Friday AM March 12th, 2010

The scarcity of fresh water is a challenge for many parts of the world. A new book examines how the control of water throughout history has been pivotal to the rise and fall of great powers. Ed Mayberry reports.

Water book cover Water use grew more than twice as fast as the world's population in the 20th century.  In his book Water, author Steven Solomon says over 1.1 billion people today lack access to safe drinking water.

"I mean, the whole planet has about two and a half per cent of the world's water is fresh.  All but a very tiny fraction of one per cent of that is accessible.  The United States is actually one of the water well-endowed parts of the world.  But while we have some areas of water scarcity, it's not as nearly as severe as it is for example in China, which has one-fifth the amount of water per person than we do, and has a region in the north has something like one-tenth of the amount." 

Solomon says one hopeful sign is that efficiencies since 1975 have actually led to a 30 percent decline in U.S. water use per person.

"The reason why the great change happened at about 1975, 1980, goes back to the Clean Water Act and the regulations that came in at that time to say, you know, if you're going to use that water, you've got to put it back in the same clean state you took it out in.  And that effectively raised the cost of water, dramatically.  Low and behold, businesses that were using water suddenly began to look for ways to be efficient with it, and they were amazing in the ways that they came up with efficiency."

Solomon says irrigation consumes over two-thirds of the world's water, and he foresees growing clashes between food and energy — an intensive water user — as global demand for energy grows.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...