An Interview with Author James Salzman on the History of Drinking Water: Part II

An Interview with Author James Salzman on the History of Drinking Water: Part II

  The United Water Blog sat down with Professor Jim Salzman from Duke University to speak about his new book, Drinking Water: A History.  We’re both water wonks who have an interest in bringing important information about the most essential public service – water – to a general audience.  And that is exactly what his new book does.  We asked him for his thoughts on popular water issues and debates; from bottled water, to infrastructure investments. This is the second of two installments of our interview with Salzman.   UW Blog:  In your book that details the history of drinking water, you imply that there are historical incidences of people thinking that their water was safe and clean when it really wasn’t. And now there may be a perception that drinking water is less safe than it actually is.  Was there a historical incident that marked this change in perception? Salzman: The question of  drinking water safety is  very interesting. To a certain extent it’s always been considered clean and drinkable.  Our notion of what is safe has changed. Every society throughout history has had to have some reliable sources of drinking water. They had no choice. Even before the understanding of the germ theory of disease entered our collective conscience, each society, 100 years or 500 years ago believed their water was “safe enough.” Sure, people got sick from time to time, but that was the nature of things. Just a hundred years ago, dying from waterborne typhoid or cholera was commonplace in the United States. Waterborne diseases remained commonplace until municipal drinking water systems were built and...
An Interview with Author James Salzman on the History of Drinking Water: Part I

An Interview with Author James Salzman on the History of Drinking Water: Part I

The United Water Blog sat down with Professor Jim Salzman from Duke University to speak about his new book, Drinking Water: A History. We’re both water wonks who have an interest in bringing important information about the most essential public service – water – to a general audience. And that is exactly what his new book does. We asked him for his thoughts on popular water issues and debates; from bottled water, to infrastructure investments. We will publish our interview with Salzman in two installments.   UW Blog: It sounds like the impetus for writing your book was driven by a question: if our water is the cleanest in the world, why is bottled water so prevalent? That’s an interesting question. Can you summarize your findings?   Salzman: To a certain extent I think the fashion changed, consumption preferences changed. Bottled water was long seen as a chic or luxury product. It is less so now, it is more considered as any other beverage choice.For example, my students now want to be seen as environmentally conscious, so there is some kind of peer pressure to drink tap water from a refillable bottle, for example. Student culture has changed. Many environmental groups – in New York and San Francisco for starters – have used public relations campaigns to raise awareness of the environmental impact of bottled water. To their credit – they raised the level of consumer consciousness and have pressed the bottled water industry to be more responsible in their packaging. That’s said bottled water is going head to head right now in market share with sodas and soft...

Thankful for clean water

Two months ago, the mayor of Desdunes, Haiti, expressed muted satisfaction with the progress his town has made in protecting its citizenry from unsafe drinking water. The water, he told a worker from an aid agency, was “about 60 percent safe,” meaning that it still had to be boiled. And just on the edge of town where cholera had just broken out again, only one person had died. In 2011, about 20 people in town had died from the water-borne disease. Giving thanks, it seems, is not only personal but relative. It would be remarkable if anyone gathered at a Thanksgiving Day meal offered thanks for glass of clean water. Like any other service we pay for, such as electricity or cable television, we expect quality water will be available when we want it. And so we should. Yet, as we draw our next sip, we might want to reflect on the remarkable achievement that glass of water represents—particularly when we consider these statistics:    884 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly one in eight of the world’s population.    2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, this is almost two fifths of the world’s population.   1.4 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. This amounts to around 4,000 deaths a day or one every 20 seconds. (WHO) The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is commonly 40 pounds, the same as an airport luggage allowance....

Water costs to businesses: no longer as arbitrary as a lemonade stand

Remember that lemonade stand you had as a child? The price, depending on your current age, was anywhere from 10 cents to 25 cents per glass. For that price, your thirsty customers got a true bargain, whether they knew it or not. First, there was the cost of the lemonade mix—or the lemons, if you were so inclined. If it was not presweetened, you had the cost of the sugar. Then there was the cost of the paper or Styrofoam cup. Finally, there was the cost of a gallon or so of water from your parent’s tap. If you’re like many kids you had no idea of these items’ costs because they were simply given to you by a parent eager to get you out of the house on a fine summer’s day. Your business savvy has no doubt grown since then. You know the cost of your raw goods, your labor, and your taxes. You know what it costs to sell your goods or services. But if you’re like many businesses, you still don’t calculate the true value of one of your most important inputs: water.  Fret not; tools and innovations are becoming available to change that. A US Environmental Protection Agency report released this week on the importance of water to the U.S. economy confirms that while water is a relative bargain, it is often under-appreciated and under-valued by businesses and consumers alike. As a consequence, water is too often used frivolously or at least without full appreciation of what should happen if it became unavailable. Writes the US EPA in the November 2013 report, The Importance...

How do we articulate the value of an invaluable resource – water?

Most tap water in this country – including the safe and reliable water provided to United Water’s millions of customers – costs less than a penny a gallon. But water is the essence of life; no person, animal, planet, business or society can survive without it. Surely, water’s value – and the convenience of having readily available safe water – is far higher than its cost.  Herein lies the conundrum: many of us don’t value things that are cheap and available. Many of us – Americans in particular – tend to take water for granted. Those of us in the water industry have long been concerned about a dangerous gap between the challenges our nations’ water supply currently faces and the willingness of our nation’s cities, towns and customers to address these challenges to secure this inexpensive and reliable resource. Specifically many communities across the U.S. are relying on an aging water infrastructure which is in need of repair or replacement. It is estimated that there is one water main break every two minutes in the United States, and that cities and towns across the nation must invest $1.3 trillion in repairs and upgrades over the next 25 years. United Water is preparing to tackle the infrastructure challenge by making nearly $1 billion in capital investments over the next five years in its own systems and in city systems that leverage private capital through the SOLUTIONSM model. Through SOLUTIONSM United Water can attract long-term private investment for cities that choose to improve their municipal water and environmental systems. Because much of our nation’s water system lies unseen underground, in...