Water: A Natural Historyby Alice Outwater
An environmental engineer turned ecology writer relates the history of our waterways and her own growing understanding of why our waterways continue to be pollutedand what needs to be done to save this essential natural resourse.Water: A Natural History takes us back to the diaries of the first Western explorers; it moves from the reservoir to the/i>
An environmental engineer turned ecology writer relates the history of our waterways and her own growing understanding of why our waterways continue to be pollutedand what needs to be done to save this essential natural resourse.Water: A Natural History takes us back to the diaries of the first Western explorers; it moves from the reservoir to the modern toliet, from the grasslands of the Midwest to the Everglades of Florida, throught the guts of a wastewater treatment plant and out to the waterways again. It shows how human-engineered dams, canals and farms replaces 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 depollute 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.
Trained as an environmental engineer, Outwater is at home with the technical minutiae of such matters as water treatment and sewage handling, about which she writes with surprising vigor. As a collection of oddments on the human manipulation of water, her book has many virtues: You will learn, for instance, that Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was the first American town to develop a filtered water supply; you will also learn in great detail how "raw sludge brew" is separated, how methane from sewage is converted to a source of power, and how aqueducts work. Outwater is also good at describing some of the basic matters of river ecology, noting the importance to the food chain of free-flowing rivers that support high levels of nutrients, and she makes a good case for restoring beavers and prairie dogs to public lands as agents to increase the production of wetlands, a crucial element of the ecosystem largely reclaimed over the past two centuries for agricultural and municipal uses. But Outwater is less successful at weaving the complexities of human affairs into larger questions of nature and the environment. She relies too often on undigested facts rather than carefully interpreted information. What is missing from this book is an appreciation for water both as a natural elementthere is precious little in these pages about the chemistry of water or on how rain happens to form and falland as a defining force in human history.
The focus is much narrower than the broad title and subtitle suggest, and readers will have to look elsewhere for a thorough natural history of water.
Meet the Author
Alice Outwater is an environmental engineer, a consultant in sludge management, and the coauthor, with Larry Gonick, of The Cartoon Guide to Environmental Science.
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