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Water: the new oil? Authors Solomon and Price discuss the dwindling resource

April 24, 2010 |  4:00 pm

Water1

Water preservation and more efficient management of this dwindling resource was a running theme in Saturday's panel discussion at the Festival of Books titled "Water: The Past, Present, Future of our Most Precious Resource," moderated by L.A. Times staff writer Thomas Curwen. 

Steve Solomon, author of “Water,” began the discussion by quoting former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who famously said: “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”  The rise and decline of many great states in history were directly linked to the availability of water, he said, and added  that “water is taking over oil as the most scarce resource of the 21st century.”

Some examples: Yemen, whose dwindling freshwater sources have a direct correlation to internal political and civil strife; and China, whose competitive global presence depends on how it will solve its own water woes.

In contrast, Solomon said, the United States, which lays claim to 8% of the world’s water and just 4% of its population, has a competitive advantage — if it plays its cards right. By reevaluating its current water management policies, the U.S. could leverage its position by becoming a provider for other countries that are outstripping their resources as their populations increase.

The discussion turned local as the panel shifted its focus toward water management in Los Angeles. Jenny Price, journalist and author of "Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America," surprised many in the audience by proclaiming: “We do not live in a desert!” She said there's a local disconnect between the amount of water Los Angeles naturally receives and what its inhabitants think it receives.

As part of Los Angeles’ watershed management and flood control policies, she said, water is not well-managed or maximized. “We send 80% of our rainfall out to the Pacific Ocean,” Price said. “Public education is lacking.”

Other panelists echoed Price’s concerns, asserting that the city does receive enough rainfall to meet its needs but that its attachment to the notion of "water imperialism" has made it dependent on siphoning water from external sources.

L.A. Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik emphasized that preservation is more cost-effective than using extreme technology, such as desalinization, which should be used when no other choices are available.

Ending on that note, D.J. Waldie, author of " California Romantica,” reiterated that preservation is key: “We should be using and re-using every drop.”

— Dima Alzayat

Photo: Water rushes past a home in La Canada Flintridge during April storms. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

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