Charles Fishman, a longtime writer for Fast Company magazine, is the author of “The Big Thirst,” a new book on water. He previously wrote “The Wal-Mart Effect,” which was an Economist “book of the year” in 2006 and a finalist in The Financial Times’s awards for best business book.
Q. You call the last 100 years “the golden age of water,” at least in the developed world. But you also say the golden age is over. As you told Terry Gross, on “Fresh Air,” “We will not, going forward, have water that has all three of those qualities at the same time: unlimited, unthinkingly inexpensive and safe.” Why not?
Mr. Fishman: We’re spoiled. Well-designed, well-engineered water systems were built across the United States and the developed world 100 years ago. They worked so well that they literally helped make creative economically vibrant cities possible, and healthy. And those water systems were so successful they became invisible — and they remain invisible.
We just assume when we turn on the tap, the water will be there, and that the water system buried in the ground is doing fine.
Both assumptions are out of date. Population growth, economic development (which changes dramatically how much water people want and use), and climate change are all putting pressure on water supplies — not just in places like Las Vegas or California, but in Atlanta, in Florida, in Spain, across China.