Jim Salzman Traces the Complex History of Drinking Water and Illuminates Why it Matters for Our Future

Jim Salzman Traces the Complex History of Drinking Water and Illuminates Why it Matters for Our Future

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Mon, 05/09/2016 - 9:19am

When we turn on the tap or open a plastic bottle, we might not give a second thought to where our drinking water comes from. But how it gets from the ground to the glass is far more complex than we might think, and reflects a series of technological innovations, environmental policy and political machinations.

In his most recent book, Drinking Water: A History, UCSB and UCLA Donald Bren Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law of James Salzman explores the complex history of drinking water. The book opens with a story about the water conflict in McCloud, a Northern California town that sought out bottling companies in the 1990s to help solve their financial crisis. The town’s clear and clean water intrigued Nestle and soon the private company had purchased the right to the aquifer and to build a bottling plant. The transaction ignited a heated debate between community members who saw the private company as a savior, offering a way out of the town’s decline, and those who were afraid Nestle would suck the aquifer dry and negatively impact the ecology of the area. Salzman described the conflict getting more violent and contentious over the years.

Similar conflicts are apparent at the community, state and national scales all over the world.  While water may seem like a simple resource, the nature of the conflicts surrounding water is anything but simple. “The history of drinking water is fraught with legend and strife, science and religion, ethics and business,” said Salzman.  These issues have only escalated over time.

On April 22nd, Salzman spoke about his book at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The audience of approximately 80 people consisted of community members, government officials, students and UCLA faculty. After Salzman’s presentation, Stephanie Pincetl, Director and Professor-in-Residence at the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, moderated a discussion about Salzman’s book and the water issues facing Los Angeles. In addition to Salzman, panelists included J.R. DeShazo, Director and Professor, at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Noah Garrison, Environmental Science Practicum Director at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; and Chris Solek, Programs Director and Senior Scientist at the Council for Watershed Health.

The panel discussed a range of topics including the current state of the water crisis in California and opportunities for increasing local sources. The group answered questions about the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s new OneWater plan, discussed challenges in public perception of drinking water, and offered potential solutions to some of the governance challenges hindering true integration of water resource management, including the potential for a water market in Los Angeles County.

When we turn on the tap or open a plastic bottle, we might not give a second thought to where our drinking water comes from. But how it gets from the ground to the glass is far more complex than we might think, and reflects a series of technological innovations, environmental policy and political machinations.