Lit Review: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water.

Cadillac Desert is a great book for anyone who wants to understand water in the west, and how we’ve created our modern water problems both in California, and in the greater Southwest region of the United States. While the book was published in 1993, the prescient issues echo today’s US water crises. Unveiling the political and economic decisions that underscore many of the choices made about water in the Southwest, helps provide a cautionary tale of the scaffolding supporting today’s water system.

Cadillac Desert was also turned into a TV documentary series that highlight four key components of water reclamation in the Southwest: Los Angeles water, the Colorado river and dams (i.e. water conservation projects), the environmental and political issues of water in CA, and water misuse around the country and the world. Below is the first episode of Cadillac Desert.

Lit Review: Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource

Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource.

“If water is the essential ingredient of life, then water supply is the essential ingredient of civilization.” The book covers water systems that have supported civilization from the Romans to the modern world. No large metropolis (over 100,000) has been able to function without water technology. In fact, most of our systems are based upon what the Romans invented and curated throughout their rule. Water distribution played a key role in keeping the world small during “the Dark Ages” and the Medieval era. Refuse and sewage plagued large metropolitan areas up until the start of the 20th century with the start of basic water treatment (filtration and chlorination). Waster water treatment is a relatively new idea, gaining traction with the Environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s and key legislation: Clean Water Act (1972) and Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). The Clean Water Act focused on sewage treatment and disposal, while the Safe Drinking Water Act focused on chemical compounds found in water. Of course, technology has gone hand in hand in both enabling measuring water particles in parts per billion and parts per trillion, while creating more complex man-made chemical compounds (prescription drugs, cleaning solutions, etc.), which begs the question, how bad are particles in our water, and to what extent is our water measurement capability a signifier of water pollution?

Sedlak goes through pros and cons of new technologies available for the creation of water (de-salination), treatment of wastewater (membrane bioreactors), reuse of water (runoff and gray water specifically), and water conservation. His terms are “acquisition, treatment, and management of water”. His future has two outcomes, a centralized system that employs all modern technologies to acquire, treat, and manage its water system, or a distributed system that has individual and neighborhood systems that are off a centralized water grid. His book is important in understanding that while water is a support system to life on earth, our treatment of and attitudes toward water is a relatively new concept.

Water 1.0 – Distribution – pipes, aqueducts (cloacae – sewers)
Water 2.0 – Filtration – water treatment (filters and chlorination) 1890s – 1940s
Water 3.0 – Waste Water Purification – sewage treatment due to pollution
Water 4.0 – De-centralization – systems that combine centralized and distributed water.
centralized systems break and are less efficient, but are more cost effective.
Reverse-Osmosis De-salination (water purification)
Reverse-Osmosis and Forward-Osmosis membrane bioreactors (wastewater treatment)

Lit Review: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

The Big Thirst outlines our global attitudes towards water and how our current perceptions and relationships with water must change in order to grapple with the impending challenges of water scarcity. From the US to Australia to India, Fishman details how each country has dealt with water crises, the varying solutions and the different challenges each nation faces. Our current solution for water crisis is water importation, which is implausible and absurdly costly. One only needs to hear the story of Barcelona Spain’s water shortage in 2008 or even the small town of Orme, TN’s (142 people), where the town ran out of water for 4-months and was on a 3-hour a day water ration, to understand that water is a precious resource. Water management has improved over the years, but our systems are rarely updated and are currently being stressed (population, age decay, extreme weather patterns) to the point where these systems are failing. People only pay for the delivery of water, not for the maintenance and upkeep of systems, and thus are attitude about water is, “it’s water. Of course it’s free.” Free water is no longer a luxury we have, at least, free clean water.” Fishman calls for a change to our water habits and water attitudes, because our attitudes toward water is the strongest obstacle to changing and sustaining our water future, which is to say, sustaining our future.