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Über dieses Buch

The author takes readers around the world to explore water projects that work with, rather than against, nature’s rhythms. In New Mexico, forest rehabilitation is safeguarding drinking water, keeping it clear of the black sludge that raged down riverbeds in the aftermath of the Las Conchas Fire. Along the Mississippi River, farmers are planting cover crops to reduce polluted runoff while improving their yields. In China, “sponge cities” are capturing rainwater to curb urban flooding and boost water supplies.



Chapter 1. Water Everywhere and Nowhere

As I wound my way up Poudre Canyon in northern Colorado, the river flowed toward the plains below, glistening in the midday sun. It ran easy and low, as it normally does as the autumn approaches, with the snowmelt long gone. I was struck by the canyon’s beauty, but also by the blackened soils and charred tree trunks that marred the steep mountains all around. They were legacies, I realized, of the High Park Fire that had burned more than 135 square miles (350 square kilometers) of forest during the previous year’s drought. It was September 7, 2013, and my family and I were heading to my niece’s wedding. Tara and Eric had chosen a spectacular place for their nuptials—Sky Ranch, a high-mountain camp not far from the eastern fringe of Rocky Mountain National Park. As we escorted my elderly parents down the rocky path to their seats, I noticed threatening clouds moving in. They darkened as the preacher delivered his homily. Please cut it short and marry them, I thought to myself, before we all get drenched.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 2. Back to Life

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in the bustling border town of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico, word got out that the river was coming. Local residents streamed in from all directions and gathered beneath the San Luis Bridge, which connects the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California. Families picnicked to pass the time. Dogs merrily chased balls through the sand. And in one last showy display before the water arrived, young men spun their pickup trucks around the dry river channel. A certain buzz filled the air. The kids growing up here had never even seen the river that had given their town part of its name. But in just a couple of hours, the Colorado River would arrive.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 3. Put Watersheds to Work

It’s hard to believe that any city in Brazil, the South American nation sometimes called the “Saudi Arabia of water,” would generate a new class of water refugees. But after two consecutive years of a punishing drought, some residents of São Paulo—a megacity of 20 million people and Brazil’s economic heartbeat—decided to leave. Some had gone without tap water for days at a time; many endured half-day stints of dry taps. Resorts next to dried-out reservoirs were forced to lay off staff and shut their doors. Economists warned that the drought could shave as much as 2 percent from the nation’s GDP.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 4. Make Room for Floods

Floods occupy a distinct place in human mythology. In the lore of several early religions, the coming end of the world is attributed to a massive deluge. The story of Noah and the Ark as told in the book of Genesis closely parallels another in the early Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, in which a god forewarns Utnapishtim of a coming flood and advises him to build a ship to save himself, his family, and the seeds of all living things. Even as many cultures celebrate water through sacred rituals as the source of life, water engenders fear in its capacity to rise up and destroy. Water gives, but it can also take away.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 5. Bank It for a Dry Day

No one expected water grabs like those popping up across sub-Saharan Africa to suddenly appear in the western United States. But in March 2014, Saudi Arabia’s giant food company, Almarai, bought about 15 square miles (40 square kilometers) of farmland 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Phoenix, Arizona. With that $47.5 million purchase came 15 wells capable of pumping water from deep underground. The Saudis had set up shop in Arizona, perfectly legally, to use the arid western state’s precious groundwater to grow alfalfa hay. Their intent was not to feed US livestock, but to ship the hay back home to the Middle East to feed Saudi dairy cows.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 6. Fill the Earth

Nanci Griffith’sTrouble in the Fields” is one of my all-time-favorite songs. With a haunting melody and poignant lyrics, it speaks of love of place, and of the hard work and perseverance that farm life requires. It also speaks of an event in US history as dark as the skies during its worst days: the Dust Bowl.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 7. Conserve in the City

Back in 2007, United Water decided to build a desalination plant to increase water supplies for customers in one of its service areas. The company, a US subsidiary of the multinational Suez Environment, predicted shortfalls as early as 2015 and proposed the desalting facility to fill the gap. On the face of it, there was nothing particularly unusual about the idea. Turning saltwater into drinking water has become big business in many parts of the world, from California to Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Today, more than 18,400 desalting plants dot the world’s coastlines.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 8. Clean it Up

It was a sweet little Jack Russell terrier named Rosie who unwittingly became the proverbial canary in the coal mine for contaminated water in Long Island, New York. Annie and John Hall had just finished lunch on their deck on a sunny day in early September 2012 when they found their beloved pet in a state of toxic shock near the shores of Georgica Pond, where they’d lived and spent happy summers with their children and grandchildren for three decades. The Halls rushed Rosie to the vet, but she was able to hold on for only a few days. Scientists analyzed her tissue and found the culprit: microcystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae that is so potent the US military lists it as a potential agent of biological warfare.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 9. Close the Loop

About six years into what would become known as the Millennium Drought in Australia, the managers of an attractive golf club, Pennant Hills in the state of New South Wales, grew anxious. Reservoir levels around Sydney, the state’s capital, had dropped to record lows. To stretch the city’s dwindling supply, Sydney Water tightened restrictions on water use. The club, founded in 1923 and boasting a championship course, would get no more than 20,000 cubic meters (5.3 million gallons) of water per month, well short of the amount it normally used for watering. The club managers pictured their prized greens turning to ugly browns. But rather than cross their fingers and hope for the best, they took an unusual step: they requested permission to tap into the sewer line that ran beneath the golf course. The club’s plan was to treat that sewage on-site and then use it to irrigate its 23 hectares (57 acres) of greens.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 10. Let It Flow

On a visit back to my old stomping grounds in western Massachusetts in early January 2014, I trekked along the snowy banks of Amethyst Brook, a beautiful tributary in the watershed of the Connecticut River, the largest river in New England. As a longtime resident of Amherst, I’d hiked through this conservation area many times, mostly to enjoy the woods, the babbling brook, and the birds. But on this wintry day, I had a mission: to check out the site of an early nineteenth-century dam that had been demolished a little over a year before.
Sandra Postel

Chapter 11. Rescue Desert Rivers

Phillip Darrell Duppa, a late nineteenth-century pioneer of the American Southwest, is a relative unknown in US history, but he warrants at least a historical footnote: he is credited with naming the capital city of Arizona. With a classical education and five languages under his belt, Duppa was no typical frontiersman. He drank and gambled, but he also read Roman and Greek classics in their original language. Born in France, he later traveled to America and eventually landed in central Arizona. When it came time to anoint the new Anglo settlement that had grown up along the Salt River, Duppa drew on his knowledge of ancient mythology. The city should be called Phoenix, after the mythical sacred firebird that rises anew from its own ashes: “Prehistoric cities, now in ruins, are all around you; a prehistoric civilization existed in this valley. Let the new city arise from the ashes of those ruins.”
Sandra Postel

Chapter 12. Share

On December 24, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered the lunar orbit. As Commander Frank Borman initiated a planned roll of the spacecraft, crewmember Bill Anders was photographing the moon’s surface through a side window. All of a sudden, Anders caught sight of Earth emerging over the lunar horizon. With an “Oh my God” from Anders, Borman and James Lovell also took in the view of the exquisite blue-and-white orb. A calm but urgent search began for a roll of color film. “Hurry. Quick,” Anders is heard uttering on the mission’s tape recording. Lovell found the film just too late, but moments later, through a different window, the lonely planet appeared again. Anders then snapped what became one of the most iconic and transformative photographs of the twentieth century: Earthrise.
Sandra Postel


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