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Blog Posts: Tap water

October 31st, 2014

Water Markets: A False Solution to a Real Crisis

Water_Protest_VolunteersPutting a public resource in the hands of the wealthy will not solve California’s water crisis

By Mitch Jones

If we have learned anything from the water shut-offs in Detroit and the ongoing water crisis in the Western U.S., it is that every community deserves access to safe and reliable water, regardless of its ability to pay. Yet a new movement is afoot to transfer control of our water to new water markets. Despite the evidence privatizing water doesn’t work, water privatization and market-based schemes are still being pushed upon the public as a solution. Specifically, we are seeing the idea of water markets gain attention, especially in response to the Western drought.

While not a new idea, the widespread use of water markets, which represents the financialization of all of our common resources, is relatively new. They are a false solution that assigns the benefits of our investment in this common resource to a small few at the expense of everyone else, and do little to ensure adequate supply to anyone.

We know that large financial institutions dream of water markets. In fact, Willem Buiter, Chief Economist at Citigroup, has written of his desire to see a global water market: “I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps — both exchange-traded and OTC will follow…. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Read the full article…

August 18th, 2014

The Toledo Water Crisis Won’t Be the Last

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Algae_Blooms_Blog_ThumbThe recent water crisis in Toledo, Ohio is not an isolated incident, and it won’t be the last. As the annual and increasingly severe algae blooms hit Lake Erie this year, levels of the toxin mycrocystin reached such high levels that the City of Toledo ordered a tap water ban because the toxin can cause diarrhea, vomiting or impaired liver function. Residents were ordered not to drink the water or use it for cooking, brushing their teeth or pets. Children and people with compromised immune systems were even warned not to bathe with the water.

Caused by large amounts of phosphorus runoff from excessive fertilizer application on farms, manure from livestock feeding operations and aging wastewater infrastructure, the algae blooms in Lake Erie are nothing new. In fact, water contamination from industrial agriculture and wastewater discharge has repeatedly been a detriment to public waterways and sources of drinking water, causing previous contamination crises.

In 1997, outbreaks of Pfiesteria, a toxic algae, contaminated the Chesapeake Bay, Pocomoke River, Rappahannock River and other waterways of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Excessive nutrient run-off from the high concentration of chicken farms in the region, contracted by companies like Tyson, caused algae blooms and the subsequent spread of Pfiesteria. The outbreak resulted in large fish kills, with thousands of fish dying and showing signs of contamination like sores, ulcerous holes and whole chunks of fins missing. Public health effects also materialized, with several people experiencing neurological problems like short-term memory loss.

In the early 2000s, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma faced water contamination from excess phosphorus runoff caused by land application of poultry litter and wastewater discharges. The runoff polluted Lake Eucha and Lake Spavinaw, which supplied drinking water to about half of the city’s 500,000 residents at the time of the incident, causing algae blooms and “foul-smelling and bitter tasting water.” As a result, the city faced substantial treatment costs from the runoff contamination and eventually brought suit against poultry industry companies like Tyson Foods, among others, as well as the city of Decatur, Arkansas for wastewater discharges.

Similarly, Des Moines, Iowa experienced historically high nitrate levels beginning in May 2013, caused by runoff from excessive fertilizer use in agricultural production. The nitrate levels reached as high as 24 milligrams per liter (mg/l), far above the accepted safe level of 10 mg/l. Des Moines Water Works, the municipal water utility for the city and surrounding communities, had to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility at a cost of $7,000 per day to keep nitrates at levels safe for consumption. This ended up costing consumers over $525,000. Left untreated, high levels of nitrates also pose the risk of Blue Baby Syndrome to infants six months old and younger — nitrates can reduce the ability of infant’s blood to carry oxygen, leading to death.

In other cases municipal water supplies have been contaminated with E. coli and other harmful contaminants due to runoff from factory farms and wastewater discharge into our public waterways. In 2000, Canada experienced one of its worst water contamination crises ever when the water supply for Walkerton, Ontario was contaminated with E. coli from nearby farm runoff. Seven people died from the outbreak and more than 2,300 became ill with symptoms like bloody diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections and other symptoms common with E. coli infections.

In a less severe but still serious case, residents of Morrison, Wisconsin also faced drinking water contamination from factory farm and other agricultural runoff. According to the New York Times, in 2009 more than 100 wells used for drinking water had become contaminated with E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants commonly found in manure, due largely to runoff from nearby dairy farms or fields covered with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage. Residents suffered chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

These incidents might leave you wondering why we haven’t learned from the past and prevented future crises. The fact is, it’s well known that runaway fertilizer use, excessive nutrient runoff from factory farms and devil-may-care wastewater discharges from other polluters are responsible for the ongoing occurrence of these water crises. Instead, actors on all sides have knowingly ignored or tried to side-step directly addressing the issue with sub-par policies, largely because of undue influence from industry lobbies and special interests that stand behind those guilty of polluting our waterways.

Despite having policy tools like the Clean Water Act (CWA) that initially provided strong protections for our public waterways, it has since been weakened and little has changed. Industrial agriculture continues to be the highest source of pollution in many of our waterways and simultaneously these polluters remain some of the least regulated and continue to discharge pollution with impunity.

To make matters worse, the proposed solution to this has been to allow water quality trading as a way to comply with the CWA. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a giant step away from the public trust approach of the CWA when they created a plan that gives polluters the option to buy the right to pollute our waterways. The EPA is allowing polluters like coal-fired power plants to purchase “credits” from other polluters, like industrial agriculture, in lieu of controlling their discharges.

Until public and environmental health is put before industrial agriculture and other polluters’ interests, we stand to face more of the same crises at the cost to consumers. How do we go about changing this? First, water quality trading cannot stand as an option. It is a false solution and to date there is not one documented case of its success. Second, runoff from industrial agriculture must be regulated. Full stop. In 1977, amendments to the CWA set a strong and simple standard that polluting is illegal, and that the national goal is zero discharge of pollution into our public waterways. Our rivers, lakes and estuaries do not exist as dumping grounds for the pollution that comes from irresponsible and unsustainable industrial practices. There is no substitute for water — not polluting it is our only option.

Take action today to protect Ohio’s water from factory farms!

July 11th, 2014

Give Detroit Real Relief: Turn the Taps Back On

By Katherine Cirullo

Right now, in the heat of midsummer, thousands of Detroiters do not have access to safe drinking water, cannot flush their toilets, bathe their children, wash their dishes or boil water to cook food to feed their families. This is what happens when we treat water like a commodity instead of a common resource and basic human right.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says that more than 80,000 residential households are in arrears, in addition to many Detroit businesses, so it is cutting off service to households that cannot pay their bills. With nearly 40 percent of Detroit residents living in poverty, water bills are simply unaffordable for these households. That’s why the United Nations (UN) recently declared the shut-offs in Detroit a violation of the human right to water and has called for immediate restoration of this essential service. 

It is in this context that Nestlé Waters North America has revved up its PR machine after delivering bottled water to Detroit residents. Does Nestlé believe that this gesture will actually relieve the horrible, unsanitary and unsafe conditions of a mid-summer without running water? Or is it simply banking on the fact that its PR stunt may pay off down the road?

The decision to deliver one truckload of bottled water to Detroit is not enough to fix the city’s water woes, and it seems the real beneficiary of Nestlé’s PR stunt is Nestlé.

While we do not wish for anyone to go thirsty, and we appreciate the efforts of the groups in Detroit doing all they can to help their neighbors, Nestlé’s gesture completely misses the seriousness of the situation. A family cannot actually survive the summer’s conditions on bottled water, let alone a small, limited amount of it. Bottled water is not practical for flushing toilets. It cannot keep children clean and fed, and it cannot prevent the spread of disease. Detroiters don’t need environmentally wasteful and inconvenient water that costs thousands of times more than their tap water. They need their pipes turned back on.

Second, Nestlé’s bottled water delivery (water, mind you, that has been usurped from communities that need it) to Detroiters casts a curious shadow on the root of the issue: the privatization and commodification of our water resources.

Bottled water takes public water supplies to sell at prices that are unaffordable for many people around the world. If given the chance, the industry would create a world where rich people buy their water in expensive, environmentally damaging bottles, while our public water systems erode and deteriorate, leaving poor people without safe and clean water.

In Detroit, we’re seeing the consequences of what happens when government bureaucrats treat water like a commodity. The Detroit Water Board uses that false notion to rationalize cutting service off to people that genuinely cannot afford to pay their bills. It is unconscionable to leave poverty-stricken households, including families with small children, without water during the heat of summer.

Water is not a widget to be bought and sold. It is an essential public service and a common resource. Our elected officials have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable water service. 

In the midst of this internationally-recognized water crisis, bottled water cannot prevent this looming public health crisis, but turning the taps back on will. Take action to give Detroit real relief: restored service at an affordable rate.

June 25th, 2014

How One Woman Exercised Her Power to Take Back the Tap

By Sydney Baldwin and Katherine Cirullo


Modern superheroes don’t wear capes anymore. In fact, they’re just like you and 
me — they stand behind us in the grocery line and walk past us on their way to work. Lynn Hartung is one such superhero. She has taken it upon herself to demand change in her community and beyond, not taking “no” for an answer.  

A cognitive behavioral therapist, activist, and mom based in Michigan, Hartung has launched a campaign to eliminate plastic water bottle waste at her local gym and, eventually, at all fitness centers. Her passion for the environment stems from her mother’s constant recycling efforts and her father’s love of the outdoors. Lynn is also inspired by her daughter, an environmental organizer for The Sierra Club. So when Lynn noticed that her gym club was not taking the initiative to recycle plastic water bottles, she stepped in to correct that problem.

Read the full article…

April 25th, 2014

3,500 Winners in Tap-a-palooza Contest

By Katy Kiefer

Tap-a-palooza winners

Students at UNLV collect pledges to choose tap over bottled water, putting their school at the top of the 2014 Tap-a-palooza contest leaderboard 

Ok, there were technically two winners of the second annual Tap-a-palooza campus contest, but all 3,500+ of those who pledged to choose tap over bottled water came out on top.

University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Dartmouth College won this year’s contest, collecting a combined total of nearly 1,900 pledges during the one-month competition. UNLV won the top overall pledge total, and Dartmouth won the per capita title, collecting the most pledges as a percentage of their school size (14 percent).

The nearly three-dozen schools that participated schools collected pledges to choose tap water over bottled during the month between World Water Day (March 22) and Earth Day (April 22). Through regular tabling events, plastering their campuses with signs, email and social media outreach and making announcements in classes, students collected over 3,500 pledges to reduce bottled water consumption by choosing the tap. Based on an average consumption of 220 bottles per person per year, this year’s contest theoretically reduced over 770,000 bottles from the waste stream.

Students across the country are fighting back against the bottled water industry’s attempts to undermine trust in our public water resources. Bottled water harms the environment, contributing to climate change through the production and transportation of plastic bottles. And despite efforts to promote recycling, one in four plastic bottles ends up in landfills, lakes, streams and oceans. Tap water has the lowest carbon footprint of any beverage and costs thousands of times less than bottled water.

The two winning schools will receive $1,500 to install a new hydration station on their campus in order to increase access to affordable, public water. During the first-ever Tap-a-palooza competition last year, Dartmouth took home both prizes in top overall and per capita pledges collected, and along with matching funds from their administration, put the winnings to use to install four new hydration stations over the summer to help students refill their reusable bottles on campus.

Cheresa Taing, co-leader of the Take Back the Tap initiative at UNLV (à https://www.facebook.com/tbttunlv.chapter?fref=ts)had this to say about participating in the contest this year:

“UNLV’s Take Back the Tap is ecstatic to have been given the opportunity to do a great deed for our community in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Tap-a-Palooza contest provided us with an understanding that our small group can create big change. Thank you to  all our team members and supporters. This was a true collaborative effort and many organizations at UNLV really helped us win, we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support.”

Students interested in starting a Take Back the Tap initiative at their school can learn more about the program here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/take-back-the-tap/students/

March 21st, 2014

Five Ways You Can Make a Splash On World Water Day

By Katherine Cirullo

Water is life. Water is also a limited resource that’s under high demand. Here at Food & Water Watch, we’re fighting a global battle to protect the right to safe, clean, affordable water for everyone now, and for years to come. It’s a battle that we care deeply about and it pervades many of the issues we work on. That’s why tomorrow, on World Water Day, we’re inviting you to dive in and join us in the fight to promote sustainable water management, protect the human right to water and prevent the impending global water crisis. Here are five ways you can take action on World Water Day.

1. Add these two inspirational gems to your spring reading list: Blue Future and Ogallala Road. These profound, yet comprehensive books offer unique perspectives on the past and future of the water crisis:

Blue Future: Protecting Water For People and the Planet Forever by internationally best-selling author and Food & Water Watch Board Chair, Maude Barlow, exposes the handful of corporate players whose greed is impeding the human right to water. The latest in Barlow’s best-selling series, Blue Future lays out the obstacles ahead in this looming water crisis, as well as the many victories that have been won by communities in the fight to protect their right to water.

Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair is a powerful personal history of her family’s western Kansas farm located on the Ogallala Aquifer. In the narrative, Bair reveals the struggles she grappled with when watching her family switch from dry-land farming to unsustainable irrigation. The story is a telling glimpse into one aspect of the world’s water saga. Visit her website for book events and appearances.

2. Encourage your classmates to kick the bottled water habit and to take back the tap! Be the force of change on your college campus by joining this year’s Tap-A-Palooza contest: Read the full article…

November 14th, 2013

The Bottled Water Industry Continues to Target New Moms

By Katherine Cirullo

DS Waters of America, Inc. is a company that sells brewed coffee and tea beverages, break room supplies, equipment and services for water filtration systems and, of course, bottled water. What’s more? One of their dozen or so bottled water brands is marketed specifically for babies—and once again, their target is exhausted new moms. Just when you thought they couldn’t go any lower, the bottled water industry has hit rock bottom. DS Waters’ “Nursery” brand is another glaring example of how corporations are increasingly exploiting a public resource we cannot live without, bottling it, marketing it to a vulnerable consumer population and selling it to make a profit.

Back in 2012, Nestlé pushed two products on consumers in developing nations: infant formula and bottled water, defined by the company as “Popularly Positioned Products” that target “less affluent consumers in emerging markets.” Why? Because in selling infant formula to their target demographic of poor mothers in countries without safe drinking water, they would also sell the bottled water needed to prepare that infant formula. This is dubious marketing that, as Food & Water Watch’s executive director Wenonah Hauter stated in 2012, “undermines public health in the name of profit.”

DS Waters picked up on Nestlé’s troublesome tactics. “Nursery Water for Babies and Toddlers” is quite similar to one of Nestlé’s “Popularly Positioned Products.” Nursery’s ads are emotionally driven to sell health via bottled water to an impressionable market – new moms. Visit their website and you’ll be bombarded with idyllic images and messaging that claims Nursery water is what every Mom needs to raise a healthy child; mix it with formula, add it to juice! The company has brought all of its cards to the table in an attempt to win the minds of a population whose newest concern in life is to provide what’s best for their children. What’s actually best, DS Waters, is a world where corporations don’t commodify our essential public resources.

Bottled water is not safer than tap water. The Nursery brand boasts about its product’s nutrients and fluoride levels, but we see through their ploy. Tap water is actually subject to stricter regulation than bottled water. Moreover, tap water is much more affordable than what the industry is selling.

Even worse, bottled water is increasingly taken from tap water sources. In 2009, almost 50 percent of all bottled water came from municipal tap water supplies.

We cannot allow corporations to commodify a public, not to mention precious, resource. When companies gain access to municipal water sources, they literally take what belongs to that community and sell it elsewhere. Their extraction operations can interfere with the water source’s capacity to renew itself to sustain that community. Bottling water burdens those source communities and also threatens the environment as a whole; plastic water bottles are energy intensive to make and contribute to the planet’s growing plastic waste problem.

The goal of Nursery the brand is not to provide moms with what’s best – it’s to make  a profit. We must see past the absurd marketing ploys. We cannot allow corporations to usurp our public water supply while contributing to the destruction of the environment and the viability of a safe, affordable and sustainable future all.

May 22nd, 2013

Victory! Oregon Legislators Ask Congress to Renew America’s Water

Water victory in Oregon

Northwest Organizer, Julia DeGraw stands with Oregon Representative Dembrow after the Oregon Senate passed the Renew America’s Water Memorial.

By Julia DeGraw and Ronnette Steed

It’s been a good week for clean water lovers. On Monday, May 20, the Oregon State Legislature gave final passage to a memorial to Renew America’s Water with overwhelming bipartisan support as the Senate voted 29-0 on passage. The House previously passed House Joint Memorial 7 by a vote of 55-0.

HJM 7 calls on Congress to reinvest in our deteriorating water infrastructure and it sets an important precedent for other states to follow. The resounding endorsement of the Oregon Legislature to adequately fund our sewer and drinking water systems is something Republicans and Democrats both agree on. Updating and maintaining our public water systems creates much-needed jobs in both urban and rural communities, improves the environmental quality of our lakes, rivers and beaches and ensures clean, safe water for kids in our schools and for families across America.

HJM Chief Sponsor Representative Michael Dembrow (D-45) summed up the need for reinvestment in our water systems with this statement:

“Safe, clean water is one of the most precious public resources that we have. Across Oregon and the rest of this country, our public drinking water and wastewater systems are facing a crisis. These public water systems have provided clean, affordable water to generations, but they are falling into a state of disrepair. Congress must act now to increase investment in state revolving loan programs that assist communities with repairing and upgrading their water infrastructure, to maintain access to affordable water.”

According to a Congressional Budget Office 2010 report, federal investment in water and sewer systems has fallen 82 percent from 1977 to 2009 from about $15.6 billion per year to a mere $2.8 billion. The dismal amount money set aside by Congress also varies widely from year to year, which means municipal public utilities cannot rely on that money to plan important projects. Our public water and sewer utilities need an adequate and reliable source of funding from the federal government. With water systems and pipes built 50 to 100 years ago aging out and new rules for water quality from the EPA, it is high time to bring our public water systems into the 21st century.

Getting our water systems up to snuff and properly maintained isn’t just critical for public health and safety, but it is also good business. If Congress fills the budget gaps for our aging water infrastructure it could create over 5,000 jobs in Oregon alone. Most of those jobs would be in rural communities that need the economic boost the most.

Congress could create jobs, boost the economy, improve the environment and ensure clean safe water for the majority of Americans by passing legislation to Renew America’s water. We have a trust fund for transportation; having one for our water systems is long overdue. If Republicans and Democrats in the Oregon State Legislature can get together to support a full-fledged endorsement to fix our water systems, hopefully they can motivate Congress to do the same.

Ronnette Steed is a Food & Water Watch volunteer in Portland, Ore.

April 22nd, 2013

Raise a Glass of (Tap Water) to Earth Today

By Kate Fried Bottled Water at Grand Canyon

When the organization you work for is dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water and good food, every day feels like Earth Day. But today is actually Earth Day, a time to show Mother Earth a little love. Forget flowers and cards; this year, we’re marking the occasion by celebrating the achievements of the schools participating in our first ever Tap-a-palooza contest, in which we challenged colleges across the U.S. to compete with one another to reduce their bottled water consumption. Think March Madness, but with reusable water bottles instead of basketballs and well-hydrated college students in place of really tall people (although we imagine there may be some overlap there). 

The contest first launched in March on World Water Day, and since then, over three-dozen schools have been using our new app Tap Buddy to track their progress. We’re still tallying the pledges, but when they’ve all been counted, the victor will win $1,500 to put towards public water infrastructure improvements on their campus, such as a hydration station, drinking fountain retrofits or reusable bottles for students. 

Feeling inspired? You too can reduce your bottled water consumption with the help of Tap Buddy, even if your college days are but a fond, hazy memory. Download Tap Buddy to your iPhone or Android and use it to find water fountains near you and record the location of water fountains for yourself and others. You remember water fountains, right? 

Sure, they’ve fallen out of popularity due to the rise of the bottled water industry and the decline in federal funding for community water systems, but with the help of Tap Buddy, we think they’re poised to make a comeback. 

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February 13th, 2013

The Senator’s Sip

Last night in the Republican Party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Senator Marco Rubio unintentionally added some dramatic flair to his speech when he paused to reach off-camera for a bottle of Poland Spring water. Now we have a response of our own to the “sip heard around the world.”

 

Dear Senator Rubio, 

First, what an epic sip! When thirst strikes, Senator Rubio, it strikes regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. In this case it struck a few feet too many to your left during your formal response to the State of the Union. Yikes.

While we’re sure you weren’t intentionally plugging Poland Spring, we’d like to offer a few suggestions for your next on-camera appearance: Read the full article…

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