THREE decades ago this newspaper published a series of articles on America's natural resources titled "Air, Earth, and Water."
Consultation with many experts produced a reassuring answer to the question: Is there enough water for the future? Yes, said the experts, but they warned of the consequences of unwise exploitation.
Today's Monitor features a section on worldwide water use that indicates too little attention to this warning, both by the United States and the rest of the world. In those 30 years, much has been learned about protection of the world's water resources, and much of that knowledge has been put to good use - but not enough of it.
Steps that could have averted water problems around the world, ranging from disturbing to catastrophic, have not been taken. Some of the crisis points: The turning of the former Soviet Union's Aral Sea into a veritable desert through unwise agricultural policy; the destruction of forests in third-world areas, resulting in manmade deserts; short-sighted pollution of watersheds, rivers, lakes, and seas; stream pollution that has destroyed rich fisheries and made recreational use hazardous.
These are not unavoidable consequences of modern, industrial societies. Fortunately, there are "role models" for water conservation and purification. Techniques discussed in articles in today's special report have been proved workable. We can have our water and use it, too.
But there are costs. Some involve simply the expenditure of capital and labor. Some require the changing of ingrained water-use habits and - yes - the prohibition of certain activities. The inhabitants of planet Earth will have to change some cherished habits if they want to leave a habitable environment for their heirs.
Today's special section calls attention to many of the situations demanding attention now, and explores various recommendations for handling them.
The need for careful, cooperative planning on the local, state (where applicable), national, and international levels is clearly essential if the planet is to avoid greater deterioration of this basic resource in the future. The world cannot wait another 30 years for concerted action.