Last night was the book signing event for The Future of Water. Below is a version of the remarks I prepared. What I actually said was somewhat close to this, just without the links.
When I tell people that I wrote a book called The Future of Water, they usually say, “Meh. [pause] Sounds dry.”
What people actually say is some expression of concern, wondering just how bad things will be.
I have to say that I actually came away from the process of researching that book a bit more optimistic than when I started doing the research. Why?
Part of the reason is the nature of water itself. The water the dinosaurs drank is the same water we drink today. The water where life started is still here. The water we use today is the same water that fish crawled out of long, long ago.
And the amount of water in the world is the same, too. Fossil fuels get burned and are gone forever. Water remains.
There might be a little less on earth, as the space station has some floating around, though it’s now getting reused in the now-famous urine-recycling machine, a technology that may be coming to your home.
Another part of my reason for optimism is certainly technology. I had a vague idea before I started, for instance, that desalination is basically no option at all, given the huge amount of fossil fuels needed. But I learned about some solar-powered and some wave-powered technologies and one other technology that uses a kind of ionization that may fundamentally change that equation.
I wrote about those, and other changes that aren’t technical, but are new, including changes in governmental agreements like the kind we are just now learning about with Denver Water and the West Slope.
New technologies and new, local, cooperative efforts are the future of water.
So I'm optimistic because of the nature of water, because of new technologies, but also because of people.
People like those of you here tonight who work in the world of water. You know, for instance, that if we don't replace 100-year-old pipes that they will burst and people will be without water. Little by little I think that you are doing a better job of communicating that and people are starting to listen. You all know that uninterrupted green grass surrounding every home west of the Missouri River is an absolutely unsustainable dream. Slowly that word is getting out. You all know that rooftop rain collection and home grey-water recycling are not harebrained schemes but are part of the inevitable arc of water history.
What is scary? China is scary.
China's built a dam so massive that the water inside is so voluminous, that it's actually lengthened the time it takes for the earth to rotate on its axis, so if it seems like days are getting longer you can blame the Chinese for that. (It's actually only a handful of milliseconds, but still.)
It's also created some local earthquakes as the weight of the water has flooded hundreds of cities and towns, 6000-year-old archeological sites and some of China's most beautiful countryside. Seventy five million people live in the floodplain of this dam; they all live downstream of a dam that has created its own earthquakes.
Turns out that Chinese Premier Hu Jintao was a hydrology student, and his first job was in a dam-building conglomerate.
The World Bank doesn't lend money for dams any more -- there's just no way to justify them environmentally, or economically. China, however, is building dams on its own in Africa and South America.
China is also building dams in China that have already begun to choke off the Mekong Delta. The Vietnamese war was bad for the environment, with the Agent Orange and everything, but nothing comes close to the devastation we'll see in Vietnam and other countries in the region if China builds all the dams it's now planning.
And the dam China hasn't announced, but some reporters have confirmed, is the one that would block the flow of a river that flows from Tibet into India. It’s one of the only decent sources of water that India has. One report is that China might use a nuclear bomb to blow up the area in the Himalayas to hold the water from that dam.
The people from Boulder want a free Tibet, but it’s important to understand why China wants Tibet. It’s not because of the little prayer flags or the monks. It wants the water.
India isn’t going to give up all that water without a fight in an area that's still disputed as to which country it's in. China and India fought one war, and India won't give up all that water without a fight. That’s scary.
In spite of all that, I do remain optimistic. America has its problems, but we have freedom and with freedom -- in general -- we take on the responsibility to leave the earth a bit better than how we found it.
Consider Denver. This amazing city was a dusty desert not that long ago, just a junction of two streams that were bone dry for half the year. Now it’s an amazing and great city built in part because of how we’ve harnessed water.
Denver has great wealth, but also serious pockets of poverty. Even so, the poorest person in Denver can get drinking water from a tap and feed it to a child without fears of water-born illness. That’s not true in most of the rest of the world. Indeed the tap water in the poorest part of Denver is better than in a fancy hotel in the biggest 10 cities in the world.
But the water is safe and reliably delivered here in Denver, and all over America. That’s remarkable when you think about it. Because of those of you who are in the water industry, that amazing fact is true every single day of the year.
I think eventually the rest of the world will get closer to that reality by following the example you all are setting.
So, thank you for what you do. Thanks to AWWA for hiring me to write this book, and thank you for taking care of water.
First is to my wife, Kathy Yates. After I turned in the manuscript for the book, Kathy and I went to a book signing by Steven Johnson, and during the Q and A he said that he really enjoyed writing. He said that he had many writer friends who complain about writing, and he told his wife that he should get some credit for the fact that he wasn't a big complainer when writing.
She said, "No. You don't."
We went up after, and my wife told him, "Tell your wife you deserve more credit. My husband just finished writing a book, and he was a total grouch the whole time and sent me and our son to California for the last two weeks of the writing."
Truth is, I was more than a grouch, I was also unable to have many conversations without muttering something about water or word counts. My wife encouraged me when needed and tolerated me when I was intolerable, and for that I thank her.
Many family members and good friends came for the reading, and I will be buying each of them a beer or other beverage of their choice, as long as it's not bottled water!
The room was packed, so I'm certainly missing many, but I do want to mention a few people in particular who attended, including Dominic Dezzutti of Channel 12, Patti Thorn, my former books section editor, and Rebecca Cantwell, my former night-desk editor, both from the Rocky Mountain News (sigh). Also in line to grab books I saw sustainability-issues lobbyist Whit Allen, Colorado's car guy Tim Jackson, and Jeff Laws, though it's not that hard to get Jeff to come by the bar at the Denver Press Club.
Two of my fellow graduates from the Founder Institute also came, including Matt Ryan and Oza Klanjsek, who not only came, but took the photo you see above and brought her kids. I told her that if we don't bring our kids to bars, who will?
Also, I'd like to thanks Google Docs (never had to worry which was the current version) and a new search engine called DuckDuckGo that had great results even though the whole thing is built by one guy.
So, thanks much to everyone, and with this post I'm closing the cover on this book.