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The Ripple Effect

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The Ripple Effect

The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Water, water everywhere (but not as much as you think)

Editorial Rating



The conventional wisdom about freshwater, at least in the affluent West, is hopelessly clouded by how easy it is to use all the water you want by simply turning on the tap. Alex Prud’homme, a longtime magazine journalist, says the days of reliable plenty are in jeopardy. He meticulously lays out the unpleasant facts, covering rampant pollution, moneyed interests seizing control of public resources, growing scarcity amid booming populations, and looming megafloods thanks to global warming. The book’s strength lies in the portraits of the real people at the center of these topics, and that personal touch helps keep a tiny flame of optimism alive that these problems are ultimately human in scale and fixable. This facet is also a weakness in that the book reads like a series of earnest, long-form radio reports – dispatches that push a bony finger onto the pessimism button. Yet this important book stands a better chance than most of moving good people and governments into action. getAbstract recommends it to green-minded industrialists, urban planners, big-vision lawmakers, future-focused engineers, technological innovators and anyone who wants to understand why that plastic bottle of water really isn’t the answer.


It’s in the Water

The first years of the 21st century saw the dawning of a renewed environmental consciousness, spurred in part by evidence of climate change. Heightened concerns about water soon followed. Since the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, devastating things have happened to the quality and abundance of the United States’ water supply. Add global pressures to that, and freshwater becomes the probable flashpoint of the century.

Industrial pollution in particular threatens American water. The Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, stands as a stark example of decades of poorly understood environmental impacts and lack of regulation. A gigantic oil-and-chemical spill (like “black mayonnaise”) has fouled the groundwater and turned Newtown Creek into a lifeless, chemical-soaked stream that locals now link to a high number of rare cancers. Authorities have removed millions of gallons from the site, but it’s unlikely to ever be completely clean. A plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Housatonic River for more than 40 years leaving it thoroughly contaminated. Mining operations in Butte, Montana, have left...

About the Author

Alex Prud’homme has written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Time. He is the author of My Life in France (2006), a memoir of his great-aunt, Julia Child.

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