6 x 9
6 x 9
"Nothing is more important to life than water, and no one knows water better than Sandra Postel. Replenish is a wise, sobering, but ultimately hopeful book." —Elizabeth Kolbert
"Clear-eyed treatise...Postel makes her case eloquently." —Booklist, starred review
"An informative, purposeful argument." —Kirkus
We have disrupted the natural water cycle for centuries in an effort to control water for our own prosperity. Yet every year, recovery from droughts and floods costs billions of dollars, and we spend billions more on dams, diversions, levees, and other feats of engineering. These massive projects not only are risky financially and environmentally, they often threaten social and political stability. What if the answer was not further control of the water cycle, but repair and replenishment?
Sandra Postel takes readers around the world to explore water projects that work with, rather than against, nature’s rhythms. In New Mexico, forest rehabilitation is safeguarding drinking water; along the Mississippi River, farmers are planting cover crops to reduce polluted runoff; and in China, “sponge cities” are capturing rainwater to curb urban flooding.
Efforts like these will be essential as climate change disrupts both weather patterns and the models on which we base our infrastructure. We will be forced to adapt. The question is whether we will continue to fight the water cycle or recognize our place in it and take advantage of the inherent services nature offers. Water, Postel writes, is a gift, the source of life itself. How will we use this greatest of gifts?
"Eschewing mere hand-wringing about climate change, this clear-eyed treatise hops around the world outlining real-world solutions that are already being implemented to affect change on the ground...Postel makes her case eloquently...Such inspirational examples, supplemented by an efficient overview of water-conservation ideas...give cause to celebrate small pockets of hope in our fight to save the planet's precious and vulnerable freshwater."
Booklist, starred review
"An informative, purposeful argument about why we must accept the moral as well as practical responsibility of water stewardship."
"If The Water Will Come gets you too depressed, here's the flip side: Postel's examination of water projects around the world that actually work. If safe drinking water, working watersheds, clean rivers and un-floodable cities matter to you, check this one out."
"Nothing is more important to life than water, and no one knows water better than Sandra Postel. Replenish is a wise, sobering, but ultimately hopeful book."
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
"Postel's Replenish is a great book on so many levels, full of detail-rich storytelling, authentic accounts from communities around the globe, and thorough research. Replenish tells a hopeful story about the future of water security that avoids pitting humans against nature. Instead, Postel points to practical, saleable projects where people, governments, businesses, and environments can all benefit."
Mark R. Tercek, President and CEO, The Nature Conservancy and author of Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive By Investing in Nature
“In Replenish, Sandra Postel has provided an eloquent explanation of the global water cycle’s role in society and ecosystems, an urgent plea for water conservation, and a host of examples of how real people around the world are getting it done. Everybody who wants to understand environmental sustainability and how to achieve it should read this book.”
John P. Holdren, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Harvard University, and former Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
“For a quarter century, Sandra Postel has made the sensible, principled, indisputable case for a water ethic: Inspiring us to live with water today in ways that don’t harm future generations and ecosystems. Postel’s restorative approach to water has always been the wise course. Her gratifying new book shows why, in the face of climate change, it is time to make it the prevailing one.”
Cynthia Barnett, author of Mirage, Blue Revolution, and Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
“In Replenish, Sandra Postel travels the world to reveal both our biggest water challenges and the new, smart solutions needed for the 21st century. Replenish is not just restorative as its title implies; it is also wonderfully refreshing and deeply satisfying.”
Brad Udall, Senior Water and Climate Scientist/Scholar, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University
Chapter 1. Water Everywhere and Nowhere
Chapter 2. Back to Life
Chapter 3. Put Watersheds to Work
Chapter 4. Make Room for Floods
Chapter 5. Bank It for a Dry Day
Chapter 6. Fill the Earth
Chapter 7. Conserve in the City
Chapter 8. Clean It Up
Chapter 9. Close the Loop
Chapter 10. Let It Flow
Chapter 11. Rescue Desert Rivers
Chapter 12. Share
This post originally appeared on National Geographic's Water Currents blog and is reposted here with permission.
We have many lessons to learn from the tragedies wrought by Hurricane Harvey, but among the most important is that a broken water cycle increases risks to our communities and economies.
Floodplains, tributaries, wetlands, lakes, ponds, rivers and groundwater form an interconnected whole that helps ensure clean, safe, reliable water supplies. A well-functioning water cycle naturally moderates both floods and droughts, reducing societal risks from both.
The Trump administration’s proposal to rescind the Obama-era Clean Water Rule would further break the natural water cycle just at the time we need to double-down on repairing it.
The motivation for the Clean Water Rule arose from Supreme Court decisions, in particular the 2006 case of Rapanos v. United States, that sowed consideration confusion about which waters came under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act, and which did not.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) were spending considerable time and tax dollars determining whether or not a particular stream or wetland was protected under the Act. Just between 2008 and 2015, the agencies had to make some 100,000 case-by-case determinations, causing backlogs and delays.
The 2015 rule, also known as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, clarified the definition and expanded protection to headwater streams and some 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of wetlands. An EPA-Corps economic analysis of the rule published in May of that year found that while the additional water protections would have negative economic impacts on certain industries and farm enterprises, the benefits to society from cleaner and more secure water supplies exceeded those costs.
In June 2017, as the Trump administration moved to rescind the rule, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ordered agency staff to redo the economic analysis and omit the half billion dollars of benefits associated with wetland protection, according to reporting by the New York Times.
Scientists are speaking out against the repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule.
A letter already signed by more than 320 scientists (including me) from academia, state agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector notes that more than 1,200 peer-reviewed publications clearly establish “the vital importance” of wetlands and headwater streams “to clean water and the health of the nation’s rivers.”
In an amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court in the Rapanos case, ten scientists (including me) argued that “when it comes to the connection of tributaries, streams, and wetlands to navigable waters and interstate commerce, there is no ecological ambiguity….[I]f the Clean Water Act does not protect these resources, then it does not protect navigable waters from pollution, and it cannot achieve its goals.”
But the Trump administration is once again pushing sound science aside in its attempt to roll back regulations.
Continue reading the full post here.
Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and co-creator of Change the Course, the national water stewardship initiative awarded the 2017 US Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands. From 2009-2015, she served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. Postel is author of Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last? and Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, the basis for a PBS documentary.
If disasters related to droughts, floods, and other extreme weather seem more common globally, it’s because they are: nearly twice as many such disasters occur annually now as 25 years ago. These problems are not going away. Last year, the World Economic Forum declared water crises to be the top global risk to society over the next decade. As we look to safeguard clean drinking water, manage and adapt to more frequent droughts and floods, and balance environmental protection with economic progress, renowned water expert Sandra Postel’s Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity comes at a critical time. We spoke with Sandra about how cities and farms around the world are finding relief from an unexpected source: a healthier water cycle. Have more questions? Share them in the comments below.
You’re a renowned water expert and prolific writer on water issues around the world. What sets Replenish apart from your previous work?
This book is anchored by stories of real people and places that show how we can fix our broken water cycle, which humanity’s future depends upon. Like all of my books, Replenish is grounded in sound science and extensive research. But most of us learn from, remember, and are motivated by stories. We face very big water challenges—which I describe in detail—and it’s easy to descend into despair. But what I show is that a future of depleted rivers, dried-up wetlands, and toxic dead zones is not inevitable. Yes, the water cycle is broken, but one river, one wetland, one city, one farm at a time, we can begin to fix it.
For centuries we’ve relied on engineering infrastructure like dams and levees to manage freshwater. Why is it important to take a more interdisciplinary approach to water management?
Freshwater ecosystems, when healthy and functioning well, service the economy in vital ways. A healthy watershed stores and cleanses water, reducing the cost of water treatment. A healthy, flowing river supports habitat for birds and wildlife and offers recreational opportunities critical to local economies. For a couple centuries we’ve been trading nature’s services for engineering services—for example, building levees to control floods rather than letting natural floodplains do that work. But those engineering solutions are no longer working as well as they once did, and their economic costs are rising. Now that we better understand how nature functions, and how valuable its services are, we can blend ecology and engineering, along with the social and economic sciences, to produce more optimal solutions to our growing water problems, including worsening floods and droughts.
Except when referring to official titles or organizations, you do not use the phrase “water resources” in Replenish. Was this a conscious choice? What power does language have to change the way we think about our relationship to freshwater?
For many years now I have made a conscious decision to not use the phrase “water resources.” First and foremost, water is the basis of life. If we refer to rivers and lakes as “water resources” we immediately think of them in a utilitarian way—that they’re there for us to use and take as we see fit, much the way we think of oil or coal. It’s important that we think of a river as a living, flowing part of nature that sustains life. Yes, that river can be a “resource” for the generation of energy and the provision of water supplies, but most fundamentally, it’s a river.
Economic and environmental interests are often positioned in opposition to one another. Why is this a false narrative in terms of water?
A secure supply of water is critical to everything—producing food, manufacturing goods, enjoying the outdoors, and sustaining life. In the Colorado River Basin, economic activity that generates some $26 billion a year depends on water staying in rivers rather than taking it out of them. So the key is finding the balance that, in economic terms, maximizes the value of water. For example, on the Verde River in central Arizona, conservationists have partnered with irrigators to install automated headgates on ditch systems that allow irrigators to take just the water they need, rather than diverting all of the river’s flow. There’s no loss of farm production, the community gets a healthier, flowing river during the summer recreation season, and birds and wildlife get healthier habitat. So the water in the Verde now has more value. One of the key messages of Change the Course, the national water restoration initiative I helped create, and which has restored billions of gallons of water to depleted ecosystems in North America, is that by getting smarter about how we use water, we can have healthy rivers, productive agriculture, and vibrant economies side by side.
Replenish explores innovative water projects all over the world. Is there a particular project that stands out to you?
Wow, that’s a tough one. A number of projects stand out—from China’s “sponge cities,” to Europe’s efforts to give the Danube and other rivers room to flood again, to the innovative irrigation methods being pioneered in Georgia’s Flint River Basin, to the restoration of the Colorado River Delta. But if I had to pick one I think it would be the creation of the Rio Grande Water Fund in New Mexico. This is a collaborative initiative to rehabilitate forested watersheds to build resilience against the impacts of wildfire on downstream drinking water supplies. It connects the whole community to its source of water—the watershed—and brings businesses, water utilities, conservationists, and local citizens together to build greater water security. It is stewardship in action.
News about water in the age of climate change is often despondent, but Replenish is hopeful. What gives you that hope?
What gives me hope is that we can point to farmers, ranchers, cities, and businesses that are making a difference and showing that we can live more harmoniously with nature and its freshwater ecosystems. The challenge is to learn from these experiences, adapt them to new situations, and scale up these solutions. This is easier said than done; it will take changes in policies and incentives. But it’s doable.
I should add that I am not terribly hopeful that we will prevent a good share of the rich diversity of life in freshwaters—fish, mussels, amphibians, and other species—from going extinct. The combination of dams, diversions, pollution, and climate change puts more and more species in peril. And this deeply saddens me. But as I show in Replenish, we can absolutely take action to slow the rate of extinction and save more species. Restoring and preserving flows in the Verde, San Pedro, and Gila Rivers in the American Southwest, for example, will help sustain incredibly diverse populations of birds that depend on those riparian habitats.
Was there anything you found in the course of researching and writing this book that surprised you?
I grew up in New York, on Long Island, and it surprised me to learn how much of Long Island’s coastal bays and estuaries and inland lakes and ponds are now degraded by toxic algal blooms. When I was a kid, some of these water bodies were premier areas for clams, oysters, and recreation. These algal blooms pose threats to the local fishing economy and the health of people and pets. Research suggests that if nothing is done to reduce the nitrogen pollution causing these toxic algal blooms, much of which comes from inadequate treatment of human sewage, the costs to fishing, tourism, and real estate on Long Island could total some $25 billion over the next thirty years. Algal blooms are spreading in many coastal areas around the world, and these blooms will worsen as waters warm. Technologies and measures exist to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution causing these algal blooms, but we need to implement them.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I’d like readers to come away knowing that we have the capacity to write a new water story. Yes, our water challenges are big, and Replenish provides a good overview of their nature and magnitude. But depletion and dead zones do not have to define our future. We have barely tapped the innovative ways we can do more with less water – and then give some water back to nature. We live on a finite planet with finite water. As the basis of life, water needs to be shared with all of life. Replenish offers up ideas for how we can all engage in water stewardship. My hope is that it inspires more people, communities, farmers, businesses, and political leaders to act.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
In the words of Elizabeth Kolbert, "Nothing is more important to life than water, and no one knows water better than Sandra Postel." Postel's new book Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity is a "clear-eyed treatise" (Booklist, Starred Review) that offers a hopeful vision of a secure water future. It shows how cities and farms around the world are finding relief from an unexpected source: a healthier water cycle.
A lifelong steward of Earth's finite freswater, Postel's ideas are especially timely in light of tremendous flooding from monster storms and new megafires that threaten our watersheds. From Arizona's Verde Valley to China's "sponge cities," each story in Replenish shows the value of a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to water management that blends engineering, ecology, and economics to capitalize on the fundamental value of nature’s services.
Check out an excerpt from the book below.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.