Lesson 5: Water - favorite bits, plus books about water

We were traveling for the first time since the pandemic so I have some catching up to do! We visited family in Rochester, NY, which is mostly pancake flat, but I ran up to the reservoir on Cobbs Hill (193 m), one of the highest landmarks in the area. As a Mountains 101 student, of course I had to find out more - it’s one of the Pinnacle Hills, a kame-moraine formation.

I coordinate a book group where we focus on nature and environment titles. We read a book about water each year, because it’s such an inexhaustible and fascinating topic, woven into every aspect of our world. Much of this week was familiar-but-enjoyable to me. I did learn (or re-learn) about:

  • frontal rainfall vs convective storms
  • diurnal flow from glaciers - so they are buffers against rapid change, like wetlands, which we degrade or discount at our peril!
  • Interesting terms: rock flour, trunk valley, legacy pollutants

The water books for a general audience that my group has read so far are:

  • When the Rivers Run Dry : Water, the Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century by Fred Pearce (2006)
  • The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water - Charles Fishman (2011) - my favorite so far
  • Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World - Judith D. Schwartz (2016)
  • reading later this year: Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity - Sandra Postel (2017)

I’d love recommendations if anyone has some!


I really enjoyed Alok Jha’s The Water Book. You can read a review of it here


Personally, I think one of the long-lasting impacts this course will have on me is a newfound appreciation for aspects of nature I’d overlook before: for instance, now, I pay more attention to tree lines. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Some of my favorite bits about water from Lesson 5:

  • Catskill Mountains restoration (in 5.1): “The Catskill Mountains of the eastern United States, forests that provided purified water for the people in New York City were cut down through the 1800s to expand agricultural and urban areas. Combined with increased agricultural pollution and sewage, the removal of trees greatly deteriorated the quality of water available to New Yorkers, so the city was forced to investigate ways to fix the problem. They discovered that the estimated costs of installing a water filtration plant as a substitute for the natural ecosystem service was between six and eight billion dollars. Instead, they decided a much better long term solution was to purchase land and restore the free natural ecosystem service.”
  • Albedo: I didn’t know there was a technical term for quantifying sun reflection on snow. It’s a goody!
  • Water over the seasons — including the contribution of rain, snow, and glaciers in different seasons.
  • Legacy pollutants — past errors preserved in ice and coming coming back to haunt us!

Not sure it’s relevance (or exactly how legitimate in all honesty) but reading “pancake flat” brings to mind this piece I came across a while back. It’s at the least an entertaining bit.

Can earth be as flat as a pancake? A study of if Kansas is as flat as a pancake. I was surprised at the conclusion!



I’ve never awared of Legacy Pollutants in the glaciers until learning this lesson.Wow! Everything’s connected.