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Chris Wood's Water World

'Dry Spring' author on his tie to water, and his fluid search for solutions.

By Tom Barrett 11 Jun 2008 |

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor to The Tyee.

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Chris Wood: practical solutions.

Chris Wood isn't afraid to tip over sacred cows. His new book, Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, calls for something that is unthinkable to Canadian nationalists -- the buying and selling of water to the United States.

Yesterday in the Tyee, Wood evaluated the Campbell government's new water policy. Beginning today, The Tyee is publishing two substantial excerpts from Dry Spring. In them Wood argues that, despite aqua-nationalists' claims, the U.S. isn't about to hijack Canada's water. And, he argues, "lobbyists who oppose allowing markets to operate for water are not saving the environment, but instead are setting it on a path to destruction."

The Tyee is proud to publish these excerpts, which follow upon work that Wood did in 2006 as one of the first winners of a Tyee Fellowship Fund for Investigative and Solutions-oriented Reporting.

His series, Rough Weather Ahead, looked at how global warming will affect B.C. It revealed how communities along the lower Fraser River are at risk due to inadequate dikes and early warning system cutbacks.

In Dry Spring, Wood looks at water shortages and the threat they pose to some of the fastest-growing regions of North America.

Extreme weather -- droughts and massive rainstorms -- will devastate communities around North America in the coming quarter-century. Wood goes to the places that will get less water and those that will get more water and examines ways to deal with the coming crisis.

A life spent near water

A former Maclean's editor and correspondent, Wood lives in the Cowichan Valley, where he is active in local efforts to achieve a more sustainable community.

He has written for many publications, including The Globe and Mail, The Financial Post, The Walrus and The Tyee. He won two Gold National Magazine Awards for his work on water, co-authored Blockbusters and Trade Wars (shortlisted for the Donner Prize) and, with Beverley Wood, wrote the Sirius Mystery teen books, including The Golden Boy and DogStar.

In a short essay that accompanies the launch of Dry Spring, Wood talks about how he has lived close to water for most of his life.

"In my childhood, the sound of water rushing over the Niagara Escarpment to dash against mossy boulders at the foot of Webster's Falls filtered through the leaves outside my open bedroom window," he writes.

"I spent the glorious summers of my teens in the blue labyrinth of islands where Georgian Bay splashes ashore on northeastern Ontario. Later again, when I first began pounding out words on a manual typewriter for a living, I could sometimes hear the thump of storm waves off the Bay of Fundy battering the red cliffs at the foot of our property.

"For most of the techno-frenzied '90s, I joked about living 'slightly offshore,' because my homes in those years were literally afloat, aboard boats of varying degrees of comfort but with one thing in common: as each wave and gust rocked the floor under your feet, you felt very much a part of nature."

The next big thing

In the early years of this decade, Wood says, he began looking for "the biggest next story that no one else at the time seemed to be writing."

He became intrigued by climate change.

"A report crossed my desk explaining how a small shift of mountain temperatures would eliminate the winter snow that lingers to provide summer water to a third of humanity. At about the same time, a spring flight over the Rocky Mountains revealed their peaks, normally blanketed in snow at that season, to be brown and bare.

"That was when I knew I had to write Dry Spring."

His reporting took him "to the deck of a foreign freighter transiting the Great Lakes at Sault Ste. Marie, the dry bed of the drained Colorado River south of the Mexico border and the drenched foothills where a century-old ditch recalls a long forgotten standoff between Canada and the United States over water.

"Scores of personal interviews, and thousands of secondary sources support the argument."

Wood says the title is a play on Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and on "the idea of a welling spring going dry; the season of showers being cloudless; and the paradoxical extremes of drought and flood that increasingly characterize the weather."

In the book, Wood strives to find practical solutions.

"Dry Spring is the book about what we in North American can do, indeed must do, right now to ensure that we survive and thrive in our changing habitat."