Precious Commodity

Providing Water for America's Cities

"Precious Commodity is cutting-edge environmental history. In it, Melosi asks an essential question—who determines the control and distribution of water? His sharp insights into the interlocking relationship between public and private ownership and the impact this has had on resource allocation across time and place demonstrate how difficult it will be to achieve a sustainable water future."
Char Miller, Pomona College

As an essential resource, water has been the object of warfare, political wrangling, and individual and corporate abuse. It has also become an object of commodification, with multinational corporations vying for water supply contracts in many countries. In Precious Commodity, Martin V. Melosi examines water resources in the United States and addresses whether access to water is an inalienable right of citizens, and if government is responsible for its distribution as a public good. Melosi provides historical background on the construction, administration, and adaptability of water supply and wastewater systems in urban America. He cites budgetary constraints and the deterioration of existing water infrastructures as factors leading many municipalities to seriously consider the privatization of their water supply. Melosi also views the role of government in the management of, development of, and legal jurisdiction over AmericaÆs rivers and waterways for hydroelectric power, flood control, irrigation, and transportation access. Looking to the future, he compares the costs and benefits of public versus private water supply, examining the global movement toward privatization.

about the author

Martin V. Melosi

Martin V. Melosi is Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen University Professor and founding director of the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. Melosi received the Distinguished Research Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH), and the Esther Farfel Award from the University of Houston. He has served as president of the ASEH, the National Council on Public History, the Public Works Historical Society, and the Urban History Association. Melosi has written or edited nineteen books, including the award-winning The Sanitary City, and most recently, Atomic Age America.

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Martin V. Melosi