Udall Center Director Publishes New Anthology on the State of Water Resources Around the World

June 6, 2023

'The Conversation on Water' aims to outline modern global water challenges in language that is accessible to anyone -- not just scientists and engineers.

Book cover: The Conversation on Water edited by Andrea K. Gerlak. Features image of water flowing from a rusty pipe.

'The Conversation on Water' was released on June 6, 2023 by The Conversation U.S. and Johns Hopkins University Press.

The Conversation U.S.

Rising water levels in Lake Mead; record-breaking snowpack in California; flood watches in Yosemite Valley.

To the casual observer, it might seem that recent headlines like these signal a welcome turn of the tide – an indication that our water woes, at least in terms of the dwindling supply of freshwater in the desert southwest, are coming to an end. Unfortunately, experts suggest that we have a long road ahead when it comes to securing freshwater resources for the future. 

Indeed, not only is the water shortage facing the seven states in the Colorado River Basin likely to continue and even accelerate in the coming years, but communities across the U.S. – from New England, to the Great Lakes, to Tacoma, Washington – are struggling against an array of water-based challenges, including a lack of supply needed to serve growing populations; high concentrations of lead, PFASs, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals in critical water supplies; and the drying of federal funds and attention when it comes to tackling critical infrastructure problems that are responsible for the loss of some 6 billion gallons of water every day.

If the compounding issues facing the world’s water supply continue to go unchecked, Andrea Gerlak – Director of the UArizona Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, Professor at the School of Geography, Development and Environment, and one of the top water experts in the U.S. – sees the writing on the wall, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Outlining Global Water Issues for the General Population

The demand for clean water is increasing, supply is decreasing, infrastructure funding has dropped steadily since the 1970s, and concerns about the safety of primary sources of drinking water in the U.S. – a country that has historically been “home to some of the most reliable and safest water in the world,” according to Gerlak – affect some 77 million Americans, or just under a quarter of the population. And those are just a few examples of challenges with water in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

As editor of the new book, The Conversation on Water, Gerlak outlines the challenges threatening the global supply of clean, fresh water for drinking and sanitation in a way that is not just accessible, but helps readers see their own potential role in solving these problems now and for future generations.

“For far too long, water has been treated as a technical issue relegated to the engineers and scientists, or it has been isolated in academic debates or books not terribly accessible to the public,” Gerlak says in the book’s forward, “But the issues surrounding water today are far too important to be confined to such narrow spaces.” 

Inspiring Action

Gerlak explains that the book – the third installment in a new four-part series by The Conversation U.S. and Johns Hopkins University Press titled Critical Conversations“is intended as a modern guide to equip readers with the knowledge to see these challenges as deeply social and political ones, and not merely technical challenges.”

But, she explains, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the world’s water future. “The good news is that we are gaining a better understanding of the many dimensions of the water crisis in the US,” says Gerlak, “and a growing chorus of academics, practitioners, and activists are working hard to identify, analyze, and address this crisis.” 

With a better understanding of the water-related challenges facing our society, we’re better prepared than ever to design and implement solutions. That is, of course, so long as policymakers are ready and willing to act. 

In 32 curated essays by 30 scholars and water experts from credentialed research institutions across the U.S., The Conversation on Water covers the current state of the world of water – including discussions of contamination, the search for additional sources of freshwater, the impacts of climate change on the world’s water resources, and the culture and policy surrounding water around the world – in accessible language carefully crafted by the scholar-journalist teams that produce content for the nonprofit, independent news organization, The Conversation.

More Learning Opportunities

Gerlak will take part in a live webinar this month titled “Water and Sustainability: A Holistic View” along with three of the expert contributors to The Conversation on Water. The event takes place on Wednesday, June 28 at 4 PM EDT / 1 PM PDT on Zoom. Register to attend here.

The Conversation Water anthology, which was released on June 6, 2023, as well as other installations in the Critical Conversations series, can be purchased in paperback and e-book form here.