Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Conservation of Water Resources

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

“Freshwater is the single most precious element for life on earth. It is essential for satisfying basic human needs, health, food production, energy and maintenance of regional and global ecosystems.  Although 70 per cent of the world’s surface is covered by water, only a fraction of that  — 2.5 per cent — is freshwater, of which 70 per cent is frozen in ice caps.  The remainder is present as soil moisture. This leaves less than one per cent of the world’s freshwater resources accessible for human use.”
- United Nations, International Year of Freshwater 2003

The world’s supply of clean fresh water is steadily decreasing as water is used at a faster rate than it can be replenished by rainfall or snowmelt. Water use has grown at twice the rate of population during the past century. The Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are chronically short of water.

69% of worldwide water use is for agricultural irrigation, of which 1/3 is unsustainable. Much irrigation water is lost due to evaporation and runoff from ditches, channels or sprinkler systems. Aquifer depletion from deep-well pumping is lowering groundwater levels worldwide.

Some 15% of worldwide water usage is industrial, for cooling power plants, or for use as a solvent or as a component of chemical and manufacturing processes.

Another 15% of global water use is in households, for cooking, washing, drinking, sanitation and gardening. There are significant differences in water quality and availability between the developed world and developing nations.

Of every 10 people in the world, only 5 have a connection to a piped water supply – in their home, plot, or yard; 3 make use of some other sort of improved water supply, such as a public well or standpipe; and 2 have no dependable and easy access to clean water. Additionally, 4 out of every 10 people live without improved sanitation.

One flush of a Western toilet uses as much water as the average person in the developing world uses for a whole day’s washing, drinking, cleaning and cooking. Most American home water supplies come from filtration plants, and are potable, safe drinking water.

We use this treated water for all purposes – gardening, washing the car, and sanitation – not only for drinking. Water is one of the many resources the U.S. possesses in abundance – though even that abundance is being challenged, as cities in the arid West are experiencing tremendous growth.

Some 6,000 children in the world die every day from diseases associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene – equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day. Unsafe water and sanitation cause an estimated 80 per cent of all diseases in the developing world.

“No single measure would do more to reduce disease and save lives in the developing world than bringing safe water and adequate sanitation to all.”
          - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

More than half of the world's rivers are now so polluted that they pose serious health risks. One-third of Africa's people already endure conditions of water scarcity, and water supplies are in jeopardy in China, India, Japan, Spain, southern France, Australia, the southwestern U.S. and many other parts of Asia and Europe.

The world’s resources of fresh water are critical to life, and they are inequitably distributed and carelessly managed. Crucial aquifers are being depleted that took thousands of years to fill – “fossil water”, deposited millennia ago, is being pumped out of the ground into irrigation ditches.

Conflicts over this increasingly scarce resource are likely to grow in the near future. It is imperative that we not take for granted an infinite supply of water, and move to ensure the prudent use of the water we have.

The books recommended in Water Resources and Water Conservation highlight the challenge of diminishing water resources  that is facing us as we move into the 21st century. They address issues of water pollution, water quality and water scarcity and offer proposals and guidance for using our Earth’s water wisely.

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