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Blog Posts: Water privatization

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 20th, 2014

The Fight for San Bartolo’s Water

By Andrew Diaz

Water Service and ImmigrationAll over town, church bells were tolling, but they were not marking the top of the hour as they usually do. Upon hearing this signal, masses of townspeople came from all directions, armed with stones, pipes, even sticks—anything that was lying around was fair game that day. Off in the distance, the opposition could be seen approaching through the haze, their fifteen hundred shiny, black helmets slowly marching forward as one force behind the protection of their transparent shields and riot gear. As the dark swarm of police approached down the narrow, twisting streets, the crowd of townspeople braced themselves. They shouted commands at each other to hold their positions. Soon, the objects in their hands would become a barrage of projectiles hurled at the officers in an effort to keep them back.

This scene was the culmination of thirteen months of acrimonious debate. San Bartolo Ameyalco is an otherwise unremarkable town sitting on the hills of the Álvaro Obregón delegation, or borough, on the fringes of Mexico City. Founded in 1535, the town is one of the oldest communities in the Federal District, and is indeed one of the older settlements in the whole of Mexico. Its history probably dates even further back, as it is believed that the town was first settled by the native Tepanec people. 

What brought the early settlers to this area, and what has kept people in San Bartolo ever since? The residents of the town simply know it as el ojo de agua, or “the waterhole”— a volcanic spring that has been faithfully providing freshwater to the community from the time of its founding. In fact, Ameyalco is a Nahuatl word meaning “place from which the water flows,” which it continues to do at a rate of about 60 liters per second.

It is this water supply that is at the heart of the dispute that is taking place in one of the largest and most densely populated cities on earth. Desperate to find additional water sources to supplement a rapidly-depleting aquifer below its soil, the government of Mexico City announced in April 2013 that a part of San Bartolo’s water supply would be joining a larger system delivering water across the entire borough. The residents of the town, whose name is often referred to simply as Ameyalco, responded with a clear voice: “no.”

Miguel Ángel Mancera, the mayor of Mexico City, insists that this project would benefit at least twenty thousand people. Many of Ameyalco’s residents, however, believe that the main beneficiaries of such a project would be the rich, inhabiting hastily-built communities with profits from international business —such as the community of Santa Fe, built over a former dumping ground not far from Ameyalco — and with no prior infrastructure for delivering water. 

The government asserts it has a responsibility to deliver water to these newer communities, and that the people of Ameyalco do not have the right to selfishly appropriate this precious resource. Meanwhile, the people of San Bartolo proclaim that their water is not for sale, as water is already scarce in their community. Additionally, they say that they should not have to pay the price for the city’s poor planning. 

The floodgates of this controversy finally burst wide open on the morning of May 21, 2014, as workers of Sacmex, the Mexico City water company, arrived to lay the pipe that would connect San Bartolo’s water to the wider network. The residents were determined to guard their spring in any way possible. Once it became clear that efforts to continue the construction project would be met with resistance, the riot police were called in. There are conflicting reports, but the ensuing clash resulted in at least fifty to seventy of the townspeople injured or hospitalized, over fifty policemen injured—at least two of them seriously—and property damage around the area of the conflict, including several destroyed police vehicles.

Despite the opposition to the construction plan, the project in San Bartolo was carried out. The government has stated that Amayalco’s spring has not been affected by the plan, but instead it was the nearby water system by the name of Cutzamala that was connected to the borough-wide system. The borough of Álvaro Obregón has even released a statement guaranteeing that San Bartolo’s spring water will not be mixed with this larger system. There are many in San Bartolo who see this as just the calm before another storm, and as a result want to negotiate terms with the government. However, their demand is to have their rights respected by having a seat at the discussion table, and for the government to be transparent about its plans regarding the region’s water. 

In the meantime, Mexico City continues to literally sink under its own weight as it swiftly drains its underground water reservoir ever more quickly. As its vast and growing population continues to demand more and more resources, it is a near certainty that this complex and contentious issue is far from settled. 

Andrew Diaz is an international research and policy intern with Food & Water Watch. He currently attends the University of Maryland at College Park and majors in geographic information science and minors in international development and conflict management.

June 2nd, 2014

The Tricks and Ploys of the Corporate Water Barons

By Mary Grant 

The lengths some companies will go to stop communities from gaining local control of their water systems can seem completely crazy. Tomorrow, voters in California’s Monterey Peninsula will go to the polls to decide whether to take the first step toward buying their water system from American Water’s California arm.  Read the full article…

May 9th, 2014

The Fight for Public Water Is on in Monterey

By Katherine Cirullo

In its latest effort to undermine the public interest, California American Water (Cal-Am), a subsidiary of American Water, has poured $2.2 million so far into defeating Measure O, outspending Monterey’s local public control campaign by about 45 to 1. But money can’t truly buy votes and corporate scare tactics shouldn’t fool the Monterey Peninsula community. Ratepayers in Felton, California benefitted from a public acquisition of Cal-Am water, and the Monterey community surely would as well.

On June 3, Monterey Peninsula residents will vote on Measure O, which local group, Public Water Now, collected some 8,400 signatures to place on the ballot. If passed, Measure O would set the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District on a track to purchase the water system, primarily by funding a study to determine whether a public takeover of Cal-Am is “feasible and beneficial.”

Not-so-shockingly, Cal-Am, the sole contributor to the “No on O” campaign, seems to be emptying its pockets to make sure Measure O doesn’t pass, but perhaps this is because it fears the truth: studies show that public ownership of municipal water systems benefits communities by providing lower rates and more dependable, safer water service, and many voters in Monterey know this. Read the full article…

May 2nd, 2014

Water Privatization Coming to Your Town, Thanks to the WTO?

By Mitch Jones

 

Water Privatization

Read Public Services International’s latest report, “TISA Versus Public Services”.

With your help, we at Food & Water Watch have been working with a broad alliance of organizations to push back against the pro-corporate trade agenda being negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. While we’ve made some progress, the fight is far from over, and it could impact your local water services.

Evidence of that fact is the necessity of a new report by our friends at Public Services International: TISA Versus Public Services: The trade in services agreement and the corporate agenda.

Negotiations for TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement, began in 2012 when a group of 20 World Trade Organization (WTO) members formed the “Really Good Friends of Services” (no, I’m not making that up). These Really Good Friends decided to negotiate a new deal outside of the normal WTO framework.

Like the TPP and TTIP, the TISA would undercut domestic regulations designed to protect local workers and small businesses, as well as the environment, so that large multinational corporations could reap larger profits. Little wonder when the Really Good Friends’ really good friends –- the banks, oil and gas industry, and private water companies, among others –- have been pushing for this agreement. TISA would allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favorable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time it would block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services. Under TISA, privatization of local water systems would be made easier, and fights against privatization would be made harder. Oh, and it could use investor-state dispute resolution to allow foreign companies to sue our local governments if they don’t like our laws and regulations, just like the TPP and TTIP. It’s outrageous!

TISA is really just another effort by large corporations and the big banks that fund them to push an agenda that they can’t get passed through democratic means. It’s part of the same agenda being pushed in the U.S. by the Koch brothers and ALEC. And, with the Supreme Court paving the way for these same companies to pour millions upon millions of dollars into our elections, we need to fight back harder than ever.

Read the report by Public Services International. Then, email your Member of Congress and tell them you oppose fast track trade deals that will undermine our laws and harm our communities and our environment.

April 10th, 2014

Taking a Stand Against the Corporate Water Grab in Portland, Oregon

By Alley Blom and Julia DeGraw

Here at Food & Water Watch, we know that profit-driven motives often clash with providing clean, safe drinking water for the public. This is why in Portland we oppose the corporate-funded initiative that attempts to fix what’s not broken. Otherwise known as The Water District Initiative, this proposal would shift the regulatory power of our water and sewer systems to an elected water board, creating a new water district to govern our local drinking water. And while we support local control of our water systems, this water board could allow corporate polluters to shift the costs of pollution they cause onto to the backs of taxpayers.

Currently, the Portland City Council oversees the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services – the two agencies responsible for running our sewer and water system. This initiative would remove the authority of these long-standing agencies that have effectively and transparently overseen our water system and hand it over to a potentially inexperienced water board without the proper oversight. Under this initiative, previous employees of the municipal water system wouldn’t be allowed to run for this board, yet someone from a corporation who would stand to benefit from deregulation could.

You may wonder, how this initiative came to be. Well if you follow the money, you’ll see that five giant corporate backers have covered more than 90 percent of the campaign costs. This raises concerns that water board elections could also potentially be bought by these corporate interests. For example, two companies that support this initiative, Portland Bottling Company and major polluter Siltonic, stand to benefit from the creation of a new water board that they could stack with their own handpicked members. Passage of this measure could lower water rates for these major water users and polluters while probably raising them for Portland families. Read the full article…

March 27th, 2014

Cities Don’t Need Expensive Private Financing Gimmicks

By Mitch Jones 

This week, the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s special Public-Private Partnership Panel held a roundtable discussion on the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) in water and wastewater systems. I was pleased to represent Food & Water Watch as the only witness critical of these needless corporate get-rich schemes. 

Read the full article…

March 21st, 2014

Corporate Patronage at UCLA

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Tim Schwab

The University of California school system, as of late, has been no foe to big business, taking millions of dollars from corporations to conduct industry research. So it wasn’t a huge shocker to learn that UC Los Angeles’ law school took $4 million from Big Ag to create the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy. By Resnick, I mean Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire water barons.

Stewart Resnick could be considered one of the nation’s largest corporate farmers and campaign donors, sitting atop a fruit, flower and nut empire that calls itself the “largest farming operation of tree crops in the world.” In addition to being the largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios in the world, Resnick’s operations also have enormous citrus and pomegranate holdings, the latter of which drives one of his signature products, POM Wonderful brand juice.

Resnick’s farming operation covers 120,000 acres of land in California’s agriculturally rich – but water poor – Central Valley. While other farmers in the region often pray for rain, the Resnicks have played politics to control tens of millions of dollars in available water sources.

With this immense wealth, why do the Resnicks need UCLA on their side? From this UCLA press release, the Resnicks appear to be buying influence: “Through the publication and dissemination of policy briefs and position papers, the program will play a crucial role in shaping policy-making process.”

Our academic institutions – and especially our public schools like UCLA – play a critical role in providing the science and research used to shape policy making. What our food system looks like, to some great extent, is determined by what the experts from our public universities prescribe. And what they prescribe is increasingly a pro-industry stance, derived from the kind of corporate funding like the Resnicks recently provided.

Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars funding universities, paying for research, endowing professorships, naming buildings and engaging professors in lucrative consulting gigs. This largess buys friendly scientific reviews of corporate products and practices, which are used to secure favorable regulations from legislators. Favorable research from our public institutions also serves as a kind of stamp of approval that companies can peddle to their customers.

And the Resnicks clearly understand how this game works and use their financial largess to curry favor with public institutions and nonprofit groups that can help their companies. For example, the Resnicks acquired FIJI water in 2004, shipping water from the poor island nation all the way around the world to rich consumers in the West, growing FIJI into the most imported water to the United States. (If you don’t already know why bottled water is bad, read this.) In the face of controversy over this business scheme, Conservation International issued a press release talking about how great FIJI water is for the environment. No surprise, Stewart Resnick sits on the organization’s board.

This level of influence, earned through “philanthropy,” allows the Resnicks – and the Monsantos and Cargills and Tysons – to manipulate and confuse the public discourse to benefit their bottom line. At UCLA, the Resnicks most recent $4 million food policy program only adds to their influence, which also includes a seat on the executive board of UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute at the law school.

In our 2012 report Public Research, Private Gain, Food & Water Watch lays out the myriad ways that conflicts of interest spring from these industry partnerships and offers a few solutions. This influx of corporate money to our universities is not about philanthropy. It’s about the bottom line.

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…

How to Disappoint 1.9 Million Citizens in a Few Minutes

By David Sánchez

For one moment, imagine that you are the Vice President of the European Commission. Citizens all around Europe have collected signatures demanding you to recognize the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the European Union. This first ever European Citizen’s Initiative to be successful gained support from 1.9 million people. You had three months to discuss with your colleagues what to do about it. You start the press conference, smile to the cameras and speak for a few minutes. You announce that you say yes to the petition but you are aware that you are offering nothing. Finally, you leave the room.

Now imagine that the multinational company that manages water in your city cut off your water supply because you can’t afford to pay the bills. Or imagine that your municipal water supply is about to be privatized. Or maybe you were even involved in the signature collection and invested a lot of your time and efforts on it.

How would you feel in each situation? March 22nd is World Water Day, a good moment to reflect about the huge gap created this week between the announcement of the European Commission and the expectancies of 1.9 million European citizens on the right to water.

But, what is a European Citizen’s Initiative?

The European Citizen’s Initiative is a new democratic tool that tries to allow EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. You “just” need to collect one million signatures coming from at least 7 member states, following a really complicated set of rules and procedures.

And the Right to Water Initiative did it. Nearly 1.9 million signatures were collected with three basic demands: the legal requirement by EU institutions and Member States to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation, a commitment that water supply and management will not be privatized and a commitment to increase EU efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. These were three clear demands that had nearly no echo in the Commission’s answer.

The European Commission acknowledged the importance of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation and confirmed water as a public good. Which is good, but just words. They didn’t propose any legislation to recognize this right, just a compilation of already ongoing actions plus the announcement of a public consultation on the drinking water directive whose outcomes will not be binding. On the positive side, they committed to promote universal access to water and sanitation in its development policies, including the promotion of public-public partnerships. And that’s a step in the right direction.

But citizens had asked to exclude water and sanitation from what they call “internal market rules,” that is, privatization and liberalization. And the Commission did nothing. Water was excluded temporally, due to strong public opposition, from the last internal market legislation. But the Commission didn’t explicitly exclude these services from the ongoing trade negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP or TAFTA) with the U.S. or the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

The European Water Movement, of which Food & Water Europe is part, stated it quite clearly: this decision implies a bad precedent for this new mechanism of public participation.

Water privatization is still a very concrete menace in many European countries, with the European Commission itself one of the main drivers. As part of the Troika (the tripartite committee composed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), they are pushing for water privatization in Greece and Portugal, while evidence from public auditing bodies confirms that privatization is detrimental both for local authorities and ordinary citizens. And the reality on the ground shows that when families can’t afford to pay their bills, they are being deprived of access to water by private companies, as happened recently in Jerez, Spain.

Citizens are mobilizing across Europe. Millions of Italians voted against water privatization and local referendums took place in major cities like Madrid and Berlin. Right now citizens of Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, are voting on a popular referendum about the privatization of their water supply. Thessaloniki, in Greece, will vote on May 18. And other cities, like Puerto de Santa Maria, also in Spain, are now mobilized for the same reasons.

Water should be a commons, not a commodity. We must close the gap between citizen’s expectations and EU decisions. We need to keep reminding our politicians of the importance of the right to water before the elections for the European Parliament. And we need to keep it in mind also in the World Water Day.

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