An environmental engineer turned ecology writer relates the history of our waterways and her own growing understanding of what needs to be done to save this essential natural resource.
Water: A Natural History takes us back to the diaries of the first Western explorers; it moves from the reservoir to the modern toilet, from the grasslands of the Midwest to the Everglades of Florida, through the guts of a wastewater treatment plant and out to the waterways again. It shows how human-engineered dams, canals and farms replaced nature's beaver dams, prairie dog tunnels, and buffalo wallows. Step by step, Outwater makes clear what should have always been obvious: while engineering can de-pollute water, only ecologically interacting systems can create healthy waterways.
Important reading for students of environmental studies, the heart of this history is a vision of our land and waterways as they once were, and a plan that can restore them to their former glory: a land of living streams, public lands with hundreds of millions of beaver-built wetlands, prairie dog towns that increase the amount of rainfall that percolates to the groundwater, and forests that feed their fallen trees to the sea.
A generation after the Clean Water Act was passed, one third of our waters are still polluted, according to the author, and only 6% of contamination is caused by industry. Environmental engineer Outwater, who managed scum and sludge removal in the Boston Harbor cleanup, reaches back into our history to chart the changes in our waters. Once, a tenth of the total land area was beaver-built wetland; the beaver's decline caused the first major shift in the nation's water cycle. The depressions buffalo made on the ground and the holes dug by prairie dogs collected rain and runoff that seeped down to the water table; our waterways have been transformed by the loss of these keystone species. Outwater looks at grasslands and forests, artificial waterways, agriculture, aqueducts and toilet bowls, sewers and sludge (she gives a guided tour of a waste-treatment plant). She makes a strong case for restoring natural systems to public lands--repopulating beaver, bison and prairie dogs. This book is a valuable addition to environmental literature and to our understanding of water.