Chapter 1

To Have and Have Not (excerpt)

IT HAS BEEN SAID that if the twentieth century was the century of oil, then the twenty-first century will be the century of water.1 While it’s true that roughly three-quarters of the earth’s surface is made up of water, all that blue space on the grade-school globe can be deceiving: 97 percent of the world’s water is seawater—loaded with salt and unfit for drinking. The rest is drinkable, but two-thirds of that is locked up in the polar ice caps and unavailable. That means less than 1 percent of all the surface water on earth is accessible, potable freshwater.2 Every day much of world is reminded of just what a precious resource freshwater can be. More than a billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population— do not have access to clean drinking water, and 2.1 million people die annually because of unsafe drinking-water conditions.3 By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to face water shortages— the vast majority of them in the developing world. Much of the world’s population growth is occurring in areas where water is far from abundant. Global per capita water use has actually risen over time: during the last seventy years, as the world’s population has tripled, water use has increased sixfold.4 During the next one hundred years the world will be increasingly divided into two groups: the water “haves” and the water “have-nots,” and most of the have-nots will be in the world’s poorest countries. “At the beginning of the twenty-first Century, the Earth . . . is facing a serious water crisis,” warned the United Nations in its 2003 report on world water development. “All the signs suggest that it is getting worse and will continue to do so unless corrective action is taken.”5

As water scarcity becomes a divisive political issue throughout the world, inevitably there will be a rise in water tension. As this political friction grows, unprecedented domestic and international pressure will be directed at water-rich regions, leading to severe political, economic, social, and environmental stress. This is an enormously important issue for areas like the Great Lakes Basin (fig. 1.1). The Great Lakes hold 18 percent of all the fresh surface water on earth—more than half of that in Lake Superior alone...