Water in America: What’s the Problem?

Patrick Allitt
Patrick Allitt
Emory University

Patrick Allitt has been a professor of American History at Emory University since 1988, where he teaches courses on American intellectual, environmental, and religious history, as well as Victorian Britain and the Great Books. After earning an undergraduate degree at Oxford and a Ph.D. in American history at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt held postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard and Princeton. He is the author of seven books, including his most recent: A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism.

 

 

Overview

Three hundred and thirty-two million Americans take for granted the presence of an abundant, safe, clean water supply.  If ever it falters, as in Flint, Michigan in 2014, it provokes a political crisis.  Even in the desert states of the American West, great cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City have plenty to drink, while millions of gallons are left over for intensive irrigation farming on once-arid lands.  The American water supply, like everything else, has a history. It features ingenious engineers working out how to control, regulate, store, and purify billions of gallons.  They were so successful that for nearly a hundred years now we have stopped appreciating their phenomenal achievement.  But the current drought in the American West is drawing renewed attention to the threat of water shortages, making this a good moment for us to think about how we got to this point, as well as our prospects for the future.

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