UH prof studies water history
In the face of ever increasing populations, urbanization and pollution, UH history professor Martin Melosi is researching how these factors affect the demand for clean, accessible water in urban environments.
Melosi, who is considered one of the fathers of urban environmental history by his peers, is using his research to introduce cities and urban areas into environmental discussions. He said cities should be viewed as ecosystems with a physical, biological and social structure.
“Cities are subject to weather, to the activity of living organisms from bacteria to humans,” Melosi said.
“Such a setting has a biological and physical logic much like any comparable ecosystem.”
Melosi pulls from 40 years of research including the use of federal, state and local government records.
“There are concerns for fresh water in the United States as demand for water has tripled and the population doubled,” Melosi said in a press release.
“Fresh water is a finite resource with demand on the rise and higher prices to follow.”
Melosi compiled his research into a book, “Precious Commodity: Providing Water for America’s Cities,” which contains a collection of essays dealing with water use and management and devotes a chapter to Houston’s Buffalo Bayou and public sinks.
“In all cases a central issue (of the book) is: Who controls that fresh water?” Melosi said.
“The essays speak essentially to public and private means of control and regulation, mostly in the US, but also internationally especially in terms of the recent movement to privatize water supply systems.”
“Precious Commodity” also discusses the wide variety of uses of water such as damming rivers, navigation, bathing, cooking, etc.
“There is enough fresh water on the planet for six billion people, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed,” Melosi said in a press release.
“Every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.”
Melosi first became interested in environmental causes while in graduate school at the University of Montana.
However, he wasn’t truly devoted to studying water and its importance in urban environments until he was working on his doctorate at the University of Texas, when he wrote a paper on solid waste problems in 19th century cities.
“This was in 1972, very early for courses of this kind. That curious paper led me to think more broadly about the urban environment and got me to examine a range of sanitary services and health problems in cities,” Melosi said.
“From there I studied a variety of pollution problems that led me to water issues, among others.”