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Robert Glennon is the author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It; Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters; and Shopping for Water: How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West.

Books By Robert Glennon

UNQUENCHABLE: America’s Water Crisis And What To Do About It image

UNQUENCHABLE: America’s Water Crisis And What To Do About It

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Deep in the Mojave Desert sits Las Vegas.  In Sin City, a torrent of water flows freely in massive fountains, pirate lagoons, wave machines, and casinos.  Meanwhile, across the country in places that are not particularly dry or hot, communities, farmers, and factories are struggling to find water, and even running out altogether.  America’s self-inflicted water crisis is spreading, and more quickly than you might think.

In a book that is both frightening and wickedly funny, acclaimed author Robert Glennon captures the tragedy–and irony–of water in America.  From the Vegas Strip to faux snow in Atlanta, from our supersized bathrooms to mega-farms, from billion-dollar water deals to big time politics and personalities, Unquenchable tells the shocking stories of extravagances and waste that are sucking the nation dry.

Our water woes will only grow with new demands for this forgotten resource.  Take Washington’s love affair with biofuels: it will turn to heartbreak once America realizes that thousands of gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of fuel.

Glennon argues that we cannot engineer our way out of the problem with the usual fixes or the zany, but very real, schemes to tow icebergs from Alaska or divert the Mississippi River to Nevada.  America must make hard choices–and Glennon’s answer is a provocative market-based system that values water as a commodity and a fundamental human right.

Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping And The Fate Of America’s Fresh Waters image

Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping And The Fate Of America’s Fresh Waters

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The Santa Cruz River that once flowed through Tucson, Arizona is today a sad mirage of a river. Except for brief periods following heavy rainfall, it is bone dry. The cottonwood and willow trees that once lined its banks have died, and the profusion of birds and wildlife recorded by early settlers are nowhere to be seen. The river is dead. What happened? Where did the water go?

As Robert Glennon explains in Water Follies, what killed the Santa Cruz River—and could devastate other surface waters across the United States—was groundwater pumping. From 1940 to 2000, the volume of water drawn annually from underground aquifers in Tucson jumped more than six-fold, from 50,000 to 330,000 acre-feet per year. And Tucson is hardly an exception—similar increases in groundwater pumping have occurred across the country and around the world. In a striking collection of stories that bring to life the human and natural consequences of our growing national thirst, Glennon provides an occasionally wry and always fascinating account of groundwater pumping and the environmental problems it causes.

Glennon sketches the culture of water use in the United States, explaining how and why we are growing increasingly reliant on groundwater. He uses the examples of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers in Arizona to illustrate the science of hydrology and the legal aspects of water use and conflicts. Following that, he offers a dozen stories—ranging from Down East Maine to San Antonio’s River Walk to Atlanta’s burgeoning suburbs—that clearly illustrate the array of problems caused by groundwater pumping. Each episode poses a conflict of values that reveals the complexity of how and why we use water. These poignant and sometimes perverse tales tell of human foibles including greed, stubbornness, and, especially, the unlimited human capacity to ignore reality.

As he explores the folly of our actions and the laws governing them, Glennon suggests common-sense legal and policy reforms that could help avert potentially catastrophic future effects. Water Follies brings to life the human and natural consequences of our growing national thirst.  Glennon suggets common-sense legal and policy reforms that would address the most egregious situations and help minimize potentially catastrophic future effects.

Shopping for Water: How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West image

Shopping for Water: How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West

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The American West has a long tradition of conflict over water. But after fifteen years of drought across the region, it is no longer simply conflict: it is crisis. In the face of unprecedented declines in reservoir storage and groundwater reserves throughout the West, Shopping for Water focuses on a set of policies that could contribute to a lasting solution: using market forces to facilitate the movement of water resources and to mitigate the risk of water shortages.

Shopping for Water begins by reviewing key dimensions of this problem: the challenges of population and economic growth, the environmental stresses from overuse of common water resources, the risk of increasing water-supply volatility, and the historical disjunction that has developed between and among rural and urban water users regarding the amount we consume and the price we pay for water. The authors then turn to five proposals to encourage the broader establishment and use of market institutions to encourage reallocation of water resources and to provide new tools for risk mitigation. Each of the five proposals offers a means of building resilience into our water management systems.

Recent articles from Robert Glennon

Human actions created the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake – here’s how to save it from collapse, protecting wild birds and human health – Robert Glennon and Brent M. Haddad

The Conversation
January 10, 2023
The Salton Sea spreads across a remote valley in California’s lower Colorado Desert, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the Mexican border. For birds migrating along the Pacific coast, it’s an avian Grand Central Station. In midwinter tens of thousands of snow…

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Arizona thinks ocean desalination will bring it the water it needs. It won’t – Robert Glennon and Brent M. Haddad

December 4, 2022
Opinion: There are far cheaper and more secure options to find new water for Arizona than desalinating ocean water from the Sea of Cortez. The allure of seawater desalination seems irresistible. All that ocean water just waiting to have the…

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Salton Sea’s fate is dependent upon the Imperial Irrigation District – Robert Glennon and Brent M. Haddad

Desert Sun
December 3, 2022
On Sept. 30 the Independent Review Panel set up by California’s Salton Sea Management Program issued its final report. SSMP charged the panel with evaluating proposals to import water to the Salton Sea. In the end, the panel did not…

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Book Reviews

Kingfisher Bookstore, Whidbey Island, Washington


“Unquenchable” review – Open Channel by David LaFrance, Journal AWWA, April 2011.

“Unquenchable” –

“Unquenchable” review – Jackson’s Blog, September 18, 2010.

“Unquenchable” review – Public Intelligence Blog, August 29, 2010.

“Unquenchable Crisis” – Reality Sandwich, July 20, 2010.

“Unquenchable: The Good, Bad and Ugly Facts About Water Consumption in America” –, June 15, 2010

The Independent Institute, The Independent Review, Spring 2010

“Water Shortages Are Avoidable, Book Argues” – The Heartland Institute, February 1, 2010

“Robert Glennon Wants You to Flush Less” – Arizona Attorney, February 2010

“Water Woes” – Issues in Science and Technology Online, January 12, 2010

Mother Nature Network Top 10 Environmental Books of 2009, January 12, 2010

“Desiccated Nation: Water Crisis, Resuscitation, and Survival in the United States” – Humanities and Social Sciences Net, December, 2009

“Faith and Personal Responsibility” – The Dakota Voice, December 24, 2009

“Killing the Thirst” – The Texas Observer, November 13, 2009

“On the Bookshelf” – Headwaters News, Western Perspective, Insight & Analysis – September 10, 2009

“Low on H2O: Can We Slake the Nation’s Thirst for Water?” – Environmental Law Institute, The Environmental Forum – Sept./Oct. 2009
Review: Low on H20 (PDF)

“One Book One Week One Year” blog – August 22, 2009

American Water Resources Association, Water Resources Blog, July 17, 2009

“WaterWired,” Michael Campana, hydrogeologist and Professor of Geosciences, Oregon State University, July 17, 2009.

“Hustle and Flow” – Audubon, July-August 2009

“Pissing Away Our Future” – The New York Review of Ideas, June 2009.

“Water Crisis” – The Water Report, June 15, 2009 – “The Water Report” (pdf).

Tucson Audubon Society, “Vermillion Flycatcher” May/June 2009 (pdf).

Water Desalination Report – May 18, 2009
“Water Desalination Report” (pdf).

Oregon State University – “H2OSU” newsletter, May 18, 2009

Water Follies

Aguanomics:  Water Follies, The Review, September 27, 2011.

Published Comments:
“[I]f you want to scare yourself silly, read Water Follies, by Robert Glennon.  In it you’ll learn how America is irrigating itself to death–just like the Sumerians–while sucking its groundwater aquifers dry.”
Margaret AtwoodToronto Globe & Mail

“…a book as rich in detail as it is devastating in its argument.”
Scientific American

Water Follies deserves a place alongside the late Marc Reisner’s classic Cadillac Desert.”

“Glennon offers a dozen examples from around the country, each chapter a gem that moves the story beyond the arcane world of water law, politics, and the physics of centrifugal pumps–and frequently takes it straight to the reader’s stomach…But the book is just as much about the search for solutions, and Glennon rounds it out with a battery of thought-provoking suggestions about what we might do differently in the future–instead of just turning to a bigger pump.”
High Country News

“His breezy style renders the subject far less arcane and technical than it might sound…[A]n array of informative stories that should contribute to shaking us out of what Glennon calls ‘the unlimited human capacity to ignore reality.’”
The Washington Post

“Regardless of one’s political or environmental leanings, this book is a wake-up call that all citizens will ignore at their own risk.”
The Oklahoma Observer

“To … Glennon, the names Perrier and Poland pack a fearful punch, for they and the other huge producers of bottled water are feeding a craze that puts the environment on the brink of disaster.”
Publishers Weekly

“…a lively account of hydrology…”
Bill McKibbenNew York Review of Books

“The deleterious effects that supersize portions pose to human health have been well documented.  Now to the list of obesity, heart disease, and bad skin we can add a new evil: wasted water…Water Follies…shows how each revolution in fry uniformity has come at an ecological cost.”
Mother Jones