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Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1597264365
ISBN-10: 1597264369
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

America faces a water-supply crisis. Profligate consumption of water for agriculture, power generation, industry, and homes has led to reduction of groundwater, threats to rivers, and mortal danger to many of the nation’s lakes. Much of the blame for this state of affairs lies with uncontrolled growth in the nation’s South and Southwest. Desert cities such as Las Vegas use fountains as decorations. Phoenix households draw down the finite resources of ever-shrinking Lake Mead. In great detail, Glennon documents present and future water crises in Georgia, California, and even seemingly water-rich Michigan, noting that states generally end up competing with one another over water allocation and that international conflict follows in short order. Desalination offers little immediate hope because of economic and ecological barriers. Glennon submits a list of possible reforms to decrease water consumption. Some, such as waterless toilets, are technological innovations. Others, such as restructuring sewer systems, require governmental intervention. --Mark Knoblauch


"Robert Glennon makes immediate and specific the most urgent point of crisis threatening the health and welfare of the American environment. The wells of the American dream stand a good chance of running dry, and to read Glennon's necessary book is to know that without water there will be no wine, no roses, nothing over Dorothy's rainbow except a pillar of salt."
(Lewis Lapham editor, Lapham's Quarterly)

"Robert Glennon is a leading-edge legal scholar and passionate water advocate whose thinking is central to an intense debate on the path forward to a water-secure world. I heartily recommend his provocative, information-packed, and highly readable new book Unquenchable."
(Maude Barlow)

"Unquenchable is a worthy successor to Cadillac Desert that ably demonstrates how our most valuable resource is being squandered, ignored, and flushed away. Although it reminds us that water is indeed finite, Unquenchable clearly shows us the solutions to the greatest threat of the 21st century are limited only by politics and greed."
(Terry Tamminen Cullman Senior Fellow, New America Foundation and former secretary, CA EPA)

"Glennon brings home the global problem of availability of drinking water...interesting and timely...recommended."

"Glennon illustrates the depth and complexity of our country's water problems."

"Top Ten Environmental Book of 2009"
(Mother Nature Network)

"If you use water, you need to read this book. It's akin to Cadillac Desert"
(Water Wired)

"Several books have been published recently addressing the global water crisis, but none has offered such in-depth analysis."
(New York Review of Ideas)

"Thought-provoking and insightful book that offers and informed and articulate review of the enormous water issues facing Arizona, and the United States as a whole. It should be on the bookshelves of attorneys, environmentalists, public policy managers, and others interested in natural resources."
(Journal of Arizona History)

"In Unquenchable, Glennon offers a parade of anecdotes to argue that we need urgent, fundamental changes in the way we use water in the United States."

"Author Robert Glennon connects the dots between our water woes and climate change, energy, growth, the environment, and agriculture. He makes a compelling case that we need to re-think how we use this prized resource and provides a number of thought-provoking solutions. Informative, insightful, and very interesting."
(U.S. Senator Mark Udall Colorado)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; 1 edition (May 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597264369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597264365
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #588,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There are no shortage of crisis situations facing our world, yet nothing seems so elemental as water. It is such an integral part of our daily existence that it can be hard to understand how deep our dependence on water really is. That we need to drink water is understandable, but that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef will make you look at that quarter pounder a bit differently.

Of course, concern about water is as ancient as life itself. In the United States water disputes have influenced settlements and governance, as any good Western movie will show you. More recently we've dealt with acid rain, but with the plethora of water bottles showing up on store shelves, do we really have a water crisis?

Robert Glennon's well laid out argument first establishes that there is a crisis and then offers suggestions on how to address it. The argument that there is a water crisis is becoming easier to make, in no small part thanks to Glennon's ongoing work in this area. Major media outlets are also now pointing out that the concern for water is not just an issue for other parts of the world, but the United States as well.

Glennon's strengths in this book are many. First, he lays out the arguments by telling stories and backing them up with facts. We not only see numbers, but more importantly we see the people impacted by the numbers. Glennon understands that this is not simply an environmental issue, but a human issue. Plus, he is not interested in browbeating naysayers into submission; he clearly wants to attract people to his way of thinking. While he does not suffer fools kindly, he assumes the reader is an intelligent person with an interest in understanding the issue at hand.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before reading this book, I had some familiarity with America's water crisis, but I was still surprised by its extent and urgency as presented by Robert Glennon. He covers all parts of the country, and all sectors of activity from residential to agricultural to a variety of industries. He also enlightens us on the sorry state of aquifers, water distribution, and water treatment. And he does all of this with an appreciation for the cross-cutting effects of water problems on a range of societal needs and individual behaviors.
Glennon discusses an assortment of near-term and long-term solutions. The urgency of the problem leads him, in my opinion, to underemphasize some long-term efforts, particularly a dramatic expansion of desalination. Nonetheless, it's refreshing that the author presents some thoughtful solutions rather than just wringing his hands about the problems.
Glennon's writing is well-researched, and numerous photos and maps help clarify the text. His style is enjoyable, which helps the reader get through the rather depressing message. A must-read for those who care about finding solutions to problems of national scope.
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Format: Hardcover
Glennon gives a very clear and thorough description of the state of freshwater in the U.S. Written extremely well, with illuminating and thought-provoking stories explaining what is happening in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and across the country. Glennon tells a great nonfiction story which explains the complexities of what is happening in the country, and why people who aren't yet worried about freshwater should be.
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Format: Hardcover
This was an excellent follow-up to Water Follies. From droughts in the "wet" East to the excessive use of the Southwest, the author gives a good wake up call that water issues are everywhere. Glennon emphasizes the important ways of avoiding an American water crisis, such as finding new sources and conservation. I especially liked to see a chapter devoted to rainwater harvesting. I recommend that you read this book, but more importantly that you tell others about their water. The word needs to be spread to the public so that they know more about water beyond the tap.
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Format: Hardcover
Glennon begins by reporting that Las Vegas has exhausted its rights to Colorado River water. The city's per capita water consumption (350 gallons/day) is 2x that of New York City, which also gets 10X the rainfall of Las Vegas. Outdoor water use accounts for 70% of Las Vegas' usage. The average household uses 17,000 gallons/summer month, paying only $37 (one cent/5 gallons). Las Vegas has, however, cut water demand by 18 billion gallons/year, even as population grew 330,000.

The Strip uses only 3% of the city's water. Dual plumbing recaptures water from sinks and showers that is then used for its famous outside attractions at some major hotels. Hotel shower aerators save 6,000 gallons water/year, on-demand water heaters, and drip irrigation are also used. The Bellagio (3,9993 rooms) uses less water than the former golf course located at that site.

All interesting material, especially for one familiar with Las Vegas - but it lacks connection to the rest of the book. Similarly, the rest of the book contains a number of interesting tidbits (The new Waveyard in Mesa, AZ. uses 60-100 million gallons/year to replace water lost to evaporation; similarly, man-made lakes are a major unnecessary source of evaporation loss; the Salton Sea is about 214 feet below sea level, with a salinity level about 50% higher than the Pacific Ocean, and rising; eliminating the plastic in bottled water offers the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road). However, these tidbits lead nowhere in terms of creating an overall strategy.

Readers do learn, however, that farming is the major use of water in the U.S., while providing much less contribution to GDP. (The latter is misleading because without farming, there would be no GDP.
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