cover image When the Rivers Run Dry: Water—The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water—The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century

Fred Pearce, Author . Beacon $26.95 (324p) ISBN 978-0-8070-8572-1

Veteran science writer Pearce (Turning Up the Heat ) makes a strong—and scary—case that a worldwide water shortage is the most fearful looming environmental crisis. With a drumbeat of facts both horrific (thousands of wells in India and Bangladesh are poisoned by fluoride and arsenic) and fascinating (it takes 20 tons of water to make one pound of coffee), the former New Scientist news editor documents a "kind of cataclysm" already affecting many of the world's great rivers. The Rio Grande is drying up before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico; the Nile has been dammed to a trickle; reservoirs behind ill-conceived dams sacrifice millions of gallons of water to evaporation, while wetlands and floodplains downriver dry up as water flow dwindles. In India, villagers lacking access to clean water for irrigation and drinking are sinking tube wells hundreds of feet down, plundering underground supplies far faster than rainfall can replace them—the same fate facing the Ogallala aquifer of the American Midwest. The news, recounted with a scientist's relentless accumulation of observable fact, is grim. Maps. (Mar.)