Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters

Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping And The Fate Of America's Fresh Waters
Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping And The Fate Of America’s Fresh Waters

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Aguanomics:  Water Follies, The Review, September 27, 2011.

Published Comments:
“[I]f you want to scare yourself silly, read Water Follies, by Robert Glennon.  In it you’ll learn how America is irrigating itself to death–just like the Sumerians–while sucking its groundwater aquifers dry.”
         –Margaret Atwood, Toronto Globe & Mail

“…a book as rich in detail as it is devastating in its argument.”
         –Scientific American

Water Follies deserves a place alongside the late Marc Reisner’s classic Cadillac Desert.”

“Glennon offers a dozen examples from around the country, each chapter a gem that moves the story beyond the arcane world of water law, politics, and the physics of centrifugal pumps–and frequently takes it straight to the reader’s stomach…But the book is just as much about the search for solutions, and Glennon rounds it out with a battery of thought-provoking suggestions about what we might do differently in the future–instead of just turning to a bigger pump.”
         –High Country News

“His breezy style renders the subject far less arcane and technical than it might sound…[A]n array of informative stories that should contribute to shaking us out of what Glennon calls ‘the unlimited human capacity to ignore reality.'”
         –The Washington Post

“Regardless of one’s political or environmental leanings, this book is a wake-up call that all citizens will ignore at their own risk.”
         –The Oklahoma Observer

“To … Glennon, the names Perrier and Poland pack a fearful punch, for they and the other huge producers of bottled water are feeding a craze that puts the environment on the brink of disaster.”
         –Publishers Weekly

“…a lively account of hydrology…”
         –Bill McKibben, New York Review of Books

“The deleterious effects that supersize portions pose to human health have been well documented.  Now to the list of obesity, heart disease, and bad skin we can add a new evil: wasted water…Water Follies…shows how each revolution in fry uniformity has come at an ecological cost.”
         –Mother Jones


The Santa Cruz River that once flowed through Tucson, Arizona is today a sad mirage of a river. Except for brief periods following heavy rainfall, it is bone dry. The cottonwood and willow trees that once lined its banks have died, and the profusion of birds and wildlife recorded by early settlers are nowhere to be seen. The river is dead. What happened? Where did the water go?

As Robert Glennon explains in Water Follies, what killed the Santa Cruz River—and could devastate other surface waters across the United States—was groundwater pumping. From 1940 to 2000, the volume of water drawn annually from underground aquifers in Tucson jumped more than six-fold, from 50,000 to 330,000 acre-feet per year. And Tucson is hardly an exception—similar increases in groundwater pumping have occurred across the country and around the world. In a striking collection of stories that bring to life the human and natural consequences of our growing national thirst, Glennon provides an occasionally wry and always fascinating account of groundwater pumping and the environmental problems it causes.

Glennon sketches the culture of water use in the United States, explaining how and why we are growing increasingly reliant on groundwater. He uses the examples of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers in Arizona to illustrate the science of hydrology and the legal aspects of water use and conflicts. Following that, he offers a dozen stories—ranging from Down East Maine to San Antonio’s River Walk to Atlanta’s burgeoning suburbs—that clearly illustrate the array of problems caused by groundwater pumping. Each episode poses a conflict of values that reveals the complexity of how and why we use water. These poignant and sometimes perverse tales tell of human foibles including greed, stubbornness, and, especially, the unlimited human capacity to ignore reality.

As he explores the folly of our actions and the laws governing them, Glennon suggests common-sense legal and policy reforms that could help avert potentially catastrophic future effects. Water Follies brings to life the human and natural consequences of our growing national thirst.  Glennon suggets common-sense legal and policy reforms that would address the most egregious situations and help minimize potentially catastrophic future effects.