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The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

The Big Thirst : The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman, Free Press – 2011

As the Mar Vista Community Council liaison to the LADWP- Bureau of Sanitation Recycled Water Advisory Group (RWAG), I thought I knew a little about water sources, usage and reuse but The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman was a well written revelation. Told in a fact filled, but never boring series of stories, it made a lively, easy read for what can be a depressing subject.

It should be required reading for the Mayor, LADWP Commissioners, management and employees, City Council members and staff as well as city workers and citizens. Maybe it could be on the list for next years Big Read program in Los Angeles to inspire young and old Angelenos to rethink their relationship to water.

I made my wife read the book and I only do that when I think it is game changing fiction or non-fiction.  I reserved my copy online from the Los Angeles Public Library and picked it up at the Mar Vista branch.

The motto at RWAG is that all water is recycled. The Big Thirst explains the scientific basis for that fact in an entertaining and enlightening way.  No water has been created or lost since our planet was formed. It is constantly transformed but there is no more no less. Through harrowing examples from Australia, India, and various states and cities in the U.S. among them California, Atlanta, Galveston, and Las Vegas we get a sense of the scope of the worldwide problem in finding and keeping it in usable form.

Water has been plentiful all around the world since before the arrival of man but very local, thus creating the geographical shortages and the pollution that has corrupted the sources. Indoor plumbing has grown so ubiquitous in the developed world over the last 100 years that we might think of tap water as free but in reality the costs are large when you factor in the transportation of water with construction, labor, electricity, pumps, pipes and pre and post treatment and maintenance.

In reality we ignore water and waste huge amounts when you think that we leak, flush and irrigate with drinkable water. Greywater plumbing legislation everywhere would go a long way to alleviate part of this waste.

Mr. Fishman does cover the subject of bottled water and confirms the absurdity of that industry on quality, price, taste and an ecological basis and how we succumbed to the marketing geniuses that convinced millions of us that bottled is better than tap. If the book is a little light it is in providing step-by-step solutions but we already have those.

Now educated and warned by the Big Thirst, it is up to all of us to find the will to implement the change.

As the aging infrastructure has been neglected and starts to break down and the cost of imported water rises the LADWP will be asking for rate hikes and more recycling of sewer water. Getting over the yuck factor is a big hurdle and has scuttled projects in the past.  The Big Thirst and Charles Fishman lays out the arguments for recycled water even better then the LADWP and Bureau of Sanitation or the participants in the RWAG will ever be able to do.

LADWP should dip into their promotional toys budget and do a sponsored paperback printing of the Big Thirst and mail it to every customer and give away at public events.

The author concludes that the Golden Age of water is over and everything about water is about to change, how we use it, how we share it and how we think about it.

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