ZimmmermanDry_1_250Jerry Yudelson
New Society Publishers
P.O. Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC VOR 1X0, Canada;


2010. 304 pages. $24.95, paperback.

The “next” water crisis is hardly a new phenomenon. Despite herculean feats of technology and engineering, human history repeats itself with dismaying regularity. Dry Run harkens back to ancient Mesopotamia and India as examples of civilizations run dry even with strict social limits on water use. Closer to home and much more recent was the coupling of disastrous farming practices and severe drought that blew soil particles as far as the steps of the U.S. Capitol—the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

But the main focus of this book is the challenges of the 21st century. Author Jerry Yudelson, one of the original Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) national faculty members, a consultant, and a water expert in his own right, discusses in layperson’s terms the entire continuum of urban water supply and demand, with emphasis on the U.S. context. Dry Run scopes out what it takes to shepherd a dramatic shift from consumption-driven to conservation-based practices. Reducing the “water footprint,” argues the author, is just as essential as reducing its counterpart—the carbon footprint. A credible case is proposed for a set of specific short- and long-term priorities, most of them in the form of public sector interventions.

Water conservation can be easily understood using a simple color coding devised in part by the author. Brown: rainwater runoff harvested from roofs (Minnesota Twins’ baseball stadium); gray: the 40 percent of household consumption generated from home-based activities such as laundry or dishwashing and which can easily be recycled for landscape irrigation or to nourish wetlands (Dockside Green mixed-use neighborhood, Victoria, British Columbia); black: recycled sewage (Council House 2 in Melbourne, Australia); green: reclaimed on-site groundwater (Zhangjiawo, China, housing district); “zen”: zero-footprint solutions whereby all needs are met on site with no dependence on off-site water pumping (Omega Center for Sustainable Living, Rhinebeck, New York); and “new”: desalination of saltwater to provide fresh water ($350 million Carlsbad desalination plant, near San Diego, California). A typical urban LEED-qualified building combines several of these options, especially the first three.

The all-too-common response to drought is to institute water rationing. However, this represents little more than stopgap crisis management, cautions the author. On the other hand, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Sense program—one of a handful of current national energy-efficient residential appliance efforts—claims to cut domestic water use by 20 to 50 percent for toilets, urinals, faucets, and showers, an indication that surprising efficiencies are indeed possible in the short run. Nevertheless, the author’s findings confirm that achieving credible long-term results necessitates a multipronged strategy over an extended period of time.

Ironically, Los Angeles is a city worth watching. Due in large part to public sector–driven programs begun during the 1990s, water use is currently at levels comparable to those seen 25 years ago—despite a population increase of 1 million over that time interval. Subsidies have resulted in the successful marketing of an astonishing 1.27 million ultra-low-flush toilets. There is a variable two-tier rate structure that spikes during high-demand seasons for commercial carriers. More than a dozen water uses are now banned by a 2009 ordinance (enacted during a major drought), including serving water to customers in restaurants unless specifically requested to do so. There is even a team of “drought busters” who identify wasteful water uses, educate customers, and distribute such devices as low-flow showerheads.

Six other U.S. metropolitan areas, mostly in the arid Southwest, are profiled in Dry Run for their progressive water conservation programs, along with Australia as an inter­national model.

From these empirical sources, the author recommends a ten-step program. It encompasses plumbing and appliance retrofits, code modifications, technical assistance, public awareness and education programs, consumer and corporate incentives and disincentives, efficiency audits and meter measurements, and even the retraining of the entire U.S. labor force of 40,000 plumbers. Such an array of initiatives, opines the author, is what it will take to cut the per-person rate of residential use in the United States from the current level of 150 gallons (540 liters) per day to something akin to that in Australia, where use has been reduced to 43 gallons (155 liters) per day.

An epilogue looks at the water crisis in a global context. Green jobs, the intersection of water and energy, and environmental restoration are a few of the many issues at stake. With 2 billion people worldwide lacking minimum water replenishment, water scarcity poses one of the paramount challenges to human survival, and as the effects of global warming become even more commonplace, “blue” may emerge as the new “green.” This is a book that merits a close reading from experts and nonexperts alike.