Water Wars; Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst – by Diane Raines Ward Book Review by Mike Nolan
As the title suggests, this somewhat dated book covers a subject of special interest to me and perhaps all of us. There can be no question of the importance of water to our very survival, the environment and the world’s economy. For years I have been interested in water and its rights. I have studied water law from most perspectives including municipal application, toxic dumping, Navajo and Apache Indian claims, and individual state’s rights to water especially in Arizona and California. To me the concept of dynamic riparian rights is fascinating! This book is a valuable general resource and explains our relationship with water – pretty much since the beginning of time. It documents our attempts to engineer and build to meet the world-wide desperate needs of drinking water, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. It explains the very real threat and historical reality of war being fought over water. In fact, Chapter Seven, “The Wars” starts with disclosing that the Six Day War of 1967 between Israel and the Arab world was really about water.
Ms. Ward explains society’s attempts to use this incredible natural resource to better the lives of all – sometime successfully and more often than not – tragically. She introduces us to the Tennessee Valley Authority and the big dams of the era which served to the world as a model of a successful hydroelectric irrigation system for millions of people. She follows the concept of the big dam to its current manifestation which is at a serious crossroad – three competing interest; 1) tear down the big dams and restore the natural environment, 2) build numerous small dams, 3) upgrade the current big dams and maybe build even more. As with any interest, each side has a valid supportable position. In some cases, Ms. Ward explains the success of cooperation wherein each interest is successfully protected and served. She uses the Hoover Dam in Las Vegas and Snowy Mountain in Australia as examples.
Ms Ward also shares her personal visits to many of these water projects. She writes compassionately about the plight of the 150 million people who live in Bangladesh – in an area the size of Wisconsin. People who suffer and drown based upon weather, wind and tidal currents in the Bay of Bengal. She interviews experts who have many ideas about solving flooding problems but sadly cannot come close to addressing the financial hurdles.
For those interested in Barnegat Bay, I would strongly suggest you read the last chapter, “The Everglades.” Here, Ms. Ward explains the challenges and issues that are killing our country’s biggest aquifer. As our own Barnegat Bay is also an aquifer – this chapter alone is worth buying the book for as we face similar problems.
Water is the only thing the government gives you without which you cannot live. There can be no question that compared to oil, water is paramount. Without water – we die. Without oil – we walk. This book brings home this critical message. Ms. Ward is an excellent writer and tells a good story. If you are interest in water, like I am, this is a great book.