov, “Russian Troops Destroy Ukrainian Dam That BlockedWater to Crimea,” US News and World Report, February 26, 2022.20. P. H. Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict inSyria,” Weather, Climate, and Society 6 (2014): 331–340.21. Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria.”22. P. H. Gleick, “Water as a Weapon and Casualty of Armed Conflict: AReview of Recent Water-Related Violence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen,”Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water 6, no. 4 (2019).23. F. Pearce, “Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, a Battle for Control ofWater,” Yale Environment 360, August 25, 2014.24. Gleick, “Water as a Weapon and Casualty of Armed Conflict”; T. vonLossow, “The Rebirth of Water as a Weapon: IS in Syria and Iraq,”International Spectator 51 (2016): 82–99; D. MacKenzie, “Extremists inIraq Now Control the Country’s Rivers,” New Scientist, June 12, 2014.25. A. J. Rubin and R. Nordland, “Sunni Militants Advance TowardLarge Iraqi Dam,” New York Times, June 25, 2014; A. Vishwanath, “TheWater Wars Waged by the Islamic State,” Stratfor, November 25, 2015; M.
Weaver, “US Hails Recapture of Mosul Dam as Symbol of United BattleAgainst ISIS,” Guardian, August 19, 2014.26. E. Cunningham, “Islamic State Jihadists Are Using Water as aWeapon in Iraq,” Washington Post, October 7, 2014.27. United Nations Security Council, “CTED Trends Report. PhysicalProtection of Critical Infrastructure Against Terrorist Attacks” (Counter-Terrorism Committee, Executive Directorate, 2017).28. Gleick, “Water as a Weapon and Casualty of Armed Conflict”;Lossow, “Rebirth of Water as a Weapon”; Reuters, “Islamic State ReleasesVideo Urging Muslims to Carry Out Attacks in France,” Indian Express,November 14, 2015; “Kosovo Cuts Pristina Water Supply over AllegedISIS Plot to Poison Reservoir,” Guardian, July 11, 2015.29. United Nations, “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II)” (Geneva, 1977),https://legal.un.org/avl/ha/pagc/pagc.html.30. Government of the State of Israel and the Government of theHashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Treaty of Peace Between the State of Israeland the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” (1994),https://peacemaker.un.org/israeljordan-peacetreaty94.CHAPTER 17: THE BLUE-GREEN REVOLUTION1. A. Sen, “Ingredients of Famine Analysis: Availability andEntitlements,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 96 (1981): 433–464.2. P. L. Pingali, “Green Revolution: Impacts, Limits, and the PathAhead,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (2012):12302–12308.3. A. Briney, “History and Overview of the Green Revolution,”ThoughtCo, January 22, 2020.4. S. Siebert et al., “A Global Data Set of the Extent of Irrigated Landfrom 1900 to 2005,” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 19 (2015):1521–1545; J. Meier, F. Zabel, and W. Mauser, “A Global Approach toEstimate Irrigated Areas: A Comparison Between Different Data andStatistics,” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 22 (2018): 1119–1133.
5. US Department of Agriculture, “USDA ERS—Irrigation & WaterUse,” Irrigation Water Use, May 6, 2022.6. “Norton’s Patent Tube Wells,” Press 12 (1868).7. J. D. Mather and E. P. Rose, “Military Aspects of Hydrogeology: AnIntroduction and Overview,” Geological Society of London: SpecialPublications 362 (2012): 1–18.8. K. A. Wittfogel, “Developmental Aspects of Hydraulic Societies,” inIrrigation Civilizations: A Comparative Study; A Symposium on Methodand Result in Cross-Cultural Regularities, by Julian H. Steward, 43–52,Social Science Monographs (Washington, DC: Pan American Union, 1955).9. K. A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of TotalPower (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957).10. K. Subramanian, “Revisiting the Green Revolution: Irrigation andFood Production in Twentieth-Century India” (PhD diss., King’s College,London, 2015).11. B. D. Dhawan, Irrigation in India’s Agricultural Development:Productivity, Stability, Equity (New Delhi: Sage Publications India, 1987).12. FAO, AQUASTAT Main Database (2020),https://www.fao.org/aquastat/en/..13. Subramanian, “Revisiting the Green Revolution.”14. P. B. R. Hazell, The Asian Green Revolution (Washington, DC:International Food Policy Research Institute, 2009).15. FAO, AQUASTAT Main Database (2020).16. “Vanishing Act: NASA Scientist Jay Famiglietti on Our ChangingWater Future,” H2O Radio, August 16, 2016.17. A. S. Qureshi, “Groundwater Governance in Pakistan: From ColossalDevelopment to Neglected Management,” Water 12 (2020).18. F. van Steenbergen et al., “A Case of Groundwater Depletion inBalochistan, Pakistan: Enter into the Void,” Journal of Hydrology: RegionalStudies 4 (2015): 36–47.19. C. Dalin et al., “Groundwater Depletion Embedded in InternationalFood Trade,” Nature 543 (2017): 700–704.20. J. S. Perkin et al., “Groundwater Declines Are Linked to Changes inGreat Plains Stream Fish Assemblages,” Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences 114 (2017): 7373–7378.
21. M. Wines, “Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust,” New York Times,May 19, 2013.22. Y. Wada et al., “Global Depletion of Groundwater Resources,”Geophysical Research Letters 37 (2010); Y. Wada, L. P. H. Beek, and MarcF. P. Bierkens, “Nonsustainable Groundwater Sustaining Irrigation: AGlobal Assessment,” Water Resources Research 48 (2012); M. F. Bierkensand Y. Wada, “Non-renewable Groundwater Use and GroundwaterDepletion: A Review,” Environmental Research Letters 14, no. 6 (2019).23. Robert Glennon, Unquenchable (Washington, DC: Island Press,2009).CHAPTER 18: INDUSTRIAL GROWTH AND ENVIRONMENTALDISASTERS1. “The Purification of the River Thames,” Standard, July 5, 1858.2. “Torrey Canyon Tanker Being Bombed During Oil Spill,” BBC News,February 10, 2016.3. D. Snell, “Iridescent Gift of Death,” Life, June 13, 1969, 22–27.4. J. Hartig, Burning Rivers: Revival of Four Urban Industrial RiversThat Caught on Fire (n.p.: Multi-Science, 2010).5. “The River Set on Fire: One Life Lost, Two Men Badly Burned, and aVessel Damaged,” New York Times, November 2, 1892.6. F. D. Roylance, “Troubled Waters: The Sad Fate of the Jones Falls,”Baltimore Sun, May 17, 1991.7. E. Buckley, “If Our Water Could Talk, Part I: Buffalo River History,”WBFO NPR Buffalo, May 12, 2014.8. General Services Administration, “Weekly Compilation of PresidentialDocuments: The President’s Remarks at Niagara Square, Buffalo, NewYork. August 19, 1966” (Office of the Federal Register, National Archivesand Records Service, General Services Administration, 1966).9. “Oil-Caused River Fire Still Probed,” Buffalo Courier-Express,January 27, 1968.10. Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, “Lake Erie Report:A Plan for Water Pollution Control” (US Department of the Interior,Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, 1968).
11. “A Great Oil Fire: The Burning Fluid Carried by a Flood into theMidst of Refineries,” New York Times, February 4, 1883.12. J. H. Adler, “Fables of the Cuyahoga: Reconstructing a History ofEnvironmental Protection,” Fordham Environmental Law Journal 14(2002); L. La Bella, Not Enough to Drink: Pollution, Drought, and TaintedWater Supplies (New York: Rosen, 2009).13. “Oil Slick Fire Damages 2 River Spans,” Cleveland Plain Dealer,June 23, 1969; D. Stradling and R. Stradling, “Perceptions of the BurningRiver: Deindustrialization and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River,”Environmental History 13 (2008): 515–535.14. N. M. Maher, “How Many Times Does a River Have to Burn BeforeIt Matters?,” New York Times, June 22, 2019.15. “America’s Sewage System and the Price of Optimism,” Time,August 1, 1969.16. Maher, “How Many Times Does a River Have to Burn Before ItMatters?”; L. Johnston, “The Original Report of the 1969 Cuyahoga RiverFire,” cleveland.com, June 17, 2019.17. “The Burning Rivers: Editorial,” Detroit Free Press, October 12,1969.18. S. Malm, “Chinese River So Polluted It Bursts into Flame After LitCigarette Is Thrown into It,” Daily Mail, March 6, 2014.19. M. Laris and P. Hermann, “Train Derails in Downtown Lynchburg,Leaving Crude Burning on James River,” Washington Post, April 30, 2014.20. D. Bhasthi, “City of Burning Lakes: Experts Fear Bangalore Will BeUninhabitable by 2025,” Guardian, March 1, 2017.CHAPTER 19: THE LOSS OF NATURE1. J. Anderson, General View of the Agriculture and Rural Economy ofthe County of Aberdeen: With Observations on the Means of ItsImprovement (Edinburgh: Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement,1794).2. US Congress, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the81st Congress: First Session, pt. 13 (Washington, DC: US GovernmentPrinting Office, 1949).
3. D. Des Jardins, “Only 1% of Central Valley Flows ‘Wasted to the Sea’to Protect Delta Smelt,” California Water Resources (2020).4. E. V. Balian et al., The Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment(Dordrecht: Springer, 2008); M. Grooten and R. E. A. Almond, eds., LivingPlanet Report—2018: Aiming Higher (Gland, Switzerland: WWF, 2018);G. Su et al., “Human Impacts on Global Freshwater Fish Biodiversity,”Science 371 (2021): 835–838.5. Grooten and Almond, Living Planet Report.6. “Wetlands Disappearing Three Times Faster Than Forests,” UnitedNations Climate Change (2018).7. C. J. Bradshaw et al., “Global Evidence That Deforestation AmplifiesFlood Risk and Severity in the Developing World,” Global Change Biology13 (2007): 2379–2395.8. B. C. Howard and A. Borunda, “8 Major Rivers Run Dry fromOveruse Around the World, from Colorado to the Aral Sea,” NationalGeographic: Environment (2019); J. Li et al., “Deciphering HumanContributions to Yellow River Flow Reductions and Downstream DryingUsing Centuries-Long Tree Ring Records,” Geophysical Resource Letters46 (2019): 898–905; D. Yang et al., “Analysis of Water ResourcesVariability in the Yellow River of China During the Last Half CenturyUsing Historical Data,” Water Resources Research 40 (2004).9. S. Solomon, Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, andCivilization (New York: Harper, 2010).10. T. E. Dahl and G. J. Allord, “History of Wetlands in theConterminous United States,” US Geological Survey, 1997,https://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/history.html; J. D. Fretwell, J. S.Williams, and P. J. Redman, “National Water Summary on WetlandResources,” US Geological Survey, 1996,https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wsp2425; M. T. Sucik and E. Marks,“The Status and Recent Trends of Wetlands in the United States,” USDepartment of Agriculture, 2013.11. N. C. Davidson, “Wetland Losses and the Status of Wetland-Dependent Species,” in The Wetland Book: II: Distribution, Descriptionand Conservation, ed. C. M. Finlayson et al., 1–14 (Dordrecht: SpringerNetherlands, 2016).
12. “The Biodiversity of Lake Victoria Threatened,” Initiative pouravenir grandes fleuves (2018).13. S. M. Haig et al., “Climate-Altered Wetlands Challenge WaterbirdUse and Migratory Connectivity in Arid Landscapes,” Scientific Reports 9(2019).14. J. S. Kirby et al., “Key Conservation Issues for Migratory Land- andWaterbird Species on the World’s Major Flyways,” Bird ConservationInternational 18 (2008): S49–S73; Audubon, “Fighting for Central ValleyBirds,” Audubon California (2016).15. R. Larson et al., “Recent Desiccation-Related Ecosystem Changes atLake Abert, Oregon: A Terminal Alkaline Salt Lake,” Western NorthAmerican Nationalist 76 (2016): 389–404.16. Larson et al., “Recent Desiccation-Related Ecosystem Changes atLake Abert, Oregon.”17. “Western US Drought Brings Great Salt Lake to Lowest Level onRecord,” PhysOrg Scientific News (2022).18. J. N. Moore, “Recent Desiccation of Western Great Basin SalineLakes: Lessons from Lake Abert, Oregon, USA,” Science of the TotalEnvironment 554 (2016): 142–154; N. R. Senner et al., “A Salt Lake UnderStress: Relationships Among Birds, Water Levels, and Invertebrates at aGreat Basin Saline Lake,” Biological Conservation 220 (2018): 320–329;M. J. Cohen, J. I. Morrison, and E. P. Glenn, Haven or Hazard: TheEcology and Future of the Salton Sea (Oakland: Pacific Institute for Studiesin Development, Environment, and Security, 1999); A. L. Doede and P. B.DeGuzman, “The Disappearing Lake: A Historical Analysis of Drought andthe Salton Sea in the Context of the GeoHealth Framework,” GeoHealth 4(2020); S. E. Null and W. A. Wurtsbaugh, “Water Development,Consumptive Water Uses, and Great Salt Lake,” in Great Salt LakeBiology: A Terminal Lake in a Time of Change, ed. B. K. Baxter and J. K.Butler, 1–21 (Dordrecht: Springer International, 2020).19. W. M. Adams, R. D. Small, and J. A. Vickery, “The Impact of LandUse Change on Migrant Birds in the Sahel,” Biodiversity 15 (2014): 101–108; Y. Xu et al., “Loss of Functional Connectivity in Migration NetworksInduces Population Decline in Migratory Birds,” Ecological Applications29 (2019); L. Zwarts et al., Living on the Edge: Wetlands and Birds in aChanging Sahel (Zeist, Netherlands: KNNV, 2009).
20. Wetlands International, Waterbird Population Estimates, 5th ed.(Wageningen, Netherlands: Wetlands International, 2012).21. Kirby et al., “Key Conservation Issues for Migratory Land- andWaterbird Species.”22. J. Amezaga, L. Santamaría, and A. J. Green, “Biotic WetlandConnectivity—Supporting a New Approach for Wetland Policy,” ActaOecologica 23 (2002): 213–222; H. Q. Crick, “The Impact of ClimateChange on Birds,” Ibis 146 (2004): 48–56; Y. Xu et al., “Indicators of SiteLoss from a Migration Network: Anthropogenic Factors InfluenceWaterfowl Movement Patterns at Stopover Sites,” Global Ecology andConservation 25 (2021).23. R. Fricke, W. N. Eschmeyer, and R. Van der Laan, eds., “Eschmeyer’sCatalog of Fishes: Genera, Species, References” (2021) (electronic versionaccessed February 24, 2021),http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/ichthyology/catalog/fishcatmain.asp.24. “IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” IUCN Red List ofThreatened Species (2021); F. He et al., “The Global Decline of FreshwaterMegafauna,” Global Change Biology 25 (2019): 3883–3892.25. K. Hughes, “The World’s Forgotten Fishes” (WWF, 2021).26. I. Zohar et al., “Evidence for the Cooking of Fish 780,000 Years Agoat Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel,” Nature, Ecology & Evolution 6, no. 12(2022): 2016–2028.27. N. Bicho et al., “The Upper Paleolithic Rock Art of Iberia,” Journalof Archaeological Method and Theory 14 (2007): 81–151; F. Berrouet et al.,“Sur un poisson gravé Magdalénien de la Grotte Margot (Thorigné-en-Charnie, Mayenne),” Comptes Rendus Palevol 13 (2014): 727–736.28. Hughes, “The World’s Forgotten Fishes.”29. S. Funge‐Smith and A. Bennett, “A Fresh Look at Inland Fisheriesand Their Role in Food Security and Livelihoods,” Fish and Fisheries 20(2019): 1176–1195; V. R. Southgate, “Schistosomiasis in the Senegal RiverBasin: Before and After the Construction of the Dams at Diama, Senegaland Manantali, Mali and Future Prospects,” Journal of Helminthology 71(1997): 125–132.30. “IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.”31. He et al., “Global Decline of Freshwater Megafauna.”
32. A. Thorpe and C. Z. Castillo, “The Economic Value of InlandFisheries,” in Review of the State of the World Fishery Resources: InlandFisheries, ed. S. J. Funge‐Smith, 214–253, FAO Fisheries and AquacultureCircular (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,2018).CHAPTER 20: FLOODS AND DROUGHTS1. J. Null and J. Hulbert, “California Washed Away: The Great Flood of1862,” Weatherwise (January–February 2007): 26–30.2. Null and Hulbert, “California Washed Away”; B. L. Ingram,“California Megaflood: Lessons from a Forgotten Catastrophe,” ScientificAmerican, January 1, 2013.3. Ingram, “California Megaflood.”4. Ingram, “California Megaflood.”5. Encyclopedia of Water Science, s.v. “Dust Bowl Era,” by R. L.Baumhardt (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2003); A. Sachs, “Dust to Dust,”World Watch 7 (1994): 32–35.6. A. D. Carlson, “Dust,” New Republic 82 (1935).7. C. Henderson, Letters from the Dust Bowl (Norman: University ofOklahoma Press, 2003).8. National Drought Mitigation Center, “The Dust Bowl,” n.d.9. D. Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (New York:Oxford University Press, 2004).CHAPTER 21: CLIMATE CHANGE1. J. Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (New York: Viking Penguin,1987).2. G. H. Haug et al., “Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization,”Science 299 (2003): 1731–1735; X. Wang et al., “Climate, Desertification,and the Rise and Collapse of China’s Historical Dynasties,” HumanEcology 38 (2010): 157–172; A. Sinha et al., “Role of Climate in the Riseand Fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire,” Scientific Advances 5 (2019); A. W.Schneider and S. F. AdalAdalı, “‘No Harvest Was Reaped’: Demographic
and Climatic Factors in the Decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire,” ClimateChange 127 (2014): 435–446.3. B. I. Cook et al., “Twenty-First Century Drought Projections in theCMIP6 Forcing Scenarios,” Earth’s Future 8 (2020); I. M. Held and B. J.Soden, “Robust Responses of the Hydrological Cycle to Global Warming,”Journal of Climate 19 (2006): 5686–5699; IPCC, “Summary forPolicymakers,” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, andVulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2014); S. Manabe and R. T. Wetherald, “The Effects ofDoubling the CO2 Concentration on the Climate of a General CirculationModel,” Journal of Atmospheric Sciences 32 (1975): 3–15; R. Seager, N.Naik, and G. A. Vecchi, “Thermodynamic and Dynamic Mechanisms forLarge-Scale Changes in the Hydrological Cycle in Response to GlobalWarming,” Journal of Climate 23 (2010): 4651–4668; S. Sherwood and Q.Fu, “A Drier Future?,” Science 343 (2014): 737–739; P. Waggoner, ed.,Climate Change and U.S. Water Resources (New York: John Wiley & Sons,1990).4. P. H. Gleick, “Methods for Evaluating the Regional HydrologicImpacts of Global Climatic Changes,” Journal of Hydrology 88 (1986): 97–116; P. H. Gleick, “Regional Hydrologic Consequences of Increases inAtmospheric CO2 and Other Trace Gases,” Climate Change 10 (1987):137–160; L. L. Nash and P. H. Gleick, “The Colorado River Basin andClimatic Change: The Sensitivity of Streamflow and Water Supply toVariations in Temperature and Precipitation,” US Environmental ProtectionAgency, 1993,https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/4f4e4adfe4b07f02db687d33.5. F. Chiang, O. Mazdiyasni, and A. AghaKouchak, “Evidence ofAnthropogenic Impacts on Global Drought Frequency, Duration, andIntensity,” Nature Communications 12 (2021); B. I. Cook, J. S. Mankin, andK. J. Anchukaitis, “Climate Change and Drought: From Past to Future,”Current Climate Change Report 4 (2018): 164–179; T. Wang et al., “GlobalData Assessment and Analysis of Drought Characteristics Based onCMIP6,” Journal of Hydrology 596 (2021).6. J. Spinoni, G. Naumann, and J. V. Vogt, “Pan-European SeasonalTrends and Recent Changes of Drought Frequency and Severity,” Global
and Planetary Change 148 (2017): 113–130; B. H. Strauss et al.,“Economic Damages from Hurricane Sandy Attributable to Sea Level RiseCaused by Anthropogenic Climate Change,” Nature Communications 12(2021); K. E. Trenberth, J. T. Fasullo, and T. G. Shepherd, “Attribution ofClimate Extreme Events,” Nature Climate Change 5 (2015): 725–730.7. N. J. Abram et al., “Connections of Climate Change and Variability toLarge and Extreme Forest Fires in Southeast Australia,” CommunicationsEarth and Environment 2 (2021): 1–17; L. Cui et al., “The Influence ofClimate Change on Forest Fires in Yunnan Province, Southwest ChinaDetected by GRACE Satellites,” Remote Sensing 14 (2022); P. E. Higuera,B. N. Shuman, and K. D. Wolf, “Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forests NowBurning More Than Any Time in Recent Millennia,” Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences 118 (2021); P. Jain et al., “ObservedIncreases in Extreme Fire Weather Driven by Atmospheric Humidity andTemperature,” Nature Climate Change 12 (2022): 63–70.8. A. P. Williams, B. I. Cook, and J. E. Smerdon, “Rapid Intensificationof the Emerging Southwestern North American Megadrought in 2020–2021,” Nature Climate Change 12 (2022): 232–234.9. Y. Sheng and X. Xu, “The Productivity Impact of Climate Change:Evidence from Australia’s Millennium Drought,” Economic Modelling 76(2019): 182–191.10. C. C. Ummenhofer et al., “How Did Ocean Warming AffectAustralian Rainfall Extremes During the 2010/2011 La Niña Event?,”Geophysical Research Letters 42 (2015): 9942–9951; C. Iceland, “A GlobalTour of 7 Recent Droughts,” World Resources Institute Insights (2015); A.D. King et al., “The Role of Climate Variability in Australian Drought,”Nature Climate Change 10 (2020): 177–179.11. A. Klein, “Australia Votes for Stronger Climate Action in‘Greenslide’ Election,” New Scientist (2022); NASA Earth Sciences,“Applied Sciences, Australia Floods 2022,” Australia Floods 2022 (2022).12. P. H. Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict inSyria,” Weather, Climate, and Society 6 (2014): 331–340; K. Human,“Human-Caused Climate Change Major Factor in More FrequentMediterranean Droughts,” NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory (2011).13. O. Alizadeh-Choobari and M. S. Najafi, “Extreme Weather Events inIran Under a Changing Climate,” Climate Dynamics 50 (2018): 249–260.
14. Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria”; M.Hoerling et al., “On the Increased Frequency of Mediterranean Drought,”Journal of Climate 25 (2012): 2146–2161; S. A. Vaghefi et al., “The Futureof Extreme Climate in Iran,” Scientific Reports 9 (2019); M. Yadollahie,“The Flood in Iran: A Consequence of the Global Warming?,” InternationalJournal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 10 (2019): 54–56.15. D. Carrington, “Climate Crisis: Recent European Droughts ‘Worst in2,000 Years,’” Guardian, March 15, 2021.16. P. A. Stott, D. A. Stone, and M. R. Allen, “Human Contribution to theEuropean Heatwave of 2003,” Nature 432 (2004): 610–614; N. Christidis,G. S. Jones, and P. A. Stott, “Dramatically Increasing Chance of ExtremelyHot Summers Since the 2003 European Heatwave,” Nature Climate Change5 (2015): 46–50.17. M. Ferguson, “State of Water Security in Canada: A Water-RichNation Prepares for the Future After Seasons of Disaster,” PhysOrg ScienceNews (2022).18. M. Kirchmeier-Young et al., “Attribution of the Influence of Human-Induced Climate Change on an Extreme Fire Season,” Earth’s Future 7(2019): 2–10.19. Williams, Cook, and Smerdon, “Rapid Intensification”; D. Griffin andK. J. Anchukaitis, “How Unusual Is the 2012–2014 California Drought?,”Geophysical Research Letters 41 (2014): 9017–9023.20. B. Kesslen, “Drought Is Here to Stay in the Western U.S.: How WillStates Adapt?,” NBC News, June 11, 2021; B. Udall and J. Overpeck, “TheTwenty-First Century Colorado River: Hot Drought and Implications for theFuture,” Water Resources Research 53 (2017): 2404–2418.21. M. Gomez, “California Storms: Wettest Water Year, So Far, in 122Years of Records,” San Jose Mercury News, March 8, 2017; M. He, M.Russo, and M. Anderson, “Hydroclimatic Characteristics of the 2012–2015California Drought from an Operational Perspective,” Climate 5 (2017);National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “U.S. Records WettestWinter Capped by a Cooler, Wetter February 2019,” US Department ofCommerce, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, 2019.22. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “U.S. RecordsWettest Winter”; USGCRP, “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United
States: Fourth National Climate Assessment” (U.S. Global ChangeResearch Program, 2018).23. E. Holthaus, “Harvey Is Already the Worst Rainstorm in U.S. History,and It’s Still Raining,” Grist, August 28, 2017.24. N. Christidis et al., “Record-Breaking Daily Rainfall in the UnitedKingdom and the Role of Anthropogenic Forcings,” Atmospheric ScienceLetters (2021).25. United Nations Foundation, SIGMA XI, “Confronting ClimateChange: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable,”American Scientist 95 (2007): 1–5.CHAPTER 22: FROM THE SECOND TO THE THIRD AGE1. S. L. Postel, G. C. Daily, and P. R. Ehrlich, “Human Appropriation ofRenewable Fresh Water,” Science 271 (1996): 785–788.2. L. Wang-Erlandsson et al., “A Planetary Boundary for Green Water,”Nature Reviews Earth and Environment 3 (2022): 380–392.3. M. K. Hubbert, “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels,” presented forthe Spring Meeting of the Southern District, Division of Production,American Petroleum Institute, San Antonio, March 7–9, 1956.4. P. H. Gleick and M. Palaniappan, “Peak Water Limits to FreshwaterWithdrawal and Use,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences107 (2010): 11155–11162.5. Great Lakes Governors and Premiers, Great Lakes St. Lawrence RiverBasin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (2005).6. G. Wilson, “Third Rail Proposal: Selling Great Lakes Water Proposedto Lower Lake Levels,” Great Lakes Now, February 18, 2020.7. Gleick and Palaniappan, “Peak Water Limits.”CHAPTER 23: A NEW WAY FORWARD1. P. H. Gleick, “Water Management: Soft Water Paths,” Nature 418(2002); P. H. Gleick, “Global Freshwater Resources: Soft-Path Solutions forthe 21st Century,” Science 302 (2003): 1524–1528.2. K. Asmal, “Parting the Waters,” Journal of Water Resources Planningand Management 128 (2002): 87–90.
CHAPTER 24: MEET BASIC HUMAN NEEDS1. P. H. Gleick, “Basic Water Requirements for Human Activities:Meeting Basic Needs,” Water International 21 (1996): 83–92.2. Republic of South Africa, National Water Act (1998).3. J. Locke, The Second Treatise of Government (1690) (ProjectGutenberg, 2010).4. United Nations, “Report of the United Nations Water Conference”(New York: United Nations Publications, 1977).5. United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on the Right toDevelopment. General Assembly Resolution 41/128 (1986).6. S. C. McCaffrey, “A Human Right to Water: Domestic andInternational Implications,” Georgetown International Environmental LawReview 5 (1992).7. P. H. Gleick, “The Human Right to Water,” Water Policy 1 (1998):487–503.8. United Nations Economic and Social Council, “General Comment No.15: The Right to Water (Arts. 11 and 12 of the Covenant),” E/C.12/2002/11(2003).9. M. Langford et al., Legal Resources for the Right to Water:International and National Standards (Geneva: Centre on Housing Rightsand Evictions, 2004).10. F. Higuet, “States Recognizing the Right to Water in TheirConstitution,” RAMPEDRE Declaration to the Implementation of the Rightto Water (2014),https://web.archive.org/web/20200225165939/http://www.rampedre.net/implementation/territories/national/world_table_constitution.11. A. Mittal, “Right to Clean Water,” Academike (2015).12. United Nations General Assembly, “The Human Right to Water andSanitation,” Resolution 64/292 (2010).13. United Nations Human Rights Council, “The Human Right to SafeDrinking Water and Sanitation,” Resolution A/HRC/RES/18/1 (2010).14. C. Acey et al., “Cross-subsidies for Improved Sanitation in LowIncome Settlements: Assessing the Willingness to Pay of Water UtilityCustomers in Kenyan Cities,” World Development 115 (2019): 160–177; C.
Chatterjee et al., “Willingness to Pay for Safe Drinking Water: AContingent Valuation Study in Jacksonville, FL,” Journal of EnvironmentalManagement 203 (2017): 413–421; W. F. Vásquez et al., “Willingness toPay for Safe Drinking Water: Evidence from Parral, Mexico,” Journal ofEnvironmental Management 90 (2009): 3391–3400.15. S. C. McCaffrey, “The Human Right to Water: A False Promise,”University of the Pacific Law Review 47 (2015).16. State of California, State Water Policy, Assembly Bill No. 685 (2012).CHAPTER 25: RECOGNIZE THE TRUE VALUE OF WATER1. Elinor Ostrom, Paul C. Stern, and Thomas Dietz, “Water Rights in theCommons,” Water Resources IMPACT 5 (2003): 9–12; E. Ostrom, “AGeneral Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-EcologicalSystems,” Science 325 (2009): 419–422.2. P. R. Ehrlich, “Key Issues for Attention from Ecological Economists,”Environment and Development Economics 13 (2008): 1–20; S. Polasky etal., “Role of Economics in Analyzing the Environment and SustainableDevelopment,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(2019): 5233–5238.3. P. Dasgupta, Final Report—the Economics of Biodiversity: TheDasgupta Review (London: HM Treasury, 2021).4. E. Carver, “Birding in the United States: A Demographic andEconomic Analysis” (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013).5. Dasgupta, Final Report; M. D. Davidson, “On the Relation BetweenEcosystem Services, Intrinsic Value, Existence Value and EconomicValuation,” Ecological Economics 95 (2013): 171–177.6. R. T. Carson and R. C. Mitchell, “The Value of Clean Water: ThePublic’s Willingness to Pay for Boatable, Fishable, and Swimmable QualityWater,” Water Resources Research 29 (1993): 2445–2454.7. J. Wang, J. Ge, and Z. Gao, “Consumers’ Preferences and DerivedWillingness-to-Pay for Water Supply Safety Improvement: The Analysis ofPricing and Incentive Strategies,” Sustainability 10 (2018).8. R. T. Carson, “Contingent Valuation: A User’s Guide,” EnvironmentalScience and Technology 34 (2000): 1413–1418; R. T. Carson and W. M.Hanemann, “Chapter 17 Contingent Valuation,” in Handbook of
Environmental Economics, ed. K.-G. Mäler and J. R. Vincent, 821–936(Boston: Elsevier, 2005); C. Spash et al., “Motives Behind Willingness toPay for Improving Biodiversity in a Water Ecosystem: Economics, Ethicsand Social Psychology,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 955–964.9. R. Costanza et al., “Changes in the Global Value of EcosystemServices,” Global Environmental Change 26 (2014): 152–158.10. T. Xu et al., “Wetlands of International Importance: Status, Threats,and Future Protection,” International Journal of Environmental Researchand Public Health 16 (2019).11. G. Hutton and M. Varughese, “The Costs of Meeting the 2030Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, andHygiene” (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2016).12. World Health Organization, “Investing in Water and Sanitation:Increasing Access, Reducing Inequalities; UN-Water Global Analysis andAssessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS)” (Geneva: WorldHealth Organization, 2014).13. G. McGraw, “Draining: The Economic Impact of America’s HiddenWater Crisis” (DigDeep, 2022).CHAPTER 26: PROTECT AND RESTORE1. G. Su et al., “Human Impacts on Global Freshwater Fish Biodiversity,”Science 371 (2021): 835–838.2. M. C. Acreman and M. J. Dunbar, “Defining Environmental RiverFlow Requirements: A Review,” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 8(2004): 861–876.3. National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, YangtzeRiver Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (2020).4. P. Barkham, “Should Rivers Have the Same Rights as People?,”Observer, July 26, 2021.5. B. Tilt and D. Gerkey, “Dams and Population Displacement on China’sUpper Mekong River: Implications for Social Capital and Social-EcologicalResilience,” Global Environmental Change 36 (2016): 153–162; N.Walicki, M. J. Ioannides, and B. Tilt, “Dams and Internal Displacement: AnIntroduction” (IDMC, 2017).
6. American Rivers, “Free Rivers: The State of Dam Removal in theUnited States” (American Rivers, 2022).7. NOAA Fisheries, “Dam Removals on the Elwha River” (NOAAFisheries, 2020).8. Associated Press, “Dam Removal Uncovers Tribe’s Sacred Site,”Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review, August 11, 2012; “Dams’ DemiseDraws School of Dignitaries, Enthusiasts,” Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review, September 17, 2011.9. US National Park Service, “Elwha River Restoration—OlympicNational Park” (Olympic National Park, 2020).10. T. Baurick, “Threatened Fish Makes a Comeback in Restored Elwha,”Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, WA), February 23, 2015.11. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),“Fisheries, Eulachon” (NOAA, 2022).12. “Dam Removal Europe, Vezins Dam, Normandy, France” (2020).13. International Rivers, “Advancing Ecological Civilization? ChineseHydropower Giants and Their Biodiversity Footprints” (InternationalRivers, 2021); I. Sample, “Yangtze River Dolphin Driven to Extinction,”Guardian, August 8, 2007; A. Yan, “Chinese Paddlefish, Native to theYangtze River, Declared Extinct,” South China Morning Post, January 3,2020.14. P. Glamann and K. Kan, “China Has Thousands of HydropowerProjects It Doesn’t Want,” Bloomberg.com, August 14, 2021.15. Convention on Wetlands, “Global Wetland Outlook: Special Edition2021” (Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, 2021).16. C. Hooper, “The Land Where Birds Are Grown,” Places Journal(January 2019), https:/doi.org/10.22269/190129.17. Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, “RiverImprovement Measures Taken by the MLIT” (2007).18. T. Osawa, T. Nishida, and T. Oka, “Paddy Fields Located in WaterStorage Zones Could Take Over the Wetland Plant Community,” ScientificReports 10 (2020).19. K. Nakamura, K. Tockner, and K. Amano, “River and WetlandRestoration: Lessons from Japan,” BioScience 56 (2006): 419–429; H.Ohashi and M. Nakatsugawan, “Quantitative Evaluation of Water and
Substances Cycle in the Upper River Basin of Kushiro Mire by Using aSWAT Model,” in Proceedings of the 22nd IAHR APD Congress (2020), 8.20. L. Keqi, “‘Life on Land’: The Lao Niu Wetland Protection Project,”Alliance Magazine, March 26, 2021.21. T. Xu et al., “Wetlands of International Importance: Status, Threats,and Future Protection,” International Journal of Environmental Researchand Public Health 16 (2019); Q. Shao et al., “Effects of an EcologicalConservation and Restoration Project in the Three-River Source Region,China,” Journal of Geographical Sciences 27 (2017): 183–204; L. Xuanand L. Li, “China Makes Headway in Wetland Conservation,” XinhuaNet,February 3, 2021.CHAPTER 27: TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE1. J. Szinai et al., “The Future of California’s Water-Energy-ClimateNexus” (Next 10 and the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development,Environment, and Security, 2021).2. Szinai et al., “Future of California’s Water-Energy-Climate Nexus.”3. Pacific Institute, “Water Resilience: Definitions, Characteristics,Relationships to Existing Concepts, and Call to Action for Building a WaterResilient Future” (Oakland: Pacific Institute for Studies in Development,Environment, and Security, 2021).CHAPTER 28: AVOID WASTE1. P. H. Gleick and H. Cooley, “Freshwater Scarcity,” Annual Review ofEnvironment and Resources 46 (2021): 319–348.2. H. Cooley et al., “The Untapped Potential of California’s Urban WaterSupply: Water Efficiency, Water Reuse, and Stormwater Capture”(Oakland: Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, andSecurity, 2022).3. P. W. Gerbens-Leenes, A. Y. Hoekstra, and R. Bosman, “The Blue andGrey Water Footprint of Construction Materials: Steel, Cement and Glass,”Water Resources and Industry 19 (2018): 1–12; P. H. Gleick, “Water Use,”Annual Review of Environment and Resources 28 (2003): 275–314; M.Kruczek and D. Burchart, “Water Footprint Significance in Steel Supply
Chain Management,” paper presented at “METAL 2014: 23rd InternationalConference on Metallurgy and Materials,” Brno, Czech Republic.4. W. Den, C.-H. Chen, and Y.-C. Luo, “Revisiting the Water-UseEfficiency Performance for Microelectronics Manufacturing Facilities:Using Taiwan’s Science Parks as a Case Study,” Water-Energy Nexus 1(2018): 116–133.5. Gleick, “Water Use.”6. L. B. Johnson, “Remarks to Delegates to the International Conferenceon Water for Peace,” American Presidency Project, 1967.7. K. A. Kraus and R. P. Hammond, Abstracts of Papers, DesalinationInformation Meeting, May 21–22, 1970 (Oak Ridge, TN: Oak RidgeNational Laboratory, 1970).8. Agricultural Institute of Canada, AIC Review (Ottawa: AgriculturalInstitute of Canada, 1970).9. Farm and Factory (Madras, India: K. V. Subbalakshmi, 1993).10. Agricultural Research Institute, “Proceedings and Minutes” (NationalResearch Council, 1974).11. S. Postel, Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last? (NewYork: W. W. Norton, 1999).12. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO, The State of Food Securityand Nutrition in the World 2021 (Food and Agriculture Organization of theUnited Nations, 2021), https:/doi.org/10.4060/CB4474EN.13. J.-M. Faures, J. Hoogeveen, and J. Bruinsma, “The FAO IrrigatedArea Forecast for 2030” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UnitedNations, 2002).14. H. Cooley, J. Christian-Smith, and P. H. Gleick, Sustaining CaliforniaAgriculture in an Uncertain Future (Oakland: Pacific Institute, 2009).15. M. Janssen and B. Lennartz, “Horizontal and Vertical Water andSolute Fluxes in Paddy Rice Fields,” Soil and Tillage Research 94 (2007):133–141; Y. Kudo et al., “The Effective Water Management Practice forMitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Maintaining Rice Yield inCentral Japan,” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 186 (2014): 77–85;X. Lu et al., “Partitioning of Evapotranspiration Using a Stable IsotopeTechnique in an Arid and High Temperature Agricultural ProductionSystem,” Agricultural Water Management 179 (2017): 103–109; A.Mahindawansha et al., “Investigating Unproductive Water Losses from
Irrigated Agricultural Crops in the Humid Tropics Through Analyses ofStable Isotopes of Water,” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 24 (2020):3627–3642; M. M. Mekonnen and A. Y. Hoekstra, “The Green, Blue andGrey Water Footprint of Crops and Derived Crop Products,” Hydrology andEarth System Sciences 15 (2011): 1577–1600.16. D. W. Seckler, The New Era of Water Resources Management(Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Irrigation Management Institute, 1996).17. US Department of Agriculture, “USDA ERS—Irrigation & WaterUse,” Irrigation Water Use (2022).18. Cooley, Christian-Smith, and Gleick, Sustaining CaliforniaAgriculture; J. Christian-Smith, H. Cooley, and P. H. Gleick, “PotentialWater Savings Associated with Agricultural Water EfficiencyImprovements: A Case Study of California, USA,” Water Policy 14 (2011):194–213; L. Yu et al., “Improving/Maintaining Water-Use Efficiency andYield of Wheat by Deficit Irrigation: A Global Meta-analysis,” AgriculturalWater Management 228 (2020).19. US Department of Agriculture, “USDA ERS—Irrigation & WaterUse.”20. H. Zhang, X. Sun, and M. Dai, “Improving Crop Drought Resistancewith Plant Growth Regulators and Rhizobacteria: Mechanisms,Applications, and Perspectives,” Plant Communications 3 (2022).21. A. Y. Hoekstra and M. M. Mekonnen, “The Water Footprint ofHumanity,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (2012):3232–3237; M. Falkenmark, “Meeting Water Requirements of anExpanding World Population,” Philosophical Transactions of the RoyalSociety B: Biological Sciences 352 (1997): 929–936.22. Mekonnen and Hoekstra, “Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint”; A.Y. Hoekstra and M. M. Mekonnen, “The Water Footprint of Humanity,”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (2012): 3232–3237.23. L. Aleksandrowicz et al., “The Impacts of Dietary Change onGreenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: ASystematic Review,” PLOS One 11 (2016); F. Harris et al., “The WaterFootprint of Diets: A Global Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,”Advances in Nutrition 11 (2020): 375–386.
CHAPTER 29: RECYCLE AND REUSE1. L. Liverpool, “NASA Confirms There Is Water on the Moon ThatAstronauts Could Use,” New Scientist, October 26, 2020.2. J. Stromberg, “The 8 Weirdest Things We’ve Left on the Moon,” Vox,March 8, 2015.3. D. Orta et al., “Analysis of Water from the Space Shuttle and MirSpace Station by Ion Chromatography and Capillary Electrophoresis,”Journal of Chromatography A 804 (1998): 295–304.4. R. C. Dempsey, ed., The International Space Station: Operating anOutpost in the New Frontier (Washington, DC: US Government PrintingOffice, 2017); R. Feltman, “Why American Astronauts Drink RussianUrine,” Washington Post, August 28, 2015.5. P. H. Gleick, “Basic Water Requirements for Human Activities:Meeting Basic Needs,” Water International 21 (1996): 83–92.6. Dempsey, International Space Station.7. J. P. Williamson et al., “Upgrades to the International Space StationUrine Processor Assembly” (2019),https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20190030381/downloads/20190030381.pdf.8. Dempsey, International Space Station.9. E. Brait, “US Astronauts Drink Recycled Urine Aboard Space Stationbut Russians Refuse,” Guardian, August 26, 2015.10. M. Qadir et al., “Global and Regional Potential of Wastewater as aWater, Nutrient and Energy Source,” Natural Resources Forum 44 (2020):40–51.11. National Research Council, Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding theNation’s Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater(Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2012).12. M. Po, J. D. Kaercher, and B. Nancarrow, “Literature Review ofFactors Influencing Public Perceptions of Water Reuse” (CSIRO Land andWater, 2003).13. S. Y. Ong, “Beer Made from Recycled Toilet Water Wins Admirers inSingapore,” Bloomberg.com, June 20, 2022.14. “Israel Reuses Nearly 90% of Its Water,” WaterWorld, December 2,2016.
15. D. Newton et al., “Results, Challenges, and Future Approaches toCalifornia’s Municipal Wastewater Recycling Survey” (California StateWater Resources Control Board, 2012).16. Orange County Water District, “GWRS: Groundwater ReplenishmentSystem” (2021).17. California State Water Resources Control Board, “WastewaterRecycling Targets” (2011).18. A. Sklar, “From the Archives: The History of ‘Toilet-to-Tap’ in LosAngeles,” California Water Environmental Association (2020).19. “From Toilet to Tap: The Los Angeles Plan to Recycle Wastewater,”MSNBC.com, April 23, 2021; “Shepard’s/McGraw-Hill Inc.,… Meets withPublic Opposition,” California Water Law Policy Report 3 (1992); B.Hudson, “Mixed Reviews for Water Reclamation Plan: Miller Brewery andOther Opponents of the Project Say It Could Pose Health Risks.Environmentalists and Water Agencies Embrace It as a Way to Help‘Drought-Proof’ the San Gabriel Valley,” Los Angeles Times, December 12,1993; A. Little, “Ready or Not, ‘Toilet to Tap’ Recycled Wastewater IsComing to a Spigot Near You,” Kansas City Star, May 2021.20. Sklar, “From the Archives”; “Reclamation Project Makes OrangeCounty ‘Drought-Proof,’” Casper (WY) Star-Tribune Online, October 24,2004.21. San Diego County Water Authority, “Telephonic Public Opinion andAwareness Survey, 2004” (2004).22. San Diego County Water Authority, “Water Issues Public OpinionPoll Report, 2011” (2011).23. San Diego County Water Authority, “Potable Water Reuse in SanDiego County. Safe, Pure. Reliable,” Potable Reuse (2017).CHAPTER 30: DESALT1. S. T. Coleridge, The Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge:Including Poems and Versions of Poems Now Published for the First Time(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912).2. Aristotle, Aristotle Meteorologica, Chapter II, Loeb Classical Library(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952).
3. G. Nebbia and G. N. Menozzi, “A Short History of WaterDesalination,” in Acqua dolce dal mare, 129–172 (Milan: Federazione dellaAssociazioni Scientifiche e Tecniche, 1966).4. Nebbia and Menozzi, “Short History of Water Desalination.”5. Nebbia and Menozzi, “Short History of Water Desalination.”6. T. Jefferson, “Enclosure: Report on Desalination of Sea Water, 21November 1791” (1791).7. A Member of Parliament, Naval Economy: Exemplified inConversations Between a Member of Parliament and the Officers of a Manof War, During a Winter’s Cruize (London: John Dean for William Lindsell,1811).8. Water Network Research, “US Navy Ships to Become DesalinationPlants?,” Desalination (2017).9. T. Padgett, “The Post-quake Water Crisis: Getting Seawater to theHaitians,” Time, January 18, 2010.10. E. Jones et al., “The State of Desalination and Brine Production: AGlobal Outlook,” Science of the Total Environment 657 (2019): 1343–1356.11. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, “AQUASTAT:FAO Global Information System” (2020).12. H. Cooley, R. Phurisamban, and P. Gleick, “The Cost of AlternativeUrban Water Supply and Efficiency Options in California,” EnvironmentalResearch Communications 1 (2019).
CURTIS LOMAXPeter Gleick is perhaps the world’s most widely known and widely citedwater expert. Educated at Yale and Berkeley, he went on to cofound thePacific Institute, the leading independent research group devoted to findingsolutions to the world’s most pressing water problems. He is a scientist bytraining, winner of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award, and anelected member of the US National Academy of Sciences. In 2018 he wasawarded the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. He lives inBerkeley, California.
Praise for The Three Ages of Water“Water made us, Peter Gleick writes in his magisterial history and futureof hydrology and the human planet. But what will we do to it, and whatwill we make of it now? What we think of as the Anthropocene, andworry over as the coming of global warming, is in many mind-bendingand demanding ways a crisis of water—though a soluble one. And thereis no better guide to that crisis, or its solutions, than Gleick.”—DAVID WALLACE-WELLS, journalist and author of The UninhabitableEarth“Gleick lays out water’s central role in human history and in our future.The Three Ages of Water is authoritative, far-ranging, and fascinating.”—ELIZABETH KOLBERT, journalist and author of Under a White Sky“The honest name for our lovely blue planet probably should have beenWater, since it covers most of the globe. And as Gleick makes clear inthis sweeping, unprecedented, and positively necessary new book, ourchances for a workable future depend on how seriously we take theoceans, lakes, rivers, and aquifers that surround us—indeed, that fill ourown cells. This book will change your outlook in deep and motivatingways.”—BILL MCKIBBEN, author of The End of Nature“Gleick has delivered a book that provides a rich story of humanity’sinteraction with water through a lens that helps us understand where weare today as we strive to balance all the demands we place on theplanet’s water resources. His context of the past points to a future paththat can ensure we strike this balance so everyone has access to water asa basic human right. The additional payoff is this book is accessible to
all because of the way Gleick unfolds the story. It is a hopeful call toaction grounded in fact, research, and analysis.”—GARY WHITE AND MATT DAMON, cofounders, Water.org andWaterEquity“At a time of fraught political divisions and intensifying environmentaldisruptions, Gleick presents this timely and magisterial report onhumankind’s use and misuse of water. He traces the incredible andvaried ways water has been used from the earliest civilizations right upto our modern age. Unbelievable technical feats, he says, are now beingoverwhelmed by a changing climate and vast destruction of life-supportsystems. Humans now face, Gleick warns, a stark choice: grim,dystopian future or find a sustainable way to live with and managewater.”—JERRY BROWN, former governor of California“What a wonderful book! To understand water is to understandourselves, our origins, and what lies ahead for us. Gleick tells the storyof water in an accessible way that not only warns us about the dangerswe are approaching, but also provides us with a vision for a hopefulfuture.”—GRETA THUNBERG