Book Review: Water in Plain Sight
Water in Plain Sight
Hope for a Thirsty World
By Judith D. Schwartz
St. Martin’s Press
Following environmental news is mostly an exercise in confronting anxiety, helplessness, and despair. One of the biggest areas of concern is water scarcity. Some facts: One in 10 people in the world lack access to clean water. Millions of people, mostly children, die each year due to water-related diseases resulting from inadequate sanitation. On top of these health issues, water shortages often exacerbate political conflicts and social issues, such as poverty. In her new book, Water in Plain Sight, Judith Schwartz gives readers reasons for hope by exploring strategies for addressing today’s water crisis.
One of the main takeaways is that we can’t think about water without also thinking about land. “When we’re focused on what does or doesn’t come down from the sky—whether there’s enough rain or too much all at once—there’s the impression that we’re at the mercy of the elements,” she writes. “However, once we attend to land function, we regain a sense of agency: specifically, this steers our thinking toward the many ways to enhance the land’s ability to retain water, organic matter and microbial life, thereby offering resilience in the face of flooding and dry skies.”
In other words, in order to attain water security we have to align ourselves with natural systems. One example Schwartz provides of this is a community in rural Zimbabwe that was able to restore a local river by employing land management techniques that utilize grazing domestic animals. The domestic animals serve as surrogates for the large herds of wild herbivores that coevolved with the grassland ecosystem, thereby initiating biological processes that allow plants to grow and the soil to retain moisture. Schwartz travels around the world—with stops in California, Mexico, Brazil, West Texas, and Australia—reporting on other examples of communities replenishing water sources and making the best use of what they have.
“It has become a truism that future wars will be fought over water rather than oil,” Schwartz writes. “But we don’t need to let that happen.”