By Janet Lehr

Last August, McGraw-Hill published a 1,700 page desk reference titled “The Standard Handbook of Environmental Science, Health and Technology,” which my husband, Jay, and I edited. Somehow, during the process of our delivering the text to McGraw-Hill, an agent from John Wiley & Sons heard of our project and approached us with a proposal to assume editorship of their four-volume work, The Encyclopedia of Water. After a few days of reflection on the task at hand, we accepted the offer. We then had to write a proposal to John Wiley & Sons to sell it to their audience before we could begin work. This in itself was a good process because it made us focus on just how we would make this project a reality and who our readers would be.

In recent years, we’ve written books and taught short courses with nearly 300 water experts. It was these experts that we contacted first. We asked for their contribution to the water encyclopedia as well as their help in spreading the word around the world. We also contacted every major U.S. university that teaches water resources and we posted our project on every major water related newsgroup on the web. We’re building the encyclopedia on its own website ( and it’s our intent to utilize the full resources of the world’s leading water experts in development of the encyclopedia, much the same as the now widely popular computer operating system, LINUX, was developed by a large community of computer hobbyists. We believe the project will be a huge success if we triumph in casting the widest net over the world’s water resource community to gain the greatest cross section of talented experts to make significant contributions.

Seeking contributors
With this in mind, we’re also making an effort to reach graduate students at universities around the world that provide advanced degrees in water-related topics. While graduate students may lack years of experience, they are commonly on the cutting edge of their specialty areas and thrive in a true research mode. Therefore, we believe that many of them would be capable of making a contribution while enjoying the process, which could result in their first serious publication contribution listed on their résumé.

An outstanding precedent for the development of an information resource of this magnitude was established long ago by the editors of the first edition of The Oxford English Dictionary. Its development is chronicled in the recent non-fiction book Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester. Through now archaic communication methods, the community of English speaking scholars were contacted with a request to contribute words to the dictionary, now famous for its breadth and depth. It’s now available online at:

The Wiley Encyclopedia of Water website initially contains about 1,400 entries in its table of contents. Visitors to the website are invited to contribute articles fulfilling informational requirements suitable for the items on the published outline. They also are encouraged to suggest additional subjects, which they or others may address. An editorial board approves all such contributions. Jack Keeley, retired groundwater research chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office in Ada, Okla., is heading our editorial board and will slowly add other water experts over the next year.

No stone unturned
The intent of this book is to create a fully comprehensive depository of all information relating to the scientific and technological aspects of the world’s most important natural resource—water. When one enters the word “water” into’s search engine, over 3,500 titles come up, many of which don’t clearly explain what they’re about. If one enters the words “water supply” into, 637 titles come up, most of which split hairs of minutiae, leaving little substance per book. The role of water in science, engineering and society requires a one-stop location to find whatever information is available on the cutting edge of the 21st century, as well as the resource’s history.

Encyclopedias on a wide variety of technologies and scientific disciplines have existed for many decades. No one has attempted a real “encyclopedia of water.” A publication by that title was published most recently by Lewis Publishers in 1990; however, its 808 pages contained more of an eclectic collection of public domain tables and charts that didn’t contain a single narrative sentence. The Lewis book is utilized as a resource for useful public domain data; however, the focus of our Encyclopedia of Water will be to provide expert narrative on all water-related subjects.

We anticipate on having more than 2,000 subject headings in the encyclopedia, which will likely utilize up to four volumes of 1,000 pages each. The goal will be to complete the compilation of material within 2-1/2 years and make the four-volume encyclopedia set available to every major library in the English speaking world. The publisher expects to initially print 1,000 copies. We anticipate John Wiley & Sons will make the encyclopedia available on the Internet on a fee basis as well as CD-ROM.

Experts in all fields
All contributions to the encyclopedia will be written by scientists, academia and professionals in the water treatment industry with established expertise in the particular fields they address. Most topics will be prepared as short digestible entries much like Wiley’s Encyclopedia of Molecular Biology, making it easy for users to find the required information quickly, without the need to search through long articles. Some subjects, however, will be treated at considerable length. Shorter items will be cross-referenced with all related longer pieces contained therein. This cross-referencing will enable the reader to get as much information as needed at the desired level of detail.

Potential contributors are required to post brief summary résumés in a special section of the Wiley Water Encyclopedia website, as well as a short list of their major water related publications before receiving clearance to work on an encyclopedia contribution. Upon that approval and the subsequent completion of their contribution, it will be posted on a special section of the website where it will be peer reviewed by the editor and others before being officially accepted and entered into the encyclopedia.

Compensation for contributors will consist of a byline in the encyclopedia and a listing in promotional literature. Additionally, contributors would receive honoraria of $100 toward the purchase of Wiley books for each accepted entry.

We urge all readers of WC&P to pass this information to their colleagues and visit our website where you can become contributors to a truly monumental work on collective water information of the 21st century. The deadline for contributions for possible inclusion is November 2003. The project is scheduled for completion by December 2004.

About the author
Janet Lehr is president of Environmental Education Enterprises Inc. She is working on the Water Encyclopedia, a project of John Wiley & Sons publishers, as an editor. She can be reached at (740) 368-9393, (740) 368-9494 (fax) or email: [email protected].


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