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Blog Posts: Water utility

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

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…

October 29th, 2013

When it Comes to Water Advocacy, Maude Barlow Sees a Blue Future

Maude Barlow is a lot of things to us here at Food & Water Watch: a human rights activist, leader in the movement to protect our water and crusader against corporate control of public resources. But she’s also a talented writer, and a friend and ally who continues to broaden the scope of our work and makes us proud to do what we do. In her brilliant new book, Blue Future, Barlow lays out an important vision for the next phase of our battle to protect our human right to have access to the most important common resource.

Blue Future—available now in Canada and in the U.S. by January 7, 2014*— identifies the principles behind our best approach to water management across the entire planet and, in the process, lays out the work ahead. Barlow organizes Blue Future into chapters that serve as the tenets of water advocacy for the next several years, and it’s based on the idea of communities coming together, empowering themselves, and establishing control of their own water supply.   Read the full article…

June 17th, 2013

Ecuador, Jakarta move to protect water for people, not for profit

By Jaime Hamre, Food & Water Watch Intern

Both Ecuador and Jakarta, Indonesia have taken big steps recently to ensure access to water for their citizens. As part of the Water Law under negotiation in the National Assembly, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the establishment of a minimum water consumption per person from which water prices and subsidies can be determined. Across the globe, Jakarta has initiated moves to remunicipalize its water system, aiming to repurchase shares from a foreign private firm.

President Correa’s declaration is especially important in light of Interagua’s privatization of the water supply in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, in 2001. Interagua is a subsidiary of the American company Bechtel, the same company that fueled the infamous water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After Interagua procured a 30-year contract in Guayaquil, water prices increased by 180 percent. Even though key water systems, such as Guayaquil, remain privatized, in 2008, Ecuador rewrote its constitution to include rights for nature and also established the human right to water.

President Correa stated last week that when the minimum water consumption per person is determined, it will constitute a base for water pricing. President Correa is working with the National Secretariat of Water (Senagua) to analyze the cost to government of subsidizing water prices.

When water systems were privatized in Jakarta 16 years ago, water quality decreased, while tariffs rose by 258 percent. Led by governor Joko Widodo, the city is now moving to remunicipalize the system with help from groups such as the Coalition of Jakarta Residents Opposing Water Privatization (KMMSAJ), which has filed a lawsuit with the goal of annulling the 1997 contracts between the city and the private firm.

KMMSAJ is also helping with fundraising efforts in case the lawsuit is unsuccessful and the city must pay penalties for dropping the contract to take over operation. While re-municipalizing a water or wastewater treatment system can be quite costly in the short term, the long-term benefits in terms of cost savings, quality, transparency, and democracy are well worth it. Approximately 90 percent of global water systems are publically owned and operated.

In both Guayaquil and Jakarta, privatization has meant higher prices and poor water quality. The high price of water in Guayaquil, Ecuador since privatization has been linked to poor water quality and hepatitis outbreaks. In Jakarta, less than 35 percent of residents were able to receive service from the private company.

The privatization of systems often leads to price increase, as well as a decrease in quality and accessibility, whereas models such as public-public partnerships provide greater affordability and quality. For more on this issue, see our report: Water = Life: How Privatization Undermines the Human Right to Water.

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.

February 26th, 2013

Sequestration: Cutting Off Limbs Won’t Stop the Bleeding

The Ides of March – March 15 – marks the day in 44 B.C. that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate. This year in the United States, If Congress and the President reach the First of March without a budget compromise, the state of our economy could become just as bloody and the federal agencies that protect our food and water could be crippled beyond repair.

These severe cuts being threatened are part of a process that Congress invented called “sequestration,” which comes after several years of political show-downs including a committee that was anything but super, an imaginary “fiscal cliff” and deadline after deadline being pushed back. Sequestration was supposed to be the ominous bitter pill that we would never actually need because just the sheer threat of it would force both parties to behave and do their job. But here we are – about 72 hours away from 8 percent across-the-board budget cuts in many departments of the federal government. You don’t need to look much further than the front page of your local newspaper (no matter where you live) to see how these cuts will impact all of us, but particularly the most vulnerable members of society and the middle class. Read the full article…

July 30th, 2012

Trouble Brewing in Mexico City’s Water System

By Roxanne Darrow

Mexico City, the second largest city in the Western Hemisphere with 19.3 million inhabitants, is having major water problems. Over the past month, Mexico City’s water authority, Conagua, has been delivering water to consumers that has a foul odor and taste and activists there are questioning Conagua’s transparency in the matter.

The source of the problem is in the Valle de Bravo dam, which feeds into the Lerma-Cutzamala system that provides 30 percent of the water to Mexico City inhabitants.  

The Valle de Bravo dam has been infested with algae for several weeks, which means there is a large quantity of organic matter that provides food for bacteria, viruses and parasites to multiply and contaminate the water. Not only have citizens suffered from an unusual increase of intestinal illnesses from drinking contaminated water, they may also be at risk for liver damage if they continue to drink contaminated water over the long term.  

Conagua needs to act quickly to provide safe water to citizens while they remove algae from the dam, but Conagua argues their treatment system produces clean and safe water and that no epidemics have broken out. Bad smelling and poor tasting water is due to dirty water tanks at the municipal and consumer level, explain Conagua authorities.

However, Mexico City water activists call Conagua’s water safety into question and doubt the accuracy of water quality and treatment information available to the public. Food & Water Watch’s Claudia Campero works with the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (COMDA) and consulted with a gastroenterology specialist who found an atypical increase of gastrointestinal illnesses in the part of Mexico City where most of the Valle de Bravo dam water ends up. Worse yet, Conagua’s activated carbon and chlorine treatment methods for last month’s algae infestation are similar to treatment methods that have been shown to produce carcinogenic chemicals.

Conagua needs to be transparent about their water treatment methodology and disclose the result of all their water samplings. How are they treating the water for human feces contamination and how effective has this been?

Access to clean water is a human right. Conagua is responsible for providing safe and clean water to Mexico City citizens.

COMDA calls for Mexican authorities to:

  1. Abide by their constitutional obligations.
  2. Provide continuous and accessible information about water quality.
  3. Provide free, safe water to vulnerable populations while fixing the polluted water distribution system.

Learn more about our global water justice work here.

Roxanne Darrow is a summer intern with the Food & Water Watch International Policy Program. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a BA in International Development Studies.

July 3rd, 2012

Las Cruces Citizens Quash City Ordinance, Protect Right to Water

By Rich Bindell

Protecting the right to waterSome good news to kick off your Independence Day! In Las Cruces, New Mexico, local citizens rallied to defeat an unfair city policy that would have blocked citizens with unpaid traffic tickets from having the right to water.

If you recall, Food & Water Watch issued an unofficial citation to the city council for violating the right to water. Just a few weeks later, the council backed off and declared that the city would seek alternatives to punishing violators.

This is a wonderful victory for the local citizens of Las Cruces! It’s nice to be able to report to volunteers, organizers and our supportive social media community that their voices were heard!

Food & Water Watch Volunteer Jason Burke, who lives in Las Cruces, said it best… Read the full article…

May 11th, 2012

Las Cruces, New Mexico Receives Citation for Violating the Right to Water

Water utilities shut off for failure to pay red light ticketsBy Rich Bindell

UPDATE: We are happy to report that this situation has been resolved thanks to the citizens of Las Cruces who spoke out against implementation of the ordinance. Click here to find out how local citizens and our active social network made a positive difference. 

The City of Las Cruces is trying to recoup close to nearly $2 million in unpaid tickets for running red lights. But while times of economic turmoil call for desperate measures, their punishment doesn’t fit the crime. A loophole in a city ordinance would allow the City of Las Cruces to shut off utilities, including water and sewage services, for residents with unpaid red light tickets. Food & Water Watch organizers are currently working with local allies to convince Las Cruces City Council to put an end to this policy. We’re serving notice to the City Council that they’re violating the human right to water.

And Las Cruces isn’t the only city with this problem. With budget shortfalls threatening funding for public services in cities throughout the country, some leaders have incorporated desperate tactics to try to right their ships. Unfortunately, some of these tactics come not only in the form of household water shut-offs for traffic violations, but also threats of jail time for those who can’t afford sanitation systems, and even anti-immigration policies that deny access to water.

Since the United Nations officially recognized water as a human right in July 2010, it’s time for the United States to start working toward making that declaration a reality. Food & Water Watch’s new report, Our Right to Water (a collaboration with the Council of Canadians), demonstrates that we can’t take our relationship with water for granted. Learn more about the report here.

Live in Las Cruces? Act now and sign this petition telling this City Council to stop water shut offs for unpaid traffic tickets: http://action.foodandwaterwatch.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10375

If you don’t live in Las Cruces but are a New Mexico resident, take action here by telling the New Mexico Attorney General to instruct city officials to stop enforcing this dangerous policy: http://action.foodandwaterwatch.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10408


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