Nearly every human endeavor on the planet was conceived and constructed with a relatively stable climate in mind. But as new climate disasters remind us every day, our world is not stable – and it is changing in ways that expose the deep dysfunction of our relationship with water. Increasingly severe and frequent floods and droughts inevitably spur calls for higher levees, bigger drains, and longer aqueducts. But as we grapple with extreme weather, a hard truth is emerging: our development, including concrete infrastructure designed to control water, is actually exacerbating our problems. Because sooner or later, water always wins.
In this quietly radical book, science journalist Erica Gies introduces us to innovators in what she calls the Slow Water movement who start by asking a revolutionary question: What does water want? Using close observation, historical research, and cutting-edge science, these experts in hydrology, restoration ecology, engineering, and urban planning are already transforming our relationship with water.
Modern civilizations tend to speed water away, erasing its slow phases on the land. Gies reminds us that water's true nature is to flex with the rhythms of the earth: the slow phases absorb floods, store water for droughts, and feed natural systems. Figuring out what water wants – and accommodating its desires within our human landscapes – is now a crucial survival strategy. By putting these new approaches to the test, innovators in the Slow Water movement are reshaping the future.
Erica Gies is an award-winning journalist and National Geographic Explorer based in Victoria, British Columbia and San Francisco. She writes about water, climate change, plants and critters for the New York Times, Atlantic, Guardian, Economist, Scientific American, New Scientist, Wired, and other publications.
"In this sparkling, flowing, world-spanning narrative, Gies compellingly shows why water will always win in the end, particularly in an urbanizing world facing disruptive climate change. She also reveals, through guides ranging from China's 'sponge city' designers to beavers, how liberating water can liberate us, in turn"
– Andrew Revkin, co-author of The Human Planet and former New York Times climate reporter
"Reveals the mysteries of water's journey from source to sea, and shows how working with nature can help save us from the ravages of climate change. Through fascinating stories and detailed research, Gies challenges modern societies to relinquish some control, and let water go where it wants to go. This eye-opening book is filled with brilliant insights, creativity, inspiration, and honest hope"
– Sandra Postel, author of Replenish and winner of the 2021 Stockholm Water Prize
"We've tried, in every way we know, to control and contain water on this planet. But there are limits to our power, which become clearer as escalating cycles of flooding and drought increasingly make a mockery of our efforts. As Gies ably demonstrates, the time has come to learn some lessons from liquid, and to start trying to live gracefully in our wonderfully aqueous world"
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature