Alex Prud’homme, the Ripple Effect

October 21, 2015-

“Fierce collaboration” is needed if the U.S. is going to stop using water in unsustainable way, says Alex Prud’homme, who spoke at the Housatonic Valley Asssociation’s annual meeting last week. When he started researching water he was struck by how water has become invisible to us and how we take it for granted.  

When we need water we turn on the tap and it comes. However we don’t drink Housatonic river water, or eat the fish or ducks that live in that water, because G.E  dumped carcinogens like PCB’s in our river.  Every local problem becomes a global problem.  There are still 1.5 billion lbs of PCBs in the environment even after EPA dredged 40 miles of the Hudson River.

Prud’homme is the author of Ripple Effect, 448 page book about water.  What we do with water has “a ripple effect” on everything else.  He began with an investigation into bottled water, a 13 billion dollar industry.  Then he realized bottled water is a small part of a larger story.  Water will be the defining resource of this century; water defines how and where we live.  Anti-bacterial soap gets into the water system and kills the fish. When we water lawns that are sprayed with herbicides the chemicals kill amphibians and other creatures.  

The author was inspired by a conversation with Bob Moran, a hydrologist, during a dinner with his famous aunt, Julia Childs, (with whom he co-authored her memoir, My Life in France).  Moran said,  “Bottled water is interesting, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. What's more interesting is that water is essentially the story of the century. Water underlies every other resource that's out there.”  The UN is warning of a global water crisis that will cause millions of refugees to migrate to countries with water.

In Colorado, according to Prud’homme, hydrofrackers are driving farmers out of business because they have more money.  Las Vegas’s Lake Meade is at a record low; T. Boone Pickins wants to sell the Ogalala aquifer to the highest bidder.  

The water situation is going through tremendous changes out of the public eye.  There is an enormous opportunity now to innovate and invent solutions.  Water quality has shifted from “point source pollution,” direct contaminants to “non-point pollution” which refers to the many kinds of pollution that get washed off the earth and into the streams causing algae bloom and weed growth and an underwater desert because no light can get in. 

A case in point: Chesapeake Bay crashed because of pollution run-off and has a dead zone that has caused eco-systems devastation. The crabs people are eating in Maryland are now from Indonesia.  New chemical contaminants cause endocrine disruption.  

Water quality is a growing and complex problem.  Less than 1% of it is clean enough to drink.  Mismanagement, corruption and wars all affect water quality with huge economic and social consequences.  Prud;homme predicts that water-rich nations may form cartels to protect water.  More intense storms will come.  Increasing floods in some places, drought in others, global “weirding.”

A warming climate will turbocharge violent storm systems.  More Irenes and Sandy’s are on the way.  Many sewage treatment plants are at or below sea level.  

This summer, we had 13% less rainfall than last,  causing algae growth and a low level drought.  

This trend will continue as the world urbanizes. By 2008 more humans lived in cities than in rural communities.  Perth Australia may become a ghost city soon due to lack of water.  China geologic survey describes disasters due to water mismanagement. 

Prud’homme says we need to think about water in new ways. We need  forgo herbicides on our lawns.  He says we use over 700,000 gallons of water per person each year in the U.S.  It’s unsustainable lifestyle. Each set of bluejeans represents over 1,000 gallons of water.  

We need to stop using high quality drinking water to water our lawns and flush our toilets. Water is an emotional issue.  The is a need to think more holistically. We can use technology for solutions.  The public needs to be educated about water. 

The U.S. has no national water policy.  

Prud’homme says he hopes to send out a ripple of hope by politely asking people to turn off the tap when they brush their teeth.