Book Reviews


A Dry Oasis: Institutional Adaption to Climate on the Canadian Plains , G.P.Marchildon ( Editor ). Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina , 3737 Wascana Pkwy., Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4S OA2 . November 2009 . 318 pages. $35. ISBN 978-0-88977-217-5 .

How fortunate that an anthology of this breadth is published in light of the current global warming controversy. According to the editor, “the purpose of this volume is to better understand how individuals living in the Prairie Provinces – responding through their respective communities and governments – can best adjust to the impact of global warming in the 21st Century.” The geographic regions examined in this anthology include the Great Plains and the South Saskatchewan River Basin. The anthology is organized into three major sections, one each relating to the aforementioned geographic regions and a section titled “Case Studies of Vulnerability.” The sections devoted to geographic regions rely heavily on historical perspective to understand institutional adaptation to climate change while the section on case studies describes community-specific studies and associated adaptation to climate changes in a contemporary vein. Anthology contributors are largely university-based (both Canadian and American); however, representatives from the Canadian government and a Chilean-based environmental ethics organization also contributed to the book.

Part 1, The Great Plains, consists of four papers. In “A Dry Oasis: The Canadian Plains in Late Prehistory” author James Daschuck focuses on the drought susceptible plains and how the arrival of market forces contributed to an end to the bison subsistence economic base. His thesis time frame is 1200-1700 A.D. toward which end he notes, “As the modern world system took hold in the west, ancient practices were set aside in favor of market forces, creating vulnerability, hardship, and conflict.” Gregory Marchildon and co-authors discuss the aridity and prolonged droughts in “The Dry Belt and Changing Aridity in the Palliser Triangle, 1895-2000.” That area has traditionally been identified as a stressed environment, and historical weather data has resulted in the reassessment and identification of its drought boundaries. In the paper, “Comparative Water Governance in the Four Western Provinces” Margot Hurlbert takes a more expansive look at the Great Plains region with an examination of new models of water governance. Her piece places an emphasis on governmental approaches to the management of water resources and water quality. The chapter ends with Lorena Patino and David Gauthier’s paper “A Participative Mapping Approach to Climate Change in the Canadian Prairies.” This is perhaps the most interesting paper in the book, as it proposes a new approach to GIS by incorporating public participation (i.e., laypeople) in an attempt to promote water governance based on sustainability practices.

Part II, The South Saskatchewan River Basin, consists of four papers. The first, “The Natural Characteristics of the South Saskatchewan River Basin: Climate, Geography and Hydrology” is a technically advanced treatise on the interface of three important elements of understanding the river basin. The technical details are enhanced and supported with numerous figures that highlight aridity index, ecozones, and climate data among others. In the paper, “Human Activities and Water Use in the South Saskatchewan River Basin” Joel Bruneau and colleagues provide an overview of human use of water resources within one of the largest dry land watersheds in Canada between 1961 and 1990. Using the parameters of population, land use, and economic activity the paper emphasizes water management, diversions, consumption, and agricultural use of water resources. The third paper, “Constructing Scenarios of Future Climate and Water Supply for the SSRB” by Suzan Lapp and associates uses the scenario concept to help facilitate and understand the vulnerabilities that face communities in managing future climate change and water supply issues. The final paper by Margot Hurlbert and colleagues examines adaptive water management in the basin by government and civil society. The authors discuss this water management within the context of global warming and surmise that “the development of a comprehensive long-term climate change and adaptation strategy would be advantageous and would serve as a baseline focus.”

Part III, Case Studies of Vulnerability, consists of four papers that use the case-study approach to understand: (1) the 2001-2002 drought that occurred in Alberta’s special areas (some 2 million acres located north of the Red Deer River and west of Saskatchewan), (2) the Oldman River dam conflict that exposed how moneyed stakeholders vs. poor stakeholders define change that affects sustainable water resource practices, (3) the case of two dryland communities (Cabri and Stewart Valley) located in southwestern Saskatchewan and the stressors they experienced – especially in relation to a 2001-2002 drought, and (4) how the Blood Tribe has adapted to climate change in light of economic blight and concerns over health, housing, and unemployment.

A Dry Oasis is an anthology of great breadth. Within its pages a mix of scientific, technical, and case-study information allows the reader to appreciate how local communities struggle to adapt to environmental changes. This book could serve as a model for those who desire to assess areas of the earth where similar struggles occur. I would recommend it as an addition to the library of water resource professionals.

Dale Stirling

Environmental Historian
c/o Stirling Consulting 48 Alexis Lane
Coupeville, Washington 98239

Introduction to Water Resources and Environmental Issues , K.L. Pennington and T.V. Cech . Cambridge University Press , 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10013 . 2010 . 457 pages. $65. ISBN 978-0-521-86988-1 .

This book is a general overview of water resources and environmental issues, geared to a nonspecialized student of water topics who is looking for a thoughtful discussion of this very broad topic. It is nontechnical, but some background in the natural and physical sciences would be helpful but not necessary. The book would be worthy of purchase as an overview or summary volume or as an introductory textbook, touching briefly as it does on many aspects of water use. The authors’ treatment of controversial subject matter is very evenhanded and does not show any bias.

Throughout the text, there are sidebars and suggested discussion topics, references for visiting pertinent websites and other texts for further information, notes highlighting points of interest, and essays by guest authors on specific topics, many relating to countries outside of the United States (U.S.). Throughout, the authors bring in examples and comments to emphasize that water resources and their problems are a worldwide concern.

The book opens with a chapter that includes a discussion of water distribution in different forms over the earth. The section contains a succinct historical discussion of water environments in ancient civilizations from prehistoric ones through those of Egypt, India, China, and Roman and Anasazi cultures. A chapter follows on the hydrologic cycle in general, discussing how this cycle fits with both the natural and the human environments. The weather, as opposed to the climate, aspects of El Niño and El Niña are included, as well as topics of floods, drought, and paleoclimatology. The following chapter on water quality covers very basic aspects, such as the physical/chemical aspects of water, pollution sources and types, has an example discussion of DDT, and reminds readers that water quality is every individual’s responsibility.

The Watershed Basics chapter includes sections on watershed delineation (with a discussion of Lidar, GPS, and GIS applications), structure, function, and water quantity. An example of water ecosystem restoration in the Czech Republic is given. Further chapters each cover groundwater topics, lakes and ponds, rivers and streams, and wetlands as separate but interrelated topics. The discussions in each chapter are nontechnical, but thought provoking. The chapter dealing with dams and reservoirs gives due credit to beavers as early water resource engineers, and presents the different types, purposes, and impacts of the full range of structures from the earliest civilizations to the present and closes with a discussion of rehabilitation efforts, including dam removal.

The final third of the book deals with topics related to human interactions with water, and covers drinking and wastewater treatment (with a fascinating discussion of the history and growing understanding of epidemics, and the development of the microscope), water allocation laws through history, the roles of water management agencies throughout the world, though with an emphasis on the U.S. agencies, and a final chapter on water conflicts, solutions, and the future.

The volume presents its topics as dynamic problems, with complex and intertwining relations and interactions that may not have easy solutions. This approach makes for thought-provoking reading and gives the reader the understanding of the complexity of the issues involved.

The book provides even coverage of the various topics, with a visible effort to include examples and discussions of areas outside of the U.S. and in the less developed countries of the world. The book’s strongest point is its effort to include a wide variety of examples and discussions without bias. The Index and the Table of Contents are both well done and each chapter is followed by a reference list. The book’s weakest points are those maps that are supposed to show gradations of values, but are not printed in color. When these maps are shown in gray tones the meaning of the legends is obscured, definitely making a case for a color or a patterned figure.

A specialist, particularly one in the more technical fields of hydrology or hydraulics, would find this text useful as a general reference source in those fields outside of their specialty, but would not find it useful in their own field of expertise.

I would recommend it for a text for an introductory or distribution credit college course.

Helen Fox Moody

Hydraulic Engineer USDA NRCSWest National Technology Support Center5601 Sunnyside Dr., Rm. 1-2150A
Beltsville, Maryland 20705

Conservation of Shared Environments, Learning From the United States and Mexico , L.Lopez-Hoffman, E.D.McGovern, R.G.Varady, and K.W.Flessa ( Editors ). The University of Arizona Press , 355 Euclid Ave., Ste. 103, Tucson, Arizona 85719 . 2009 . 320 pages. $25 (paper). ISBN 978-0-8165-2878-3 .

Until recently, I had often wondered why there was a dearth of aboriginal dams and diversions in America. I just did not understand why the original peoples did not harness water to improve their lives. So it was a droll day, when I read Knight’s essay, “The Wisdom of the Sierra Madre; Aldo Leopold, the Apaches, and the Land Ethic,” one of the many excellent essays presented in Conservation of Shared Environments: Learning from the United States and Mexico (Conservation). As it turns out, the perception or rumors of the presence of Apaches in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains of Mexico gave Aldo Leopold an opportunity to compare and contrast the Mexican and American versions of these mountains – seems the “unspoiled wilderness” of the Mexican version had remained in “aboriginal health.” It is poignant then that it seems that Leopold had only seen “sick land” before traveling to the Sierra Madre of Mexico.

I am not so sure that modern Mexico is immune from land sickness though as there are many essays in Conservation that show that shared spaces are often places in decline. As Zamora-Arroyo and Flessa note in their essay “Nature’s Fair Share: Finding and Allocating Water for the Colorado River Delta,” the “... delta has been reduced to less than 10 percent of its original size as more than 99 percent of the water that originally reached it has been diverted to support agriculture and cities in the United States and Mexico.” Even as I write these words and understand the language, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the meaning of these words.

I did not know I had an interest in shared environments until reading Conservation. I have had an interest in transboundary water, having been born and raised in Moses Lake, Washington, right in the midst of the Columbia Basin Project. Dams and diversions on the Columbia River were part of the landscape – as common as the ubiquitous sagebrush and steppe landscape punctuated by glacial erratics. And so Conservation gave me an opportunity to enhance my understanding of the concept of transboundary waters to incorporate the issues of shared environments of Mexico and the U.S. Although some of the reports regarding the effects of upstream development on downstream users might at first blush seem, well, depressing, Conservation can also be a tonic – a stimulant – a call to action, if you will.

True, many of the essays of Conservation highlight some of the inequities facing shared environments, such as a downstream decline in streamflow due to upstream diversions. As Calderson-Aguilera and Flessa note in their essay “Just Add Water? Transboundary Colorado River Flow and Ecosystem Services in the Upper Gulf of California,” the U.S. benefits from the current management scheme of the Colorado River whereas Mexico bears most of the costs for this scheme. But many of these same essays give the reader some glimmer of hope; Calderson-Aguilera and Flessa opine that both the U.S. and Mexico would benefit from restoring, at least some of, the ecosystem services of the Colorado River delta simply by increasing streamflow to the delta.

In a sense then, Conservation is dipolar – would you expect anything else when the topic concerns water? On one hand, Conservation is a tocsin – it is a collection of essays discussing some of the problems facing shared environments. But on the other hand, Conservation is an armamentarium – well stocked with many prescriptions available to help remedy some of the ills that affect shared environments.

Finally, as I read Conservation, I am reminded of Luna Leopold’s article, “A Reverence for Rivers.” Apparently, ancient Persians would not use rivers as sewers. It seems then that Apaches and Persians had a reverence for rivers – as do many, if not all, of the Conservation essayists. I cannot help but wonder what the world would look like if Apaches or Persians ruled the world; I suspect they understood the concept of shared environments. After reading Conservation I no longer wonder why there was a lack of aboriginal dams and diversions; I am certain the original peoples well understood the meaning of shared environments.

Kevin J. Spelts

Twin Platte Natural Resources District
111 S. Dewey St.
North Platte, Nebraska 69103


Soil and Water Conservation Advances in the United States , T.M.Zobeck and W.F.Schillinger ( Editors ). Soil Science Society of America , 677 South Segoe Rd., Madison, Wisconsin 53711 . 2010 . 301 pages. ISBN 978-0891-188520 .

Authors of each region of the continental United States describe the history of soil and water conservation in the last century, the current situation, and suggest the outlook for the future. Major issues, research recommendations, and government programs are covered. Present research challenges are reviewed, and contributors visualize how agricultural production practices will change in future years to address the newest challenges in soil and water conservation. The ten chapters, authored by 28 professionals, include relevant photographs, tables, and figures to illustrate the points made.

Hydrological Modelling and Integrated Water Resources Management in Ungauged Mountainous Watersheds , W.-L.Xu, T.-Q.Ao, and X.-H.Zhang ( Editors ). IAHS Press , Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, United Kingdom . 2009 . 308 pages. ISBN 978-1-907161-07-0 .

Floods, drought, water shortage, water pollution, and soil loss can have a significant constraint on economic development and represent a big challenge for the protection of natural ecosystems and environments. Water problems in China have become more critical in recent years because of development in the mountainous regions. China has instituted a National Strategy on Western Development to combat the problems. Problems related to these issues were discussed in a symposium, with the papers in this proceedings being relevant to the problems. The key issue was how to best make predictions in poorly gauged watersheds in mountainous regions, with a major reduction in uncertainties.

Improving Integrated Surface and Groundwater Resources Management in a Vulnerable and Changing World , G.Bloschl, et al. ( Editors ). IAHS Press, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology , Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, United Kingdom . 2009 . 377 pages. $71.50. ISBN 978-1-907161-01-8 .

This volume is the proceedings of a conference on integrated watershed management. The keynote paper deals with managing aquifers to sustain water for irrigation. The seven sections include papers on water resources availability, water for food, water quality, floods and drought, change assessment and management, monitoring and optimization, and integrating water resources management.

New Approaches to Hydrological Prediction in Data-Sparse Regions , K.K.Yilmaz, et al . ( Editors ). IAHS Press , Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, United Kingdom . 2009 . 342 pages. $66. ISBN 978-1-907-161-04-9 .

This volume contains 40 papers written by authors from 20 countries. It is separated into four sections: (1) Hydrologic Modeling in Poorly Gauged and Ungaged Basins, (2) Hydrometeorology and Climate Change Assessment, (3) Remote Sensing Applications in Hydrology, and (4) Characterizing Rainfall Variability and Its Impacts on Hydrological Modeling. The papers discuss a number of important research directions relevant to the topics discussed.

Hydroinformatics in Hydrology, Hydrogeology, and Water Resources , I.D.Cluckie, et al. ( Editors ). IAHS Press , Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, United Kingdom . 2009 . 525 pages. $92. ISBN 978-1-907161-02-5 .

This volume contains 60 peer-reviewed papers from a symposium on hydroinformatics. The papers in the volume are separated into three sections: (1) Whole System Modeling and Uncertainty, (2) Hydrological Applications of Hydroinformatics, and (3) Hydrological Applications and Modeling Large Systems.

Trends and Sustainability of Groundwater in Highly Stressed Aquifers (IAHS Publ. 329) , M.Taniguchi, et al. IAHS Press , Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, United Kingdom . 2009 . 312 pages. $62.50. ISBN 978-1-907161-00-1 .

The 35 papers included in this volume are the proceedings of an international conference on trends in groundwater. Topics addressed are the effects of land use and global climate change. The consequences of change, including the effects on water quality, are discussed.

Ecohydrology of Surface and Groundwater Dependent Systems (IAHS Publ. 328) , M.Thoms, K.Heal, E.Bogh, A.Chambel, and V.Smakhtin ( Editors ). IAHS Press , Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, United Kingdom . 2009 . 234 pages. $51. ISBN 978-1-901502-99-2 .

This volume includes a series of papers that outline recent advances in the emerging field of ecohydrology. As such, the papers are interdisciplinary and deal with the underlying science as well as the application of the fundamental concepts. The 25 papers are grouped into three sections: (1) Ecohydrology and Riverine Landscapes, (2) Ecohydrology and Groundwater Systems, and (3) Ecohydrology and Land Use and Land-Use Issues.