I know - the blog title is disingenuous because many (?) of you are viewing this page thinking that I am reviewing some book about USA water resources. That assumption would be incorrect on two counts: 1) it's a book about Canadian water resources; and 2) my post is more a report than a review. With resepct to the latter, I really should have titled this, 'My Two Cents'.
At this point let me say that I haven't ripped off the publishers; I bought the book.
When I started reading the book I fully intended to review it but quickly realized that my knowledge of Canadian water resources policy, management, etc., bordered on the pathetic and that a review was a foolish idea. An even more grandiose idea I had was to compare Canadian water policy to USA water policy till I realized that neither country had one. Voila (that's French) - my comparison was finished!
But I kept reading and am glad that I did. So you'll get my impressions of the opus, which I consider a very worthwhile endeavor regardless of where you call home. Ralph Pentland and Chris Wood hang it all out on the table, lay out all of Canada's dirty laundry, and mix metaphors with the best of them (that last one is a joke).
I know neither Pentland nor Wood, but I have heard of Ralph Pentland and read some of his material. I first encountered his work through friend and colleague Gerry Galloway, whom I had asked to write a paper (for a special issue of Groundwater on transboundary groundwater) on the role of groundwater in the Great Lakes basin. At the time Gerry was on the International Joint Commission (IJC) and he involved Pentland in the project. After that I realized that Pentland is to Canada as Galloway is to the USA: a 'grand old man of water', a national water treasure.
Suffice it to say that the book's message disappointed me because it exposed Canada as not being as advanced with respect to water policy as I had imagined. But at least Canada had one on the table of the environment minister in 1987, primarily authored by Pentland. That is a lot more than the USA has accomplished.
Down the Drain: How We Are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources comes down particularly hard on the Canadian federal government for abdicating its reponsibilities (especially as compared to the EU and the USA) when it comes to: drinking water protection (especially, but not exclusively, for the First Nations): environmental protection (especially when it comes to energy and mining companies); fisheries; and allowing Canadian scientists to present information that might run counter to official government positions. Bottom line: the authors accuse the government of failing to protect its citizens and allowing the despoiling of Canada's water, especially drinking water.
There is an interesting section about the 'shortage' of Canadian boys resulting from pharmaceuticals (endocrine disrupting chemicals) in drinking water. 'Interesting' is a euphemism; 'scary' is more apt.
Pentland and Wood also lucidly explain the concept of the 'Crown' (Canada) and 'the people' (USA). Fascinating - it is a fundamental difference between two great democracies. The clearest example I can think of is in the legal arena. In Canada, when you commit a crime, the Crown prosecutes you; in the USA, the people prosecute you. Power springs from the people, not the Crown. There is also an excellent discussion of the public trust doctrine which comes into play towards the end of the book.
Interesting disagreement: Pentland supports the human right to water, whereas Wood doesn't think that doing so will accomplish much. Interesting agreement: neither one gets worked up over Canadian exports of water to the USA. They just don't think it will happen (too expensive, etc.). In fact they view the export of water and the human-right issues as red herrings that are
...peripheral to the failures of fragmented, misaligned governance, patchwork standards, weak enforcement, and willful ignorance that constitute the real gaps in our natural defence. (page 198)
The book is not all about criticism. In the last few chapters, the authors, invoking the public trust doctrine and the Magna Carta, propose a new Great Charter, a magna carta natura, one that would provide for Canada's natural security and require the Crown to protect it. Fascinating idea.
The book is well-documented and well-written. Wood is an award-winning writer who's tackled water before (Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America) and Pentland is a true WaterWonk.
This book has done two things for me: 1) produced a greater appreciation of the USA when it comes to environmental protection and stewardship, our legal and political frameworks, etc.; 2) inspired me to use parts of it in my two water resources management courses - both USA and international.
Upshot: read this book. Especially if you're Canadian.
Do I still admire Canada and its people? Better believe it, eh!
By the way, read Sarah Boon's blog post, "Canada and Water: Destroying our Cultural Foundations".
And I think this post is worth ten cents.
Note (at the risk of nitpicking accusations): I would lose my license as a CGC - Certified Groundwater Curmudgeon - if I failed to point out this misstatement on page 6 of Pentland and Wood's book:
We cite with pride our possession of a fifth of the world's liquid fresh water, though only a third of that is renewed by rain and snowfall.
For that statement to be true, 'fresh water' needs to be modified by 'surface'.
Don't let that deter you from reading this excellent book.