‘Water Resources’ by Shimon C. Anisfeld

Water Resources is a quite solid American perspective on water resources and resource use. Shimon Anisfeld has collected basic terminology and information regarding water resource management, and set the chapters and topics out in a very useful progression. There is a lot of information about water in this book that is important to any reader.

My inner pedant fumed at the introduction and early assertions of ‘global’ perspectives, when the book mainly described American systems and only referenced notable international case studies and data when providing general and American-centric information. I have nothing against a book with an American perspective, of course; I found the insight into some of their water management and indigenous rights issues fascinating. But it was a bit eager and assuming to call it ‘global’. I was also frustrated that the author flipped between very formal jargonistic language into very informal and casual phrases. Often ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘you’ were confusing to me; was Anisfeld referring to himself and his colleagues, himself and the reader, humanity in general, or was this a hangover from courses that he has run on the topic? These are of course minor and, yes, pedantic issues to have with what is otherwise a very readable book. As the chapters progress the text flows easier and has less of these issues.

Setting aside my frustrations with language, however, I did have a few real issues with the book. Firstly, there is an assumed linearity to the reader’s experience. There was no index in the copy I had access to, though this is possibly simply because I saw a galley and indices are often still in construction. Neither was there a list of figures and tables, and often passages hid data that would be useful to revisit within what I as an occasional gamer call ‘flavour text’. Some of the most important things to students – part of the target market – are good indices, easily locatable data and tables, and quickly re-readable passages. It can be hard work to retroactively make an index, but that work can turn a good reference book into a great one.

Secondly, though Anisfeld mentions that interests and needs regarding water cycles cannot be reduced to economic values and models, the only strong solutions presented rely on addressing the issues within economic frameworks. Perhaps this is less obvious to someone with an American perspective, but I am quite used to thinking about water resources in my country as having a cultural and immeasurable value; though water is not prohibitively expensive, we still have enforced water restrictions. Though Anisfeld nods a times to fishing rights, indigenous claims and disputes between countries over resources, there is rarely a consideration for other more intangible costs in final solutions. Though this I understand is partly due to the basic honest truth: globally and in America, maintaining safe water supplies affordably is a huge concern.

Thirdly – and this is perhaps because I am an Australian – the information regarding droughts and water restrictions seemed very glossed over, brief and basic. This perhaps comes from living with water restrictions for most of my life, and I expect that for those unaccustomed to the ideas involved the section on droughts will indeed be informative.

My final problem was with one comment right smack-bang in the middle of discussions of global case studies. Anisfeld asserts that data for some countries is simply unavailable, one of these countries being New Zealand. While again I’m fine that Anisfeld didn’t spend all his waking hours calling up meteorological associations worldwide and taking countless hours to analyse the data, I am upset that he seems to be accusing the data from scientific journals that he has included in his bibliography for not being there in a way that obfuscates the matter for the ‘layman’ readers he expects. There is data available for New Zealand, and most other countries with meteorologists and weather stations. What there wasn’t was scope for Anisfeld to collect or assess it. It is phrasing like this that only helps create bias in students and the general public, and it is something so easily avoided with more thought that it upsets me immensely.

Even with all this, Water Resources was readable and useful. I have not studied this field myself, but the bibliography seems solid enough. If you work with water or deal with infrastructure, this will be a useful starting block. But please, read widely and keep in consideration that you will need to find a different reference for information especially regarding the cultural side of water resource management and responses to a drought situation.

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