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America's Water Crisis Gets Jon Stewart Treatment

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By Barry Nelson

This week, questions about the future of our water supply got the celebrity treatment: a feature on the Daily Show. Robert Glennon, a professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona, went on the show to talk about his new book, Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It.

Like it or not, having Jon Stewart cover an issue you care deeply about is the modern equivalent of Walter Cronkite reporting it on the CBS Evening News. It means it has arrived as an issue of national significance.

This is a welcome sign. America has a long list of sustainable, cost-effective ways to conserve and use water wisely--none of which involves drinking toilet water as Stewart playfully claimed. Many of these solutions are already in place at the local level. But we won't be able to use them on a national scale until we recognize that we have a problem.

Glennon's book and interview on the Daily Show do a good job of outlining the problem. For instance, he points out that some energy technologies consume vast amounts of water and that energy policy and water management are not always in sync. This is an area my NRDC colleagues and I have studied thoroughly, and we have successfully pushed for greater efficiencies and better planning within in California (Read about our energy and water work here.)

Still, I would have liked to see Glennon promote more of the available water solutions.

Things like greening our cities, recycling wastewater, cleaning up groundwater, and capturing urban runoff have enormous potential to meet our future water needs. They are already working in places like New York and Orange County.

These solutions are also smart investments. Conservation can produce water at as little as 10 percent of the cost of water from new dams.

And because conservation tools rely on efficiency and reuse instead of rivers and rainwater, they make us less vulnerable to the effects of climate change (like the drought currently haunting my home state of California).

NRDC is currently working hard to promote the kind of solutions that Glennon advocates, from passing California's AB 49, which is designed to implement the governor's call for a 20 percent reduction in per capita water use by 2020, to this new report on industrial water conservation.

I agree with Glennon that the water crisis we are facing is a time of opportunity. As more people recognize that safe drinking water is dwindling resource, they will be more willing to embrace new ways of getting and using water. Stewart's interview with Glennon is part of that growing awareness.


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