Skip to main content

Mirage: A look at water crisis throughout the American East, Apr 24, 201

This study of the freshwater-supply crisis in Florida takes a detailed look at the relentless pressure of development and burgeoning human populations on natural water supplies, in a study that examines the history of the crisis, public policy initiatives, and potential solutions.

Florida’s parched swamps and sprawling subdivisions set the stage for a look at water crisis throughout the American East, from water-diversion threats in the Great Lakes to tapped-out freshwater aquifers along the Atlantic seaboard.

Part investigative journalism, part environmental history, Mirage shows how the eastern half of the nation – historically so wet that early settlers predicted it would never even need irrigation – has squandered so much of its abundant fresh water that it now faces shortages and conflicts once unique to the arid West.

Told through a colorful cast of characters including Walt Disney, Jeb Bush and Texas oilman Boone Pickens, Mirage ferries the reader through the key water-supply issues facing America and the globe: water wars, the politics of development, inequities in the price of water, the bottled-water industry, privatization, and new-water-supply schemes.

In the twentieth century, all Americans footed the bill for enormous dams and reservoirs that subsidized development in the bone-dry west. Barnett shows how in the twenty-first, U.S. taxpayers, whether they know it or not, are funding huge new waterworks such as desalination plants to quench the population shift underway to the nation’s Sunbelt.

From its calamitous opening scene of a sinkhole swallowing a house in Florida to its concluding meditation on the relationship between water and the American character, Mirage is a compelling and timely portrait of the use and abuse of freshwater in an era of rapidly vanishing natural resources.