By Maude Barlow
Can the world run out of clean, accessible water? That is the question Barlow poses in this provocative and disturbing new book -- and answers with a resounding "yes." In fact, the depletion of our supply of fresh water is happening at an exponentially dangerous rate just as the population of the world is ballooning, says Barlow, who has written 16 books on environmental and social issues and is a member of several public-advocacy groups. The problem is exacerbated by corporate -- rather than public -- control of water in much of the world, including parts of the United States. As Barlow points out, water becomes even scarcer and costlier when clean water is a commodity, not a right. This disaster "is like a comet poised to hit Earth," she writes. But there's no superhero on the horizon to stop the impact.
Her book is packed with statistics: The United States has polluted so much of its surface water that it is now dependent on nonrenewable groundwater sources (aquifers deep below the earth's surface) for 50 percent of its daily supply. Arizona imports all of its drinking water, New Mexico has a 10-year supply left, and California will run out in 20 years. Lake Powell, a backup water reservoir for the West, is down 60 percent; Lake Superior has dropped to its lowest level in 80 years; droughts plague Africa and sandstorms afflict China. Civil disobedience and even violent conflicts over water are already breaking out around the world. Along our northern border, disagreements have arisen with Canada over use of this precious resource.
Not all the news is bad, though. Barlow ends her book with a description of grassroots organizers around the world -- including faith-based, labor, and environmental groups -- who are working to reclaim water as a commonly held resource for all humankind. In her view, nothing less than our survival as a species is at stake. -- Stephanie Woodard