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A look at selected books on the looming water crisis

In publishing, there’s a category I think of as Paul Revere Books: They all sound the same alarm. A bunch often go to press over a short span, the prose hopped on adrenaline, the authors virtually cupping their hands to shout forth dark facts, stats, and stories. “The water crisis is coming! The water crisis is coming!” doesn’t conjure as sharp an image as redcoats on the march. But the situation is dire; the books are burgeoning; and I’d like to welcome you to this week’s immersion experience.

“The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century” (Scribner, 2011) cleared up my first question: How can there be a water crisis when two-thirds of our planet’s surface is covered in water? Author Alex Prud’homme explains that only 3 percent of that water is fresh, and a mere 0.3 percent is both gettable and clean enough for people to use. So we’re in a potable water crisis. This is harder to accept in moist New England, than parched Arizona. I’m writing this during yet another rainstorm, for instance. But Prud’homme says we are “waking from a forty-year nap,” just grasping that the Clean Water Act of the 1970s — remember the days of Love Canal and the burning Cuyahoga River? — was hardly a forever solution. Indeed, between 2004 and 2009, there were 506,000 violations of clean water laws. SHOCKINGLY, LESS THAN 3 percent were punished by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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