Former UMES Professor Talks About the World's Water Woes

  • Thursday, September 30, 2010

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (Sept. 30, 2010) Dr. Jack Wennersten returned to his professional roots this week when he challenged University of Maryland Eastern Shore students, who attended his guest lectures, to think of water as an irreplaceable resource.

    Wennersten is writing a book about the topic, adding to those about the environment already on his resume: "Chesapeake Bay: An Environmental Biography" and "Oyster Wars of the Chesapeake."

    "Dr. Wennersten's 'Oyster Wars' has been a favorite read of mine for several decades now," said Mike Bilek, Director, Maryland Tributary Strategies Program at the state Department of Natural Resources.

    "Oyster Wars," Wennersten notes, is still in print 30 years after he wrote it. It was reissued in paperback in 2007.

    Wennersten taught history at UMES from 1972 until his retirement in 1996.  At a reception following his guest lectures, he said "who would have thought I'd go on to another life as a writer." He has authored six books, including the popular "25 Bicycle Tours on Delmarva: Cycling the Chesapeake Bay Country."

    In retirement, Wennersten has traveled widely. Less-developed nations and primitive cultures value water preservation, he said.  A recent trip to India inspired Wennersten to look critically at water as a limited resource most people around the world take for granted. He saw a populous country reliant on a shrinking amount of potable water.

    "Where are they going to get the water to support this booming country?" he said.  "We can take lessons from countries still using antique water systems … because they work." 

    Wennersten predicted his new book may not be popular or a best-seller because it won't offer a hopeful message.  "We need some reality books - 'this is the way the world is today' and these are the options," he said.

    The recent Gulf of Mexico oil-spill and debate about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay inspired Wennersten to accept UMES' invitation to return to campus.

    "Dr. Wennersten had the students riveted when he described the presence of our medicines in our water supply.  He figured out how to communicate how the medicine we take...comes out into our water supply.  He used a great word--new to most of us--effluvia," Dr. Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, associate professor of social sciences at UMES said, adding, "Students appreciated his gritty realism as he warned of the water problems which face us, really soon!"

     "We don't miss water until a well is dry, or it is gone, or it is polluted," Wennersten said.  "We're going to have a major catastrophe world-wide with water, or the lack of it, if we don't wake up and realize where we are headed." 

    Wennersten lives in Washington, but maintains emotional ties to Delmarva. The region, he says, faces uncertainty as growth and development threaten to transform "Chesapeake society as a settled community of farmers and watermen and quiet country towns