The Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity

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It is no coincidence that human civilization sprang from river valleys and floodplains. Access to water has been crucial to our food security and to the growth of cities and industries. In recent times, the fortunate have come to take water for granted: Endless supplies seem to flow from dams, reservoirs, wells, and diversion projects. But for decades now we have wasted and mismanaged the world's water. Engineering projects, ever larger as demands spiral upward, have created an illusion of plenty even in the ...
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Overview

It is no coincidence that human civilization sprang from river valleys and floodplains. Access to water has been crucial to our food security and to the growth of cities and industries. In recent times, the fortunate have come to take water for granted: Endless supplies seem to flow from dams, reservoirs, wells, and diversion projects. But for decades now we have wasted and mismanaged the world's water. Engineering projects, ever larger as demands spiral upward, have created an illusion of plenty even in the midst of scarcity. Gross underpricing has concealed the need for careful management. We have come to view water strictly as a resource that is there for the taking, rather than as a living system that drives the natural world on which we depend. We are entering a new era - an era of water scarcity. The signs are evident the world over: shrinking lakes and seas, depleted river flows, and falling groundwater levels. Chronic shortages could unfold this decade in much of Africa, northern China, pockets of India, Mexico, the Middle East, and parts of western North America. Already 26 countries have too little water to support their populations sustainably. We hear rumblings of potential war over water in the Middle East. And competition for supplies is brewing between city-dwellers and farmers around Beijing, New Delhi, Phoenix, and other water-short areas. In this, the third volume in the Worldwatch Environmental Alert Series, Sandra Postel examines the limits - ecological, economic, and political - of water. Postel, vice president for research of the Worldwatch Institute, writes with authority and clarity of these emerging threats to our future. And, perhaps most important, she offers a disarmingly sensible way out of such struggles. Last Oasis discloses that the technologies and know-how exist today to make every drop of water go further, decreasing the likelihood of both scarcity and conflict. Postel shows us that with currently available methods, agricultur
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Postel, vice president for research of the Worldwatch Institute, examines the worldwide limits--ecological, economic, and political--of water, and discloses existing methods to make water go further, decreasing the likelihood of both scarcity and conflict. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Gilbert Taylor
Rule one for repent-now tracts is read them backward. The last chapter in this Worldwatch polemic sketches the hell in store for sinners (in this case, water wasters), along with inducements to change their behavior. The way to avoid wars, food shortages, and ecological catastrophe, according to Postel, is to reduce profligate farm and urban water consumption. This is achieved through microtechnologies (drip irrigation, for example) combined with sharply increased prices. Postel advances this argument in the name of creating a market--most water is controlled and sold by government monopolies. But her imagined "market" is simply price control on a higher level. Which probably explains her fondness for a legal notion aborning in California: a "public trust doctrine," by which certain goals (e.g., full-flow rivers) that are deemed (litigated?) to be paramount assets are entrusted to government. To be sure, Postel inveighs with stats against patent disasters, such as aquifer depletion or the desertification of the Aral Sea. The combination of sweet reason with a slant, however, is apt to interest policy entrepreneurs rather than the widest public.
WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women
Imagine America going to war over water. Don't think it will ever happen? Think again. Water scarcity is a real problem, one which is growing exponentially. That fact water seems so readily available and inexpensive (the "illusion of plenty" as the author states it), and people's overuse and lack of respect towards this life-sustaining resource are only some of the causes for the water crisis. Sandra Postel has written a stunning account which discloses the atrocious amount of neglect and mismanagement of water. Fortunately, there are solutions which offer hope for restoring and sustaining our essential lifeline, all of which are economically and environmentally friendly. Last Oasis is a red flag to farmers, industry and families, warning us that if the alternatives are not enacted, we are, most assuredly, destined for a worldwide crisis.
—SH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393034288
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/1992
  • Series: Worldwatch Environmental Alert Series
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.67 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Postel lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she directs the Global Water Policy Project. She is a Pew Fellow in Conservation and the Environment and a former vice president for research at the Worldwatch Institute. Her previous book, Last Oasis, now appears in eight languages and was the basis for a PBS television documentary.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the New Edition
Acknowledgments
1 An Illusion of Plenty 17
2 Signs of Scarcity 27
3 Engineering's Promise 38
4 Bread and Water 48
5 Paradise Lost 60
6 Hydropolitics 73
7 A World Heating Up 87
8 Thrifty Irrigation 99
9 Small-Scale Solutions 114
10 Wastewater No More 126
11 Industrial Recycling 136
12 Conserving in Cities 146
13 Pricing, Markets, and Regulations 165
14 A Water Ethic 183
Notes 193
Index 229
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