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Southern Water, Southern Power

May 19, 2016

I am not one to toot my own horn.  Unless, perhaps we are talking about my family.  As some of my readers know, I have children.  I also wrote a book, and it’s not uncommon for authors to say the process of writing a book is like raising a child.

There is some truth to that: children and manuscripts need love, shelter, money, and time to mature.

The process of writing Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015) took about ten years and a lot of resources.  And love.

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Over the past year, a number of generous readers have reviewed the book. I did not solicit the reviews.  I invite you to read them.  They all offer accurate summaries and fair critiques of Southern Water, Southern Power:

In particular I direct you to the H-Environment Roundtable Review.  Not because this was a glowing review and the others put me in my place.  I recommend the Roundtable because it is a unique review: four readers from different disciplines read my book, and then I got to respond to the reviewers.

My response blends my training as a historian and my vocation as an advocate.  I wanted to put contemporary water supply and quality issues, and the actions of Georgians, in context:

“Failure to protect the most basic resource—drinking water—in the United States in the twenty-first century is really hard for me to get my head around.  But, after my four-year tenure in government affairs, very little is shocking.  Most Georgia legislators rely on well-funded and connected corporate lobbyists for information, campaign funding, and help making decisions.  Like legislators all over the country, that means they don’t have paid staff to help them learn about the issues.  Add a conservative political ideology that has worked for decades to make ‘government’ smaller and defund agencies with critical functions, and then the state of affairs in Georgia, Michigan, and across the country makes some sense.  In my neck of the woods, there has been a slight shift.  Many of the same forces responsible for creating this political climate are becoming victims.  Folks who wanted to make government small enough to drown it in a bathtub (to paraphrase Grover Norquist) probably never stopped to think the tub might also be filled with toxic water that did no one—taxpaying neighbors, constituents, business interests, farmers—any good.” [Manganiello, ‘Southern Water, Southern Power,’ Roundtable Review (2016), H-Environment and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online]

I go on to describe some of the more egregious examples: King America Finishing’s fouling of the Ogeechee River (which is recovering).  Rayonier and the Altamaha River.  Duke Energy and coal ash in the Carolinas.  And I point out that the public has steadily lost trust in the state environmental agencies charged with protecting southern air, water, and land.

Despite the challenges, there is essentially one thing that makes conservationists, environmentalists, and ‘green conservatives’ successful in Georgia: they work together in their watersheds because clean water matters.  We practice a version of “watershed democracy” that works because we recognize our collective needs and harness our strength.  We all need clean water for drinking.  Clean groundwater adds value to our properties and communities.  And clean water makes our recreational pursuits—from fishing to floating—possible.

The next time you raise a glass, raise it to watershed democracy.

-Chris Manganiello

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