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  • The Atlas of Water: Mapping the World's Most Critical Resource by Maggie Black
  • Daniel D. Snow
The Atlas of Water: Mapping the World's Most Critical Resource. By Maggie Black. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. 128 pp. Illustrations, tables, sources, glossary, index. $24.95 paper.

Water is indeed becoming the world's most critical natural resource as the Earth's human population is projected to expand to over eight billion by the year 2030. I reviewed Maggie Black's Atlas of Water with some skepticism about whether it was even possible to actually [End Page 149] compile the incredible complexities of water resources in a thin paperback book and still manage to provide a useful reference guide.

While full of facts and figures, the Atlas of Water does not attempt to cover any topic in great detail and spends more of its contents describing how and why water management has become so important to our future. The amount and variety of data used to map the current status of the Earth's water resources, and to describe how climate will affect water availability for society and ecosystems, are impressive. The book is divided into six parts and 35 chapters. Each emphasizes a globally and locally relevant water resource issue. Readers of Great Plains Research will be especially interested in the chapters featuring maps that describe areas of declining groundwater availability and relate the High Plains Aquifer to other aquifers with high withdrawal rates and slow recharge.

Conflict over how to prioritize water stored for hydropower and irrigation, and the added complication of groundwater and surface water interactions, are topics well known to the Great Plains Research audience. Many of the statistics presented are quite familiar, such as the fact that only 2.5% of all water on the Earth is freshwater, and of that, less than one-third is available as ground and surface water. Others are less well known, such as the estimate that 50% of the world's mined phosphorus fertilizer is lost via runoff to the oceans, and that global water demand for manufacturing is predicted to increase by 400% by 2050. A list of information sources divided by chapter and topic allows the reader to check the quality of the reference used, and if desired, to do additional investigation.

Part of what sets this book apart from other collections of water facts and figures is the effort to direct the reader's thinking to a global scale with a view to the future of water resources on this planet. The Atlas of Water includes chapters with controversial topics such as how the application of market principles may actually increase the disparity of access to safe drinking water globally. Some chapters present maps of quite well-established topics showing how the unequal distribution of water is directly related to annual precipitation and evaporation. Others illustrate fuzzier concepts such as relating environmental security to the distribution of protected wetlands.

The atlases that I am most familiar with are a collection of more detailed maps that help users find their way through complex and unknown territory. In this capacity, the Atlas of Water serves as a guidebook for current and future water resource managers at all levels of need, from scientists to educators to policy makers. We all need an atlas of water, especially now as we journey into an uncertain future of water availability and use.

Daniel D. Snow
Nebraska Water Center and School of Natural Resources
University of Nebraska–Lincoln


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pp. 149-150
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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