Disclosure notice: How much time do you have? Yale University Press (YUP) asked and paid me a few hundred dollars to review both the book proposal and final manuscript. They cajoled (ha!) me into writing a brief blurb for the back cover. YUP also sent me a free copy (after I bought two on my own). I have known Bill Alley for about 30 years and consider both Bill and Rosemarie Alley friends. I have asked them to do a webinar for AWRA (19 April 2017) that will be based on their book. I’ve invited them to the AWRA 2017 Annual Conference to speak about groundwater and do a book-signing gig. Lastly, I favorably reviewed their first book, Too Hot To Touch, about radioactive waste disposal. It taught me an incredible amount about that topic, one with which I thought I was very familiar.
All the quotes herein are from the book.
Note: You can order a copy of the book for 25% off at Yalebooks.com when you use the code YEH20.
"Water should be judged not by its history, but by its quality."
- Lucas van Vuuren
Dr. Wiliam M. 'Bill' Alley is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey; his last post at the USGS was as Chief of the Office of Groundwater. He is the current Director of Science and Technology at the National Ground Water Association. He is frequently credited/blamed for getting us to use 'groundwater' instead of 'ground water' in 2009 while at the USGS (thank heavens!). Rosemarie Alley is a veteran science writer and education/communications expert. The Alleys live in San Diego.
Cutting to the Chase
"Nothing motivates like a crisis (and a Supreme Court Decree)."
- Greg Lewis
Readable, thorough, clear, and wonderful. You will learn a lot, like I did, and come away a better citizen. The world will be a better place once more people read this book. That's not hyperbole. Read it.
What's the use of developing a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we are willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true? - F. Sherwood Rowland
Bill and Rosemarie Alley, the extraordinary spousal writing team who scored big with Too Hot To Touch, use Nobel Laureate Rowland’s ominous words to introduce their book’s final chapter, Sharing the Common Pool. If groundwater is not the classic common-pool resource I can’t imagine what is. The atmosphere, of course, and the link between Rowland’s atmospheric CFC work and groundwater is not lost on me.
In that final chapter, the Alleys argue that groundwater problems require a lot of attention and provide some guidance on what needs to be done. They also equate groundwater problems with those of climate change: hard to understand and slowly-developing. Although climate change is by far the bigger problem, I would argue that more people see its effects (although may not admit that they do) than those of groundwater depletion (especially) and pollution.
The Big Picture
"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."
- Henry David Thoreau
So how did the Alleys get us to the last chapter? With clarity, wisdom, experience, stories, and succinctness. This book is not a hydrogeology textbook, nor is it intended to be. It’s an overview of groundwater and the problems we face in developing, using, managing, polluting, and depleting Earth’s most abundant (by far) and most (?) invisible unfrozen freshwater stock. Case studies and storytelling are the Alleys’ modus operandi and it works like a charm. What better way to start a chapter than with a story, especially when it deals with a topic so difficult to understand.
What do they cover? Just about everything: basic hydrogeology; groundwater ownership and rights; pathogens; arsenic; fracking; land subsidence; surface water – groundwater interactions; ecosystems; nitrate; transboundary aquifers; recharge; sustainability; depletion; water quality; developing countries; hydrophilanthropy; and more.
The book gives a lot of coverage to the USA but certainly not exclusively; it is definitely true to the 'World' in the title. Most of the problems discussed are not exclusive to the USA. International readers will appreciate the case studies and discussions involving: India; Australia; Sub-Saharan Africa; Canada; Mexico; Vietnam; Denmark; China; Libya; Taiwan; South America; Jordan; France; Switzerland; Saudi Arabia; Israel; and other places outside the USA. Enough? You bet.
It has 32 pages of notes, a very good index, and even some additional readings - Internet sites. Yes, even WaterWired is mentioned.
And of course, I love the quotes at the beginning of each chapter; a great deal of care was no doubt employed in their selection. I have repeated some of them here.
Is This Book Needed?
"To be absolutely certain about something, one must know everything or nothing about it." - Olin Miller
In my 47 years as a student of groundwater I have never seen so much discussion of groundwater in the popular media. But if that’s the case, then why is the Alleys’ book needed? The problem is that all the discussion has exposed society’s ignorance of groundwater, its occurrence, behavior (not the same as surface water), connection to surface water, governance, lack of regulation and monitoring, etc. It’s frankly pathetic, especially when you see people who should know better than to spout such nonsense.
One reason no decent popular book has recently - not since Robert Glennon's Water Follies (2002) - been written about groundwater is that the subject matter is not that easy to explain. You need a groundwater expert to do so. But a groundwater expert runs the risk of speaking unintelligibly to nonspecialists. The Alleys have solved that problem with the team approach, which proved so successful with their book on radioactive waste disposal.
The Alleys’ book appeals to a broad readership. Water people who are not groundwater specialists should read it. Groundwater specialists - academics, consultants, others - will read it because its breadth (in terms of groundwater topics) and authors’ reputations promise that the book will contain topics of interest to them, lucidly explained. The book will find its way into the classroom at universities and even high schools. Good fodder for book clubs, too.
I will use this book in my classes as a supplementary text and would use it as the main textbook in a class such as Groundwater for the Rest of Us.
"More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence,including war." - Ban Ki-Moon
The book was what I thought it would be. When I learned of the proposed book in 2013 from Rosemarie and Bill I was thrilled. It's the book I would have loved to have written but could never have done so. It is comprehensive but does not assault the senses with extraneous facts.
Here is what I said in my 2015 proposal review to the Yale University Press:
This is an excellent, original, and potentially groundbreaking book. The proposal is well-written and I cannot think of a better team to write this book. The Alleys have the requisite individual and complementary skills to make this book a classic. I can think of no other book like it.
I still feel that way - more so since I have read the draft and the final version. It's a keeper. Read it. Sleep with it. Take it to lunch. Talk to it. But most of all, listen to it.
Required reading for ALL water professionals.
Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil." - J. Paul Getty
I have appended my 11-page proposal review from July 2015. It contains some material no longer relevant but has a good section on the comparison of the Alleys' proposed book with extant similar books. It really is in a class by itself.
One thing struck me as odd. Bill and Rosemarie come down hard on the importance of the connection between surface water and groundwater, and rightly so. But Bill's former employer - the USGS - still has an Office of Surface Water and an Office of Groundwater. Even the EPA doesn't do that. Go figure...
"It's better to have problems with water than problems without water." - Former California Governor Edmund G. 'Pat' Brown