The Marsh Builders: The Fight for Clean Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Author:
Sharon Levy
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Category:
Environment

This book appeared in Advance Copy, a column in which NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here. Publication of NASW members’ reports in Advance Copy does not indicate NASW’s endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments, and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions. To join the discussion or submit your book, visit Advance Copy.

Swamps and marshes once covered vast stretches of the North American landscape. The destruction of these habitats, long seen as wastelands that harbored deadly disease, accelerated in the twentieth century. Today, the majority of the original wetlands in the US have vanished, transformed into farm fields or buried under city streets.

In The Marsh Builders, Sharon Levy delves into the intertwined histories of wetlands loss and water pollution. The book's springboard is the tale of a years-long citizen uprising in Humboldt County, California, which led to the creation of one of the first U.S. wetlands designed to treat city sewage. The book explores the global roots of this local story: the cholera epidemics that plagued nineteenth-century Europe; the researchers who invented modern sewage treatment after bumbling across the insight that microbes break down pollutants in water; the discovery that wetlands act as efficient filters for the pollutants unleashed by modern humanity.

More than forty years after the passage of the Clean Water Act launched a nation-wide effort to rescue lakes, rivers and estuaries fouled with human and industrial waste, the need for revived wetlands is more urgent than ever. Waters from Lake Erie and Chesapeake Bay to China's Lake Taihu are tainted with an overload of nutrients carried in runoff from farms and cities, creating underwater dead zones and triggering algal blooms that release toxins into drinking water sources used by millions of people. As the planet warms, scientists are beginning to design wetlands that can shield coastal cities from rising seas. Revived wetlands hold great promise for healing the world's waters.