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Books for Adults

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Few topics have more dimensions than water, from hard science to water policy and lawmaking. The topic of water, especially in California, offers many opportunities to learn about the management of this most valued resource and the challenges we face in achieving safe, reliable supplies.

Check out these selections at your local school or public library:


Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles

Les Standiford
Ecco, 2015, 336pp.

In 1907, Irish immigrant William Mulholland designed and began to build one of the greatest civil engineering feats in history: the aqueduct that carried water 233 miles from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles—allowing this small, resource-challenged desert city to grow into a modern global metropolis.

Drawing on new research, Les Standiford vividly captures the visionary engineer and the breathtaking scope of his six-year, $23 million project that would transform a region, a state, and a nation at the dawn of its greatest century. 

Let There Be Water book

Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World

Seth M. Siegel 
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015, 352pp.

With sixty percent of the country in a desert and despite a rapidly growing population, Israel has been jumping ahead of the water-innovation curve for decades. 

This book offers prescriptions on how countries, cities, and businesses can avoid water crises.


Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis

Brahma Chellaney 
Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, 2015 (updated edition), 424pp.

This pioneering and authoritative study considers the profound impact of the growing global water crunch on international peace and security as well as possible ways to mitigate the crisis. 

A River No More

A River No More: The Colorado River and the West

Philip L. Fradkin
University of California Press, 1996, 360pp.

New edition of the definitive history of the development of the Colorado River and the claims made on its water, from its source in the Wyoming Rockies to the California and Arizona borders, to a point just short of the Gulf of California in Mexico where it evaporates in the sand. Includes new updated preface by author.

A Water Odyssey

A Water Odyssey: The Story of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Joel Schwarz
MWD, 1991, 212pp.

The story of MWD, rooted in the history of the state, the story of water in Southern California.


Beyond Chinatown: The Metropolitan Water District, Growth, and the Environment in Southern California

Steve Erie
Stanford University Press, 2006, 384pp.

A brisk history of the rise of Southern California’s empire of water, Metropolitan Water District. The second book in a projected trilogy, this book recounts the work of MWD over the past 78 years and it’s far reaching effect in So. California as it provides water to the 20 million people living in the region.

Blue Covenant

Blue Covenant

Maude Barlow 
W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2008, 208pp.

The author presents a future that depends on the actions of all global citizens to secure a water-just world.  Promoting water as "a human right and a public trust" rather than a commercial product, the book highlights the water crisis citizens, agencies and water managers are facing.

Brown Acres

Brown Acres: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewer System

Anna Sklar
Angel City Press, 2008, 232pp.

Highlighting urban politics, landscape and ecology, this book takes an unprecedented look at what lies beneath the City of Los Angeles.  The author presents the difficulties the city faced in building a sewer infrastructure that could handle its growing population in the late 19th and 20th centuries.


Cadillac Desert

Marc Reisner
Viking Penquin, 1987, 592pp.

A timely, highly readable history of the real California and of the struggle to discover and control water in the American West – a tale of rivers diverted, political corruption and intrigue, billion-dollar battles over water rights, and economic and ecological disaster.

California Water

California Water

Arthur L. Littleworth
Solano Press Books, 1995, 366pp.

A handbook on water rights, this serves as a comprehensive reference to the historical, legal, and policy issues affecting California’s use of water. Includes photos, illustrations, tables, and maps.

Drowning the Dream

Drowning the Dream: California's Water Choices at the Millennium

David Carle
Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2000, 256pp.

Using Californians’ own voices to filter the impact of imported water on the state’s environment, the author concludes the new century is high time to visualize alternatives to drowning dreams of the good life. Includes a chronology, maps, and illustrations since frontier days.

Dry: Life Without Water

Dry: Life Without Water

Eshan Masood
Harvard University Press, 2006, 192pp.

This book explores living in the dry lands of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas where water is scarce.  The author relates the ingenuity of people and their diverse stories of living in very hot, very cold or very high places - people who spend a large part of their lives finding water without harming the environment.


Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization

W. Hodding Carter
Simon & Schuster Publ., 2006, 256pp.

Witty, anecdotal, and entertaining book that chronicles the long history of plumbing and follows the author’s travels as he researches Roman water pipes, the sewers of London and more. Combines history, science, firsthand experience.

Garbage Land

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash

Elizabeth Royte
Little, Brown & Co., 2005, 312pp.

This book immerses the reader in the underworld of garbage. Entertaining, illuminating, frightening and inspiring, the author looks at the subject of where all the trash goes.

Last Oasis

Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity

Sandra Postel
W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, 191pp.

In this well-balanced global view of the subject, author describes the convergence between increasing demands for water and the finite nature of the resource. The limitations of engineering solutions, the hydro-political problems, the prediction of chronic water shortages, and recommendations for improvement are covered.

Life's Matrix

Life’s Matrix: A Biography of Water

Philip Ball
University of California Press, 2001, 433pp.

Follows the history of water from first hydrogen and oxygen atoms to our changing understanding of water. Highlights the power of water and examines the reality of natural resource depletion and the effects on the 21st century.

Managing Water

Managing Water: Avoiding Crisis in California

Dorothy Green
University of California Press, 2007, 336pp.

California's water is managed within a network of interlocking and cooperating districts and agencies.  This book describes how the current system works or doesn't work and the issues officials, water managers and the general public face.

The Great Lakes: Water Wars

The Great Lakes Water War

Peter Annin
Island Press, 2006, 303pp.

A fast-paced account of the people and stories behind the largest collection of fresh surface water on Earth, this book is a balanced, comprehensive look at the conflicts and compromises of this globally significant resource.

 The Great Thirst  

The Great Thirst: Californians and Water, 1770s-1990s

Norris Hundley, Jr.
University of California Press, 1992, 551pp.

This is a history of the development of California’s water resources, from before the arrival of Europeans to the drought that ushered in the 1990s. Includes descriptions of the waterscape in its natural state that was altered by the influx of settlers after the Gold Rush. Author records the constantly shifting political alliances that make up this story.

 The King of California  

The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire

Mark Arax
Perseus Publ., 2003, 560 pp.

Chronicles the little-known story of the rise of a cotton baron in 1920s California. Labor and water rights are explored.

 The Los Angeles River



The Los Angeles River: It's Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth

Blake Grumprecht
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, 380pp.

An exhaustive and lively investigation of the river that helped give birth to one of the world’s great cities and shaped its development, the historical exploitation and transformation of the Los Angeles River is presented, using fascinating historical photos. In recent years, there has been growing interest in revitalizing its course, part of a worldwide movement to revive urban rivers.

Reluctant Metropolis  

The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles

William B. Fulton
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, 416pp.

Chronicles the history of urban planning in Los Angeles. Looks at diverse topics such as shady real estate speculations, construction of the L.A. subway, future of South Central L.A. after the 1992 riots, and the emergence of Las Vegas as the new Los Angeles. Offers a fresh perspective on urban sprawl.

The World's Water 2000-2001

The World's Water 2000-2001: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources

Peter H. Gleick
Island Press, 2000, 300pp.

A report on the state of the world’s water, debates surrounding it, and the technology that could help with some of the troubling problems. This is a reference source of use to water resource professionals in government and nongovernmental organizations, researchers, students, and concerned citizens.

Three Miles

Three Magical Miles: An Appreciation of the Past & Present of Malibou Lake & Vicinity

Brian Rooney
Cornell Preservation Organization, 2003, 102 pp.

Highlights a small circle of local area surrounding Malibou Lake in Los Angeles County. History of the area, how it was settled, used for recreation, featured in movies and television are discussed. Through it all, the community has remained tranquil and unspoiled.

Water for Gotham

Water for Gotham

Gerard Koeppel
Princeton Univ. Press, 2000, 355 pp.

New York City's evolution as a great city involves its struggle for clean water. History of growth, facilities constructed, people who made it happen are discussed. Archival photographs, primary sources, personal narratives and anecdotes combine to make this book a valuable reminder of how much vision and fortitude are required to make a city great.

Water: A Natural History

Water: A Natural History

Alice Outwater
Basic Books, 1997, 212pp.

Step by step the author presents a history of America's water systems from European settlers to modern technology.   The method of cleaning the water to reduce pollution are discussed as well as the natural systems.

Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

Marq de Villiers
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000, 352pp.

Offers a global look at water, with special focus on the Aral Sea, the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Includes topics like water in history, desertification, effect of climate change on rainfall and water tables, the effect of pollution on global water supply, water shortage and social collapse, and more.

WATER - National Geographic

Water: The power, promise and turmoil of North America's fresh water

National Geographic
National Geographic, 1993, 120pp

Special edition, devoted exclusively to the subject of fresh water, our use and abuse of it, our potential supply and our prospects for the future.


Watersheds: A Practical Handbook for Healthy Water

Clive Dobson & Gregor Gilpin Beck
Firefly Books, Limited, 1999, 160pp.

Covers a wide range of watershed-related issues in a reader-friendly style. Watersheds are the systems that hold the planet’s water. An excellent primer on ecology, with illustrations and simply text. 

What the River Reveals

What the River Reveals: Understanding and Restoring Healthy Watersheds

Valerie Rapp
The Mountaineers Books, 1997, 208pp.

Written in an informative and entertaining style, this book explores the Pacific Northwest’s rivers and watersheds as it explains the state of crisis and healthy solutions. Includes descriptive text on how watersheds work, how rivers interact with their surroundings, and how man has changed that interaction in the last 100-200 years.

When the Rivers Run Dry

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – the Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century

Fred Pearce
Beacon Press Publ., 2006, 336pp.

After researching more than thirty countries, the author presents a portrait of the growing world water crisis. Included are stories of failing rivers, barren fields, and water wars. The author offers a solution that focuses on more efficient means to manage water and a new water ethic based on maximum social benefit.

Wild L.A.

Wild L.A.: A Celebration of the Natural Areas in and Around the City

James Lawrence
Sierra Club Books, 2003, 192 pp

Combining inspirational photos with thought-provoking text, the author presents local treasures anyone in the Los Angeles area can visit. Wild preserves, parks and wilderness areas are within 90-minute drive from downtown L.A. Photographs by some of the West's leading photographers complements the text.

William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

Catherine Mulholland
Univ. of California Press, 2002, 432 pp.

The story of Los Angeles' quest for water is both famous and notorious. This biography by William Mulholland's granddaughter sheds light on the history of L.A. and its relationship with its most prized resource: water.