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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Water Chronicles
"Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource," by Marq De Villers is a thorough summary of facts and figures pertinent to water allocation and use in the coming century. The topics covered include descriptions of natural supplies, issues surrounding irrigation and pollution, the politics of water, and what the future may hold. If you weren't aware that...
Published on August 25, 2000 by charles sharpless

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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks focus
This a fascinating book about a fascinating (and critical topic). But in appealling to the general reader, Mr. de Villiers inserts too much (for my taste) personal anecdote. A regrettable travelogue quality permeates the narrative.

This is unfortunate, because there is much of value here. In particular, the discussion about the sources and uses of the Jordan...
Published on April 2, 2004 by Lawrence L. Thompson


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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Water Chronicles, August 25, 2000
By 
"Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource," by Marq De Villers is a thorough summary of facts and figures pertinent to water allocation and use in the coming century. The topics covered include descriptions of natural supplies, issues surrounding irrigation and pollution, the politics of water, and what the future may hold. If you weren't aware that there are serious problems to be dealt with in water management, this book will serve as a solid introduction. For those of you acquainted with water issues, this information will come as no surprise.
What is surprising, however, is the level-headed, even-handed tone of the book. All too many books written by non-scientists about natural resource use and misuse are filled to the brim with political polemic. De Villiers, however, has simply offered the facts, surrounded by a narrative of travels and experiences with characters from the world of water. He's just as quick to expose the fallacies of the "water miners" as he is to point out the absurdities of "eco-facism." Just the facts, please, and all wrapped into a tidy, enjoyably written bundle.
My only complaints about the book are academically picky. First, the units De Villiers chooses to use for water volumes, while all standard, are not consistent. Often he speaks of cubic meters, while not a page later he is talking of acre-feet. A few times, he even uses units of kilograms. These are generally appropriate to the topic at hand, but a conversion table should be provided in an appendix. Second, the index is not nearly complete enough. For example, while there are many places in the text where the price of water is discussed, the only reference in the index is to "Water Pricing Policies," which is a very short segment on how pricing affects demand. If you wanted to know what price farmers were paying for water in the western US, you're going to have to search page-by-page.
I would recommend this book to everyone except the most jaded water supply professionals. It covers an important topic and is very timely. If you use water, you should read this book.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to Swallow, but with No Additives, September 12, 2002
This easy to read and conversational book can be used as an introduction to the fate of water supplies around the world and their impact on human societies. de Villiers takes us on a chapter-by-chapter dissertation first on the technical aspects of water issues, such as the mechanics of groundwater and dams. Then we proceed to selected examples of water crises around the globe, such as China's dilemma of having too much where it's not needed and too little where it is needed, or the hideous catastrophe of the Aral Sea in the former USSR.
The author takes an admirably middle-of-the-road stance here and usually lets the facts speak for themselves, with just a little bit of opinionating. But his opinions are still quite moderate and level-headed, as he doesn't align himself with either unyielding environmentalists or extreme free trade proponents, both of which he accurately condemns as having very narrow outlooks on the real world. Some of de Villiers' key observations concern the water wars that will probably start erupting in coming years in dry regions of the world. Two countries will probably spend more money in a single day of war than it takes to improve water supplies for both of them for decades to come. Also, de Villiers drives home the point that the worrisome decline of fresh water around the globe is not due to greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, or greens who refuse to let it be used. It's just the natural outcome of humans living like humans. Therefore real human cooperation across all societies is necessary to address the problem.
Unfortunately, the author's chapter-by-chapter approach serves only as an introduction to separate topics of interest, without very much substance behind each one. Also, this subject requires harder economics, politics, and sociology than de Villiers provides here. Therefore this book can best be used as an introduction to these issues before you dive into much more specific books like "Rivers of Empire" by Worster or "Cadillac Desert" by Reisner (focusing on the American West), or the works of the Worldwatch Institute for the international story.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant--Puts Water in Context of War, Peace, and Life, October 2, 2000
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I rank this book as being among the top ten I have read in the decade, for the combined reason that its topic concerns our survival, and its author has done a superior job of integrating both scholarly research (with full credit to those upon whose work he builds) and what must be a unique background of actually having traveled to the specific desolate areas that comprise the heart of this book-from the Aral Sea ("the exposed seabed, now over 28,000 square kilometers, became a stew of salt, pesticide residues, and toxic chemicals; the strong winds in the region pick up more than 40 million tons of these poisonous sediments each year, and the contaminated dust storms that follow have caused the incidence of respiratory illnesses and cancers to explode.") to the heart of China ("According to China's own figures, between 1983 and 1990 the number of cities short of water tripled to three hundred, almost half the cities in the country; those who problem was described as 'serious' rose from forty to one hundred." The author provides a thoughtful and well-structured look at every corner of the world, with special emphasis on the Middle East, the Tigris-Euphrates System, the Nile, the Americas, and China; and at the main human factors destroying our global water system: pollution, dams (that silt up and prevent nutrients from going downstream or flooding from rejuvenating the lower lands), irrigation (leading to salination such that hundreds of thousands of acres are now infertile and being taken out of production), over-engineering, and excessive water mining from aquifers, which are in serious danger of drying up in key areas in the US as well as overseas within the next twenty years. The author provides a balanced and well-documented view overall. His final chapter on solutions explores conservation, technical, and political options. Two statements leapt off the page: first, that it is the average person, unaware of the fragility of our water system, that is doing the most damage, not the corporations or mega-farms; and second, that for the price of one military ship or equipped unit ($100 million), one can desalinate 100 million cubic meters of water. The bottom line is clear: we are close to a tipping point toward catastrophe but solution are still within our grasp, and they require, not world government, but a virtual world system that permits the integrated management of all aspects of water demand as well supply. This book should be required reading for every college student and every executive and every government employee at local, state, and federal levels; and every citizen.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real eye opener, May 2, 2005
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James Ferguson (Vilnius, Lithuania) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent overview of the water problems plaguing the globe at the moment, as Marq de Villiers travels far and wide to show just how precious a resource water really is. Most importantly, he does so in a very accessible style of writing that personalizes so many of the issues surrounding the rapid depletion of aquifers by drawing on childhood memories of his home farm in South Africa and first hand sources in the current geopolitical battles.

Of note is the Middle East and North Africa where the battle over water is entertwined with the ongoing political disputes. He notes how carefully Israel has managed its water resources yet is heavily reliant on sources in the West Bank to sustain its agricultural industry. Needless to say this has made the issue of Palestinian statehood that much more difficult. He also explores the thorny relationships along the Nile where downstream Egypt has threatened to go to war with the Sudan and Ethiopia over any divergence attempts with this great river. And, Kaddafi's attempts to create a massive underground river from aquifers deep below the Sahara to coastal Libya, in order to restore badly depleted sources.

But, even in seemingly water rich nations like the US and Canada, water battles persist, mostly to do with the contamination of rivers and aquifers that are the result of industrial waste and poor farming practices. More thorny are precious water rights in dry states like Wyoming and Montana that often end up in court and sometimes settled using frontier justice.

For those not familiar with the looming water crisis, this book will be a real opener, for others it will provide valuable information regarding disputes from the Yellow River in China to the Colorado River, which has long since quit flowing to the Gulf of California. While de Villiers avoids being the doomsayer, he does make one exceedingly worried about the future of this most precious resource.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Non-Fiction Page turner (!), March 21, 2005
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Clare (Princeton, New Jersey) - See all my reviews
This book is by far one of the most interesting, can't-put-it-down non-fictional books I've ever read. I know, I'm speaking in superlatives, but I can't say enough about this book.

I made my thesis topic water-related after I read Water. And yet Water reads like a novel, even though it's packed with information and statistics; de Villiers does an amazing job of making the scientific research information palatable to the average (non-science inclined) reader by weaving in his own experiences and stories.

You can feel his passion for this issue come through in his writing style. He integrates quotes very well and makes the subject come alive. For example, when writing about a severe chemical spill along the Rhine River, he quoted Bertram Muelle, saying: "The river ran red... Otherwise, it looked no different...But I knew that as I watched, its creatures were dying. It was the most terrible feeling. I was frozen, sickened..."He makes turns a very technical and scientific topic into a page-turner. A must-read! P.S. Pay attention to the Canada-US Great Lakes issue, along with the Rhine and Danube Rivers (the subject of my thesis!).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Discussion Group Text, August 19, 2008
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Every four months, I participate in one or more university-sponsored, Osher Lifelong Learning In Retirement (OLLI) discussion groups. Each deals with an important contemporary world issue. For the coming Fall 2008 trimester, I've signed up for the course "Water and the Politics of Water," and our textbook is "Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource," by Marq de Villiers. We are supposed to read and discuss the book slowly over the course of eight two-hour-long discussions. That was the plan...but as soon as the book arrived, I started reading it and couldn't put it down! The course won't begin for another two weeks, but I've already devoured the entire book. I don't know when I have ever come across such a compelling and captivating work of popular nonfiction! For the purpose of our discussion group, I cannot think of a better starting-off point.

The book provides an outstanding introduction to a critical contemporary concern. Each chapter focuses on a set of related issues. Taken by themselves, each of these could serve as the basis for thousands of detailed academic articles and books. It is a testament to the author's enormous skill that he was able to condense each set of issues down to a manageable summary, and give these topics just the right balance of fact and human-interest stories to make a page-turning work of can't-put-it-down nonfiction.

Since I was reading the book for a future discussion group, I read it pen-in-hand, liberally highlighting the text and writing notes to myself in the margins. The most frequent note I wrote was: "Needs update!" Typically, before each discussion, participants research the issues in order to bring new and updated material to the forefront. This book is an excellent catalyst for sparking interest for further research. The book was first published in 1999 and republished in a revised and updated version in 2003. Even with the revised version, most of the issues still require significant updating some five years later. Accomplishing this research on the Internet is easy; of course, there is also an overwhelming amount of popular, academic, and technical information available on these issues in public and academic libraries.

Don't get the impression that this book is out-of-date. The emerging water crisis is one of those "slow emergencies" that's happening just outside our range of day-to-day human perception. The vast majority of the damage has been accomplished in the past 100 years--an infinitesimally tiny length of time for any geological process, yet on our human perception scale, still profoundly slow...so slow that many people still do not know that a problem even exists.

The book is a real eye-opener, and a first-rate springboard for discussion groups. I recommend it highly.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks focus, April 2, 2004
By 
Lawrence L. Thompson (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
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This a fascinating book about a fascinating (and critical topic). But in appealling to the general reader, Mr. de Villiers inserts too much (for my taste) personal anecdote. A regrettable travelogue quality permeates the narrative.

This is unfortunate, because there is much of value here. In particular, the discussion about the sources and uses of the Jordan River, Isreali concern with controlling its water supply, and water problems of the immediate Arab neighorhood, opened my eyes to an aspect of the current intractable problems of the Middle East.

My advice is to read this with pleasure, but don't be afraid to skim if you find some portions of the narrative uninteresting.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Education of Water Supply, December 11, 2001
By 
Doc (Gladwyne, Pa USA) - See all my reviews
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After reading this book I have a slight compunction with each visit to the faucet or garden hose. I must admit I was somewhat incredulous about reading a book about water. However, the author captured my attention early in the first chapter and I found the book difficult to put down thereafter. My expectations of reading material suggestive of an impending water shortage were quickly cast aside. The author demonstrates significant evidence that the world is currently embroiled in a crisis of which most individuals are unware. The mere thought that countries may be led to war to secure a water supply, no matter how realistic, is disheartening. My conscious level of awareness regarding our current water supply has been heightened as a result of reading this excellent book. For more specific details see the reviews by Robert Steele and Charles Sharpless, they are both excellent summaries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Water for the masses, December 12, 2009
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Marq de Villiers' Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource combines both well researched information and personal experiences to produce a book that delves into an issue that is hard to face, on both a region specific level and on a global scale - the increasingly limited amount of water resources we are able to use. de Villiers is a journalist that has worked as an editor and foreign correspondent. He now primarily writes books on scientific topics.

Water is a revealing book that gives the reader a general yet comprehensive understanding of where the overpopulated and industrialized world we live in gets its water. de Villiers also gives a general status report in terms of what water resources we currently have and what condition those resources are in (is the water even usable?). Though, as de Villiers states, "Water supplies in the Nile Valley itself - the cradle of civilization - are in peril" (2, p.14). Water calls for a sense of urgency in addressing the ever-looming problem of increasingly limited resources, namely water.

One prevalent point that de Villiers repeatedly articulates is that the amount of water resources on the planet is not decreasing; rather, the global increase in population stresses already stressed water-scarce regions and threatens those regions where water scarcity is just on the horizon. He asserts that "population is the principal culprit. The mass exodus of refugees to Gaza after partition in 1948 more than tripled its population, which is now grown to almost to a million people...Gaza has one of the highest growth rates in the world...as a result, per capita water availability has decreased dramatically" (2, p.202).

Water is split up into four parts. The first is to inform the reader of all the stats about water and where it is scarce and where it is abundant, now and throughout history. Part two focuses on how the human factor has restructured and contaminated the water of the world (i.e. damming rivers, using up aquifers, human caused climate change, etc). The third part of the book reveals the major political disputes that surround transnational water sources. The fourth part explores a few possible solutions and ways of thinking that have potential to ease the water stressed status that many parts of the world experience.
de Villiers' book reads much like a series of case studies, with the occasional childhood memory thrown in the mix to remind the reader how the use of water has affected de Villiers his entire life. At points, it seems as though you are reading a personal account of de Villiers' travels and conversations with an assortment of people. If you are expecting a semi-scientific read, this will seem out of place and extraneous, but it does give the subject matter of the book (i.e. water crisis) a personal and human quality that makes the book more approachable to those who are not necessarily interested in a scientific read but are still interested in "the fate of our most precious resource." Also, some of de Villiers' sentences are oddly constructed and require re-reading to get the intended flow and meaning correct. I felt that this detracted from the book's ability to keep my undivided attention.

In Water, de Villiers is able to take information from scientific and historical studies and sum it all up in a way that is coherent and understandable to the average reader. For instance, all of the accounts of countries battling over water sources and rights to water throughout history are brought together in parallel comparison. de Villiers offers possible political solutions that are in concert with other literature and scientific papers.

I would recommend Water to anyone looking for an ample account of the history of water usage and management as well as to those looking for the big picture behind the recent fuss about impending water shortages. This book is also a good resource to raise awareness for those that don't know much about the topic, and even a good read for those that are clueless as to why canals are built, etc. However, if you're looking for a book that enumerates solutions on the individual level, you won't find any in Water. de Villiers does get his facts straight though and presents information in a well organized, topic focused, and relevant manner.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are We on a Course Towards Disaster?, January 21, 2009
Marq DeVilliers takes on a topic that affects each of us every day, and he brings it into perspective in a concise, tightly woven book. Written in the late 1990s, DeVilliers gives a snapshot of the problem emerging worldwide from overuse and pollution of fresh water. Without going over the top in his phrasing, he nevertheless brings the potential for a water apocalypse into view.

This book is a great introduction for a person interested in environmental issues. I would even suggest that it's worthy of inclusion on a college reading list, even though it's written for a general audience. Of course, college students today are not great scholars, so they would need supplemental information to even understand this book.

My only reservations about the book are these.

1. It's now more than a decade old, so is it relevant? Have things become so much worse that this book doesn't really encapsulate the problem today? Or, conversely, have some of the political and technological solutions that DeVilliers discusses in the second half of the book actually started to solve the problem? Either way, this book cries out for a 2nd edition.

2. Given the dire circumstances depicted in "Water," I'm wondering why the crisis has not yet hit home. For example, I am aware that the US West and Rockies are fighting about water, in much the way that DeVilliers described in the book. But people seem to be getting by, and the West is still gaining population. Similarly, places with even greater stresses, such as Israel or China, seem to be functioning. Yet the book made it seem as if they were nearly at the breaking point. So, is the problem really as bad as his anecdotes about the Aral Sea and other parched areas make it seem?

Regardless, this book is a very strong effort. It covers an important work with great breadth and useful depth. It's very readable. It makes passionate arguments, but it does so by using reason and data. For anyone who wants to get on the path of becoming a knowledgeable citizen of the world, this book is an important mile marker.
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Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource by Marq De Villiers (Paperback - July 12, 2001)
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