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The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century [Paperback]

Alex Prud'homme
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 10 2012
Will there be enough drinkable water to satisfy future demand? What is the state of our water infrastructure—both the pipes that bring us freshwater and the levees that keep it out? How secure is our water supply from natural disasters and terrorist attacks? Can we create new sources for our water supply through scientific innovation? Is water a right like air or a commodity like oil? Will the wars of the twenty-first century be fought over water?

As the climate warms and world population grows, demand for water has surged, but supplies of freshwater are static or dropping, and new threats to water quality appear every day. The Ripple Effect is Alex Prud’homme’s vividly written and engaging inquiry into the fate of freshwater in the twenty-first century.

Like Daniel Yergin’s classic The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, Prud’homme’s The Ripple Effect is a masterwork of investigation and dramatic narrative. Prud’homme introduces readers to an array of colorful, obsessive, brilliant—and sometimes shadowy— characters through whom these issues come alive. The Ripple Effect will change the way we think about the water we drink.

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Review

"A tightly written, thoroughly researched, almost encyclopedic book.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[Prud’homme] patiently lays out the staggering extent of the world’s water problems.”—The New Yorker

“A reader only has to look at the latest headlines to judge the timeliness of Alex Prud'homme's The Ripple Effect."—The Denver Post

The Ripple Effect is true to its title, following the myriad reverberations from our use and abuse of this most abundant, ubiquitous resource. The book plunges in and rarely comes up for air.”—Washington Post

About the Author

Alex Prud’homme was born in New York City. A graduate of Middlebury College, he has worked as a fisherman in Australia, an English teacher in Japan, and a janitor in Paris. His other books include Forewarned (with Michael Cherkasky) about terrorism and security, and the New York Times bestseller My Life in France. He lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Alex Prud'homme's book was a great read. It is unbelievable how little I knew about such an essential for my survival resource as water. At times shocking and revealing, the account of the water crisis we are to face in the twenty-first century was always down-to-earth and open-minded. The author does not advocate for any political agenda and this position makes the story even more compelling. We do need to reevaluate the way we use and share water because it seems like our biggest "mysterious" problems (like unusual diseases, social conflicts, even "natural" disasters) come to the same simple and as old as history explanations: water quality and water use. For those who've read Philip Alcabes' "The Dread" and Ben Goldacare's "Bad Science", "The Ripple Effect" will deepen the understanding of why we confront certain woes and what can be done about it.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Opinionated and Over-Stated Facts, Oct. 2 2011
By jacksprat TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading 'The Ripple Effect" and found myself questioning a lot of assumptions made in the book. An impost fee is a one time charge and most municipalities use them. The impost fee in the book is reported as a user fee and is very misleading. Global warming is reported as factual anthropogenic. I am not questioning global warming but to assume we people are the primary cause is questionable. It would be nice if we knew the percent of global warming that can be attributed to humans versus nature. There are many facts that are in question and I did not make notes as I was reading but did think about where they could come from within the context. Water usage per capita in most regions is dropping with awareness, yet we are led to believe it is increasing or being ignored. The future for water is somewhat in trouble but there are many areas we can improve our usage and the book does touch on many of these improvements.

The book is a fine piece of journalism but should not be construed as total honesty. Like most journalist venturing into a scientific area where they lack expertise, many truths are bent or stretched to meet the journalistic opinion. Still, all in all, a good read. Just avoid reading the book as the last word. I am giving it two stars but could have given it three.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conserve it, use it smartly in accordance with nature, and keep it clean Jan. 1 2012
By Sal Nudo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Author Alex Prud `Homme claims "The Ripple Effect" is not an "encyclopedic" read, but at times if feels that way. That's not to say I wouldn't recommend this book; after all, the many troublesome issues over available, clean freshwater for citizens worldwide are crucial to know about and getting increasingly urgent by the year.

Prud `Homme cannot be accused of forgoing research or skimping on facts. He transitions nicely from one troubled region to the next, giving proper weight to the severity of the problems but not sensationalizing, and offering advice by experts throughout. I came away thinking super-arid Arizona, remote Las Vegas, sprawling California and weather-troubled Georgia are in for some rough times, presently and in the future. The Midwest, where environmentally destructive farming methods and flooding are common, also has its share of water-related predicaments. Prud `Homme drives the point home that people all over the world -- from seasoned hydrologists to the average man and woman -- will need to rethink every aspect of water. As populations explode, drinkable H2O is dwindling -- something's got to give in this equation. Additionally, outdated, unregulated laws and a worrisome inclination by politicians and their constituents during the last decade or so to pay less attention to "the fate of freshwater in the twenty-first century" have exacerbated the problems.

Admittedly, my eyes and thoughts glazed over at times as Prud `Homme intricately covered numerous judicial cases and technical details to supplement the themes. But numerous things stuck with me. Harmful agricultural methods, for instance, have contributed to the runoff of contaminated groundwater into major rivers, causing numerous "dead zones" where aquatic life has stagnated and useable drinking supplies have been curtailed. In addition, though they are much needed and provide a cherished economic drive, electricity, thirsty crops like corn and raising farm animals account for much more wasted and detrimental water use than water coming out of taps by U.S. residents as a whole, a fact I found interesting.

Smarter techniques and habits could change things for the better, such as building porous concrete that absorbs rainwater in urban areas and not purchasing bottled water. But evolution comes slowly when high-stakes money and ever-moving progress (in areas where it's difficult to transport water) are on the agenda. As more and more pavement is laid down in urban areas all over the country, some of it covering precious wetlands where rainwater is easily absorbed, the runoff of tainted water into underground pipes is inevitable. The flushing of pharmaceuticals and everything else under the sun is also a potential issue, as is climate change and evolving weather patterns that much of the world is drastically unprepared for. Leaders in forward-thinking countries such as below-sea-level Holland have thought outside the box and adapted beautifully, working in tune with nature for results that work. Other locales, such as New York City, could come to a standstill if a weather-related catastrophe struck -- and experts claim such calamities will occur. All this just scratches the surface of what's covered in "The Ripple Effect."

Solutions? Prud `Homme offers hope, including a cautiously optimistic section about desalination plants, which extract salt from seawater to make it drinkable. All is not bleak, but many people in the know say that the preciousness of water could someday exceed that of oil, and it's worth noting that the two resources work hand in hand. This is an eye-opening book that's worth the time.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Sept. 26 2011
By Garry W. Owens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Ripple Effect provides a very basic review of the condition of freshwater around the world. The data is very useful and the commentary provides a variety of viewpoints about the global water crisis from a layperson's point of view. It is a body of work that should be read and used to determine a course of action that is intended to have significant impacts particularly in the under and undeveloped places on the globe. I highly recommend it to all water justice activists present and future.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read Sept. 22 2012
By Marty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm not done reading this book. Some books you just can't gallop through, they must be digested incrementally, and this is one of them. I have felt for some time that water, being indispensable to all life, will inevitably and finally be the one thing that either pits humans against each other or ultimately forces us to cooperate. Let's hope it is the latter.
We have done such a whole lot of damage to this planet that I hold slight hope of it (and us) holding on a whole lot longer. Yes, I sound like a nut, but how long could you hold out without water? -- Maybe 3 days. So many people walk many miles each day to obtain water -- and really cruddy water at that. We're still lucky in the US to have fresh water -- just turn on the tap, there it is -- but we're using it up faster than we should. Agriculture and fracking and industry etc etc use billions of gallons per day. I sure don't know what the answer is, and I'm betting that by the end of the book the answer will still not be clear.
This is an important issue that should have TRUE cooperation nationally and internationally, it's above politics. It's about the survival of life on planet earth. And we can't survive without water.
53 of 75 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Credibility undermined Sept. 4 2011
By Ellis Burruss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The thesis of the book appears to be that we waste and pollute a vitally important resource because we don't value it enough. Unfortunately, those points are not made because the book is riddled with factual errors, ignorance of scientific terminology, misleading and/or alarmist statements, and bad editing.
As examples: methane is not toxic nor is iron a poison as Mr. Prud'homme claims they are. Those are just two of the erroneous statements that serve to undermine the credibility of the book. But, more on them later.

Factual errors
On page 41 there is a reference to an abandoned copper mine "...the thirty-nine-thousand-foot-deep pit..."
39,000 feet is equal to 7.4 miles. The deepest mine shaft in the world is the TauTona gold mine in the Witwatersrand region of South Africa, which is currently working at depths of 12,800 feet. Such a vast, deep pit that Prud'homme reports just does not exist.
On page 142 he states "While national water fees average about $458 per residence a year, some of Denver's expanding suburbs.... The town of Louisville charges $20,000 per house, and Broomfield charges $24,424 per house per year."
A simple email inquiry to the Broomfield water department elicited this response from the Billing & Accounts Administrator, City and County of Broomfield:
"Yes, I'm sure they are talking about the one time water impact fee. However, ours is currently $22,454.00. I don't know where the extra $1,970 comes from. Our average bill (water usage and water flat charge, no sewer) is approximately $485 per year. As for Louisville, I just looked online and their water impact fee is $24,140."

Improper use of scientific terminology
It is bad enough when news media frequently refer to carbon dioxide as "carbon," but that misuse appears to have become an accepted convention. However, Mr. Prud'homme takes the error to a new level. On page 209 he states, "Wetlands...(they also absorb carbon, a greenhouse gas...." and, on page 230, "...send millions of tons of carbon gas into the air...."
Carbon can appear in several familiar forms such as graphite, soot, charcoal, or diamond, but never as a gas.
Even that usage could be overlooked as an accepted slovenly shortcut by a journalist, but the author gives the same treatment to nitrogen. On page 93 he quotes "Some scientists have labeled nitrogen a `missing greenhouse gas' because it is not one of the four gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and sulfur hexafluoride)... named in the Kyoto protocol...."
Apparently the "scientists" he quotes cannot distinguish between nitrogen compounds and nitrogen gas. Further, the author did not read his own writing -- he lists nitrous oxide (a nitrogen compound) as being named in the Kyoto protocol he just quoted.
Further, if nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, then we're certainly doomed because nitrogen makes up over 78% of our atmosphere.
On page 67 while warning about the appearance of modern chemicals in our drinking water, triclocarban is described as "... an antibiotic...." less than one minute of research finds that triclocarban is not an antibiotic, it is an antimicrobial. Another minute reveals the difference between them. It's important.

Misleading or alarmist statements
Prud'homme's promiscuous use of the word "toxic" leads him to some absurd positions. On page 28 he states, "... saturated with other toxic compounds, such as xylene, toluene, and methane." Wrong. A person may be killed by methane through suffocation or explosion, but not by poisoning. Methane is not "toxic," it is biologically inert.
On page 16 he refers to "...toxic metals, such as copper and zinc..." and on page 102 "numerous poisons -- including arsenic, cobalt, iron, and thallium at dangerous levels,..."
Both copper and zinc are necessary dietary trace minerals: we need them to be healthy. Iron also is a necessary mineral in our diet. I'm sure even Mr. Prud'homme's editors (if there were any) have heard of "iron deficiency." If iron were toxic then all cast iron cookware should immediately be discarded.

Just plain nonsense
On page 51 we are told that "Sewage treatment requires enormous amounts of energy, which is costly and adds to climate change...." Is the author saying that sewage should not be treated, but, instead, dumped raw into our rivers as we used to do? We should do this to avoid climate change?
Another alarmist use of "toxins" is seen on page 77, "Endocrine disrupters are found in many everyday items, including... and plastics (especially plastic containers numbered 3, 6, and 7, which are associated with potentially harmful toxins)." Are the endocrine disruptors "associated with potentially harmful toxins" or is it the "plastic containers numbered 3, 6, and 7?" That sentence just does not make sense.
Then on page 339, writing about the ultra-pure water needed in electronic chip factories, "...which acts as a sponge for microcontaminants, such as colloidal solids, particles, total organic carbon, bacteria, pyrogens (fragments of bacteria), metal ions, and the like."
This list makes no sense. "particles"? Of what? "total organic carbon" is not a contaminant, but, rather, a measurement of contamination. That usage is nonsense in the quoted context. "Pyrogens" are not "fragments of bacteria" they are fever-causing agents.

The above are just a few of the examples of error, ignorance, alarmist statements, and nonsense found by a general reader in this book.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read! June 29 2011
By EmilyKAH - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Ripple Effect is a well-written,though-provoking read about a fascinating subject that is relevant around the world. His explanation of this crisis is both comprehensive and captivating. I definitely recommend reading it!
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