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Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity

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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?

336 pages, Hardcover

Published October 10, 2017

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Sandra Postel

25 books4 followers

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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books335 followers
January 21, 2018
Amid many warnings about climate change, terrible weather patterns, droughts and floods, the author blesses us with first-hand accounts of seeing rivers restored to natural conditions, wetlands created to soak excess water, organic matter added to soils to retain moisture. Just to read the descriptions of a revitalised river and the natural life stirring within days, followed by full-on shrubs, trees, fishes and birds, is a balm to a soul.

I did find the telling a bit jerky as the author hops around from continent to continent within each chapter. What she has chosen to do is to focus each time on a process and how it has impacted or has been applied in many areas. So the impact of levees and building on floodplains is described in China and Europe as well as the Mississippi delta. Each nation has suffered from immense loss of life and damage when floods breached the levees, and the former floodplains, built upon, have done a poor job of returning water to the ground.

Other areas examined are catastrophic weather and how the water cycle works; the struggling, abstracted Colorado River which benefited from an agreement to release enough water to let it meet the sea again; the sense of maintaining a healthy wooded watershed; aquifer storage and how to replenish what has been wastefully used; reducing wasteful water use; dams and removing dams; the Australian drought diminishing the Murray-Darling River; mob and move livestock grazing. The latter system is referred to more than once but I never saw a mention of the fact that grazing rotation, especially if two species are used like cattle and sheep or horses, will greatly reduce the number of internal parasites.

I was very interested in the various private, municipal and company schemes which have been tried and studied - thanks for condensing all that reading into one manageable book. Lots of options especially removing dams have immediate natural benefits, while replenishing aquifers and planting trees to hold riverbanks in place take longer to show results.
I enjoyed the photos - more would be better. I had a good mental image of places I had visited, such as the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, Phoenix and Casa Grande, but not everyone will, especially non-Americans. The book is very readable with many science words, like eutrophication, which are well used in context and explained at once. Anyone studying hydrology, agri-science, geology, geography, nature and world geo-politics, as well as journalism and the rights of native communities, will be fascinated.

Notes and references are on pages 281 - 296 of my e-ARC. I counted twelve names which I could be sure were female, but science reports are listed by surnames or bodies such as NOOA.
I downloaded an ARC from Net Galley and the publishers. This is an unbiased review.

As it happens I have just read 'Saving Tarboo Creek' by Scott Freeman in similar vein which I recommend. I also recommend:
'The Price of Thirst' by Karen Piper, who looks at the astonishing way that water, a human right, is bought, sold at profit and owned by companies and countries, often with no connection to where the water is based or consumed.
'Walking Home From Mongolia' by Rob Lilwall includes China's relationship with water and geology.
'Meltdown In Tibet' by Michael Buckley for China's diversion and pollution of water.
'The Rights Of Nature' by David R Boyd.
'Marine Ecosystem Based Management In Practice' by Julia Wondolleck.
'Mythical River' by Melissa Sevigny.
'Connecting The Drops' by Karen Schneller-McDonald.
'What has Nature Ever Done For Us?' by Tony Juniper.
'Deforestation: Social dynamics in watersheds and mountain ecosystems' by J. Ives.
Profile Image for Sarah Boon.
484 reviews18 followers
November 29, 2018
This book has a terrible title (virtuous? prosperity?), but if you can get past that it's a good read. Postel covers various components of the water cycle, discussing how we've altered them, how they can be improved, and what's being done towards that improvement. She relies on a lot of technological advances that are reducing water consumption and improving water treatments etc., but also talks about the importance of various community members working collaboratively to solve these problems. She's also clear that not everything can be fixed, and that a lot of the projects she mentions are in their infancy. It's a well-written book that will get you up to speed on global water issues in plain, understandable language.
Profile Image for Isabel H.
26 reviews7 followers
March 7, 2019
Este libro hace parte de las lecturas obligatorias para una de mis clases este semestre y tengo dos comentarios generales:
1) Hace un excelente trabajo de convencer al lector de la importancia de la conservación del agua para la vida, el planeta, la cultura, la economía, absolutamente todo. La autora adora el agua, y a veces habla con ella hasta con reverencia, y eso es muy hermoso.
2) Equilibra relatos de la degradación extrema de fuentes de agua alrededor del mundo- que es muy deprimente- con ejemplos específicos de lugares y proyectos que le están devolviendo el agua a los ríos y cuencas, y, efectivamente, "replenishing" (no hay traducción exacta que le haga justicia a la palabra, pero "rellenando", "reponiendo", "reaprovisionando" sirven) estas fuentes- que es muy inspirador-. El problema es que como los ejemplos son tan específicos (nombre y apellido de los líderes de los proyectos, ríos o cuencas específicas, ciudades alrededor del mundo) se pierde un poquito la idea principal, en mi opinión. Sin embargo, el libro vale mucho la pena leerlo, no solo porque es inspirador, pero también para aprender sobre cómo funcionan realmente los sistemas de agua, y ejemplos puntuales de cómo mejorarlos.
Decir "aprendí mucho" siento que no le hace justicia, pero ¡Aprendí mucho de este libro!
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 2 books9 followers
March 29, 2018
Took me awhile to find my groove with this one. But the more I read, the more I enjoyed it.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Every day we "eat" a thousand times more water than we drink. Totaling it all up, it takes about 7,500 liters (nearly 2,000 gallons) of water a day to keep the average American lifestyle afloat. About half of that water is hidden in our diets. In part because Americans are quite carnivorous, and meat often (although not always, as we'll see later) takes a lot of water to produce (think about irrigating the grain to feed the cows), the typical American's water footprint is twice the global average.

There are 244,000 new people on the planet every day.

On average, fires in the US now consume twice as much are per year as three decades ago.

Today over half of the corn and 47% of the soybeans grown in the US come from the upper Mississippi River basin.

Almarai bought 15 square miles of farmland in AZ in order to grow alfalfa hay to ship back to the Middle East to feed Saudi dairy cows.

The world's soils hold about eight times as much water as all rivers combined. This soil reservoir is the principal water supply for forests, rangelands, and croplands; how much water it contains will dramatically influence our food security in the coming decades. On average our diets require about 1 liter of water per calorie. Plants life water from the soil and use it in the miraculous process of photosynthesis, whereby sunlight converts carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates and oxygen. Photosynthesis is the foundation not only global food production but also of terrestrial life - and without sufficient water in plants roots, it cannot occur.

Returning sols to healthier conditions could increase water by 500,000 liters per hectare.

Scientists estimate that since the start of tillage-based farming, most agricultural soils have lost 30 to 75% of their organic carbon contest, and that those losses accelerated with the expansion of industrial agriculture.

Look up South Dakota State University Extension "tighty whiteys" demonstration about soil health.

How we choose to manage cattle determines their environmental impact, not the animals themselves. Without cattle, goats, and other ruminants, the world's rangelands, which cover about 40% of the land on Earth (excluding Antarctica and Greenland), would contribute little to the global food supply.

In the US it takes 973 gallons of water to produce 2 pounds of boneless beef. That's 441 gallons per pound of beef, or about 110 gallons for a quarter-pounder. (factoring in green water use)

So, can a true environmentalist eat beef? As with so many questions of this sort, the answer starts with "It depends." But for those in search of an environmentally ethical meal, beef from range-raised and holistically managed cattle cuts the muster. That said, it's highly unlikely that ranchers could produce enough beef in this ecologically sound fashion to satisfy current demand. To be a sustainable part of our diets, beef might need to become, in the words of British farmer and author Simon Fairlie, "a benign extravagance."

Cover cropping involves planting noncash crops, such as clover, sunflower, hairy vetch, and cereal rye in between harvests of corn, soy, and other commodity crops, The roots of the cover crops penetrate deep into the soil and hold it in place, while also aerating it, sequestering carbon, and increasing it s capacity to hold water. With less soil erosion and water runoff, less nitrogen moves off the land. And with cover crops like clover and hairy vetch that add nitrogen to the soil, farmers can reduce their application of fertilizer, sometimes to zero.

Just as too much cholesterol or sugar in our bloodstream threatens our overall health, too much nitrogen coursing through the water cycle threatens the whole ecosystem.
Profile Image for Sean.
90 reviews1 follower
March 16, 2019
Postel's Replenish is an inspiring read, streaming (ahem) with examples around the world showing how communities, businesses, and governments are working constructively to tackle the real problem of diminished water flows--a problem pronounced in areas such as southern Arizona, the Yampa River in Colorado, or Australia, which was subject to a multi-year drought. Most importantly, she makes a strong case that even with growing populations world-wide, humanity can devise ways -- through policy and engineering -- to supply enough water to everyone. In her concluding chapter, Share, Postel says that a mix of methods will be necessary to ensure that everyone can benefit from the limited supply of water available to humanity:

"Stewardship of Earth's finite freshwater is all about finding an entry point and then taking action. For some, that means bringing about change through the channels of policy or law. For many conservationists, it is taking on strategic projects that return water to a damaged ecosystem. For a growing number of businesses, it is about reducing the environmental effects of their products.
And for others, it is acting locally to better a river or watershed they know and love."

We'll need such actions if we're going to rectify situations such as excessive groundwater pumping since the 1920s in California's San Joaquin Valley to subside as much as 28 feet (https://go.nasa.gov/2WaqrET; for a startling pic: https://on.doi.gov/2Cp7OFx).

Postel, co-founder of Change the Course (http://www.globalwaterpolicy.org/chan...), also adds, in response to her rhetorical question whether the water cycle is being replenished and repaired, that the answer is "no." "At best, it's one step forward, two steps back. But here and there, we're making progress." Even though it's tempered progress, it's progress.

If I have a complaint with the book, it is that Postel's writing is -- ironically -- dry. But put that aside, and I'm sure you'll find this book to be encouraging about our future.
July 26, 2020
Postel introduced some hard facts with practical solutions on implementing sustainable water cycle. Amid climate emergency and hotter water bodies, we have to keep reminding ourselves water is bases of life, with no substitute, and finite (although it's recyclable). 70% of water usage in irrigated agriculture with 10% of food production is based on over-pumping. Soil can hold 8 times more water than all rivers, managing soil is managing water. Building dams that blocks the water cycle where waters can't reach the sea. The value of swamp that regulates biodiversity and droughts patterns. Toxic algae bloom. IT for water efficiency. All these are respectable researches and we should align with optimist realism.

Like the author quoted "You can't solve the problem with the same way created.". Solutionist and thinking outside the box is not necessarily bourgeoise political slogans, but an attitude to act up.
11 reviews
October 21, 2019
I'll return to this book. Its nice to hear stories of what can be done and what people are doing about climate change and water. I learned stories from all over the world, and learned somethings about water infrastructure in my own back yard too. This makes me want to check out more books from this publisher.
Profile Image for Samuel Wells.
89 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2017
A very readable overview of the troubled state of freshwater ecosystems and what we can do (and is being done) to improve the damage we have done. This is an important book.
21 reviews1 follower
September 30, 2018
Interesting case studies but at times I felt it was a bit overly sunny given the seriousness of our issues with fresh water. Nevertheless interesting to see potential solutions.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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