Americans see water as abundant and cheap: we turn on the faucet and out it gushes, for less than a penny a gallon. We use more water than any other culture in the world, much to quench what’s now our largest crop—the lawn. Yet most Americans cannot name the river or aquifer that flows to our taps, irrigates our food, and produces our electricity. And most don’t realize these freshwater sources are in deep trouble.
Blue Revolution exposes the truth about the water crisis—driven not as much by lawn sprinklers as by a tradition that has encouraged everyone, from homeowners to farmers to utilities, to tap more and more. But the book also offers much reason for hope. Award-winning journalist Cynthia Barnett argues that the best solution is also the simplest and least expensive: a water ethic for America. Just as the green movement helped build awareness about energy and sustainability, so a blue movement will reconnect Americans to their water, helping us value and conserve our most life-giving resource. Avoiding past mistakes, living within our water means, and turning to “local water” as we do local foods are all part of this new, blue revolution.
Reporting from across the country and around the globe, Barnett shows how people, businesses, and governments have come together to dramatically reduce water use and reverse the water crisis. Entire metro areas, such as San Antonio, Texas, have halved per capita water use. Singapore’s “closed water loop” recycles every drop. New technologies can slash agricultural irrigation in half: businesses can save a lot of water—and a lot of money—with designs as simple as recycling air-conditioning condensate.
The first book to call for a national water ethic, Blue Revolution is also a powerful meditation on water and community in America.
Barnett, an award-winning journalist specializing in environmental and water issues, proposes that we need a new "blue revolution" comparable to the green one, warning that "like the unending bull market, or upward-only house prices the illusion of water abundance is a beautiful bubble doomed to pop." She compares America's problematic water policies to nations that take floods and droughts more seriously: the Dutch use community consensus and compromise for the public good. Singapore's top-down policies, along with changing the tiny nation from "postcolonial pigsty to one of the world's most successful economies," are freeing it from dependency on imported Malaysian water as it gains self-sufficiency through intensive engineering, recycling wastewater into drinking water, and a conservation agenda "to bring people closer to water so that they can better appreciate" and protect it. Barnett believes that our water problems, from the devastation of Katrina to fights over the Colorado River, derive from "America's widespread lack of respect for water," and that we need to develop a water ethic that values and conserves water, keeps it local, avoids overtapping of aquifers and massive water projects, and leaves as much as possible to nature. Although water activists may be mystified by Barnett's lack of discussion of water privatization, the book provides an eye-opening overview of the complexity of our water-use problems and offers optimistic but practical solutions.