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Robert Gulley recounts the events of several decades over which insatiably thirsty south-central Texans battled toward consensus on a plan to use, manage, and perhaps conserve the Edwards Aquifer. It was eight species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act that created all the fuss because they rely on streams fed by the aquifer's springs for their continued existence. Sadly, not all eight species were named. This important case study of a long-standing, intractable problem serves as a cautionary tale that foreshadows water security challenges sure to come for other arid regions around the globe. Its value lies in showing how a deeply divided people can come together, albeit under the threat of federal action, to devise a plan to conserve the water supply for more than two million people with divergent interests. Importantly, it is also one of the first instances where groundwater and surface water were viewed as a single, integrated resource. The region thus navigated uncharted territory in developing the Edwards Aquifer recovery implementation program. One critique of the work is that this attribute should have been better emphasized.
Heads Above Water has all the makings of a great story. The elements are exciting—the Wild West, bitter rivalries among neighbors, serious issues of entitlement, a legal saga, intrigue—all under the very real threat of water shortages. But the book falls flat. Reading it is like peering into the World Wide Web without a search engine. The storytelling simply is not engaging. Rather, it is an overwhelming volume of incredibly interesting but overly detailed information, which makes it difficult to see the larger meaning. A more appropriate title would have been heads under water, given the struggle it was to finish. Heads Above Water was not written for the general public. But it should have been.
University of Saskatchewan