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Blog Posts: Water

April 13th, 2015

Protecting the Human Right to Water, One System at a Time

By Kate Fried Toast_Glasses_Water

With thousands of households in Detroit and Baltimore facing water service shutoffs, and a drought looming over California, it might not seem like there’s much good news in the world of water these days. But the recent publication of Our Public Water Future: The Global Experience of Remunicipalisation highlights the advances made in communities around the globe to take back water as a public good, and reminds us that that we can and should enjoy unfettered access to safe, clean, affordable water, as long as it’s managed as a common resource, not a commodity exploited by corporations.

What is remunicipalization, exactly? It’s when a community resumes public operation and management of its water system, often after private operation has failed customers in some way. We’ve documented at length the problems experienced by customers of privatized water systems—higher rates, poor service and lack of accountability being some of the most egregious examples. It’s no wonder then that many communities opt to reclaim control of their drinking and wastewater systems. Read the full article…

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April 3rd, 2015

Reality Checking Our Water Woes

By Darcey O’Callaghan and Kate FriedWater_Faucet

This week while promoting his new music service, Tidal, Jay Z made a well intended but nonetheless tone deaf statement, gushing about the beauty of supposedly “free” water service. While tap water may seem free to a rap mogul, those in Detroit who have been living without this essential service because they cannot afford to pay their water bills are singing a very different tune. In a seemingly unrelated development, the New York Times published an editorial that day claiming that water isn’t priced highly enough and thus isn’t properly valued. Both statements were wrong, and reflect some fundamental misconceptions about how our society views and values water. Read the full article…

March 30th, 2015

Detroiters Need an Income-Based Approach to Water Bills

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.ProfileThe water crisis in Detroit is not over. In fact, residential shut-offs are poised to continue this spring. To save lives, and to begin to satisfy the city’s dire water infrastructure needs, Detroit needs to expand the current assistance programs and enact the Water Affordability Plan (WAP) approved by the City Council in 2006. When tens of thousands of people cannot afford utility rates in a region with large income disparities, it is obvious that an income-based approach to water is the only equitable solution.

Let’s back up a bit. A few weeks ago, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) Board of Commissioners voted to increase water and sewer rates for city residents by a combined 12.8 percent, effective July 1 should the City Council seal the deal.

Mayor Mike Duggan and the DWSD developed a 10-point plan offering certain assistance programs in an attempt to help residents pay their water bills. Yet, some 26,000 residential customers still could face water shut-offs this spring, to begin after the department tackles outstanding commercial accounts and the 8,355 households that “illegally” (in other words, desperately) turned their water back on themselves. DWSD will dole out about 800 shut-off notices per day.

Detroiters need affordable water. Water is essential to life and the United Nations has recognized that access to drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right. It’s clear that Mayor Mike Duggan’s current assistance programs are wildly insufficient; they don’t address the systemic problems — like unemployment and cyclic poverty — that are a result of decades of misguided policies, and that inhibit residents from being able to pay their water bills. Put simply they haven’t, and won’t, stop the shut-offs and imminent public health consequences.

Here is why the Water Affordability Plan trumps Detroit’s current assistance programs:

Qualification

Only a customer whose water is already shut off or faces a pending shut-off qualifies for the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program. Similarly, only people already behind on their water bills qualify for the 10/30/50 payment plan program and assistance from the Detroit Water Fund. Whereas these programs act like a Band-Aid, the WAP is preventative — qualification isn’t contingent on a customer being in payment default. Rather, qualification is determined based on the ratio of a household’s income and utility bill. Under the WAP, a customer can receive help before reaching default, and avoid shut-offs and massive make-up payments altogether.

Affordability

The existing water assistance program sets payments on a case-by-case basis. This creates a complicated, time-intensive billing process and requires a unique formula for each household. The 10/30/50 Plan requires at least 10 percent upfront on an outstanding balance and then spreads the rest of the balance over 24 months. It does not actually reduce the amount owed. Assistance from the Detroit Water Fund is strictly limited to: Households enrolled in a payment plan, with balances of $300 to $2,000, without any leaks in their homes, with a new meter installed and with household incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The amount of assistance also maxes out at 25 percent of a household’s monthly bill.

However, the WAP uses a “fixed rate approach” which calculates, based on the household’s income, an affordable utility rate. This means less administrative and billing headaches and more incentive for the customer to conserve water. Not to mention the security of this approach: The WAP caps water utility payment at 2.5 percent of monthly income — what the federal government views to be the affordability threshold. This would be a huge relief for Detroit residents, as some families currently spend upwards of 20 percent of their monthly income on water and sewerage.

Accessibility

Under the WAP, a customer would have ample time to apply for and access the program before ever reaching default. In this sense, WAP is more accessible than existing assistance programs. Under the current Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program, qualified residents (those facing shut-offs) have only ten days to either pay the default or to apply for and be approved for a payment plan. This tight timeline, noting the mental and physical stress that comes with not having water, might keep residents from accessing Mayor Duggan’s assistance, exacerbating the crisis.

Households can apply for assistance from the Detroit Water Fund at any time if they meet all the criteria, but they receive help only if funding is available. The program depends on donations, which isn’t sustainable. And what’s worse, a household loses access to the 10/30/50 Plan and the Detroit Water Fund assistance if it falls behind on its monthly payments more than three times. These existing programs clearly do not reflect the economic reality of many Detroiters, who are living hand-to-mouth and whose livelihoods can be compromised by even minor illnesses or car troubles.

It’s past time to embrace an income-based approach to water bills that is accessible and preventative. With the upcoming shut-offs and the proposed rate hikes, it’s obvious that the current assistance programs aren’t working for residents or the city. To keep utility payments, and water, flowing, Detroit needs to swiftly and fully enact the original Water Affordability Plan approved by the City Council in 2006.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

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March 26th, 2015

Fracking Company Sues for Access to Ohio Town’s Water

By Alison Auciello

UnknownHere in Ohio, the fracking industry can get water from just about anywhere for their thirsty drilling endeavors. Apparently, that’s still not enough for this water-intensive industry. Yesterday, the Oklahoma-based Gulfport Energy sued Barnesville, Ohio to bully them into allowing continued withdrawals from the Slope Creek Reservoir.

The fracking process uses up to 4.1 million gallons per gas well, and 2 million gallons per oil well, and that number is expected to grow. This intensive water use, combined with Ohio’s dry fall, would not leave enough water for Barnesville residents. That’s why officials stopped water withdrawals for any other purposes besides municipal use last fall due to abnormally low water levels. As Village Solicitor Marlin Harper told Think Progress, “We felt like we had to shut everyone off to protect the regular users…” because “We don’t have unlimited water.”

There is no shortage of options for oil and gas companies in terms of buying water. And thanks to multiple sweetheart deals with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), oil and gas companies can purchase it on the cheap. Out-of-state companies have purchased hundreds of millions of gallons of water over the last couple of years from reservoirs in the largest watershed within Ohio’s borders. This year, frackers plan to take billions of gallons from the Muskingum Watershed at the rate of less than ten dollars per 1,000 gallons.

The special treatment for fracking companies must end, especially when it means depriving people of water. The water crisis in Toledo last summer should be warning enough of the importance of access to water, and Barnesville took a step to avoid their own crisis and stood up for their citizens when they put their drinking water first.

We can recognize when the industry uses scare tactics and expensive legal action to feed their insatiable greed for profit, and we stand with Barnesville. We can only hope that the judge puts an end to this legal assault on the community’s water and throws the case out.

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March 24th, 2015

Bonnie Raitt: Taking A Stand Against Fracking

By Bonnie Raitt, Musician and Activist

1503_FBSq_RaittQuote-C1I’ve been involved in many movements for social justice in my lifetime, from opposing destructive fossil fuel and nuclear energy projects, to standing up for human rights and music royalty reform. As a founding member of Musicians United for Safe Energy, I feel that one of the most critical environmental issues of our time is banning fracking everywhere because it destroys our water, our communities and our planet.

Food & Water Watch has partnered with Movement Music Records to put out a compilation record, “Buy This Fracking Album,” that 22 artists (including myself) have provided tracks to in an effort to spread the word about the dangers of fracking.

Can you help support the “Fracking Album” project to help build the movement to ban fracking?

Food & Water Watch has been a national leader in the movement to ban fracking. They were the first national group to call for a ban on fracking everywhere, and they’ve been working with communities all across the country to pass local bans, and do the hard work to hold elected officials accountable in order to keep our drinking water safe from this dangerous practice.

Art and music play a vital role in building and strengthening social change movements, and “Buy This Fracking Album” will follow in that tradition with your support! There are more than 20 artists, and hundreds of others involved in this project who all believe in this cause and want to help get the message out through our music, but we need your help to get this project into the world.

Can you help amplify the work for a national ban on fracking by supporting this new music project?

In addition to my song, this album includes music from artists including:

-Pete Seeger
-Natalie Merchant
-Michael Franti
-John Butler Trio
-Rusted Root
-DJ Logic and friends
-Josh Fox (“Gasland”)
-Indigo Girls
-Anti Flag
-Marco Benevento
-Tom Chapin
-Meshell Ndegeocello and many more!

All of the songs have been donated, and any proceeds from the sale of the album will go to groups working for a ban on fracking. However, without your support this album might not make it into the world.

We still need to raise about $40,000 to produce the album, manufacture it, and get the word out to the world. If you can help chip in today, you’ll be one of the first to receive the album, and help build the movement to ban fracking. Different donation amounts give you different incentives. I am not only chipping in my music, but also a couple of guitars signed by me, personalized to YOU! Check it out!

Can you chip in today to help get this album out and build the movement to ban fracking?

Thank you for your support.

In solidarity,

Bonnie Raitt
Musician/Activist

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March 20th, 2015

Ten Ways to Protect the Human Right to Water on World Water Day

By Katherine Cirullo and Ryanne Waters

“Water is a commons, a public trust, and a human right.” — Maude Barlow

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” – Sylvia Earle

Water is an essential common resource that nobody, and no thing, can live without. But around the world, even here in the United States, the human right to safe, clean, affordable water is under great threat; a global water crisis is looming, and in some places, has already begun.

Here are ten ways you can protect the human right to water and promote sustainable water management on World Water Day. Let’s dive in.

1. Join Tap-a-palooza! Mobilize your college campus to kick the bottled water habit and take back the tap.

The commodification of water by the beverage industry is a huge con. Research shows that in the United States, bottled water is not safer than tap water and it only serves to perpetuate our planet’s plastic bottle waste problem. When corporations like Nestlé commoditize what many consider to be a human right, communities lose out and executives fatten their wallets. If you’re a student, encourage reusable water bottle use by pledging to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on your college campus.

TBTT

2. Say “no” to international water privatization schemes; oppose fast track of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The United States and the European Union are secretly negotiating a deal that would make it easier for the world’s biggest corporations to privatize our public water systems. And when private companies buy out public water systems, community members often experience degraded service at a higher price. Opposing fast track would make it harder for Congress to pass terrible trade deals like the TTIP.  Tell your member of Congress to oppose fast track today.

Fast Track

3. Support the campaign to stop water privatization in Lagos, Nigeria on twitter.

The city of Lagos, Nigeria is in great need of water supply and infrastructure improvements. But research shows that private ownership of municipal water systems does not benefit the community and often results in poor service at an unjust rate. 180 cities in 35 countries have fought hard to “re-municipalize” their water systems because of these failures. Lagos should not have to go down the same path. Tweet your support Tweet: I stand with Lagos, Nigeria. NO to water privatization! #OurWaterOurRight #Right2Water @followlasg @tundefashola for public water to the Lagos state government (@followlasg) and the governor (@tundefashola) by using the hashtag #OurWaterOurRight and #Right2Water.

LagosShareFB_we

4. Write to your member of Congress asking them to cosponsor the bill to ban fracking on public lands.

Did you know that our national forests and land surrounding our national parks are being fracked? Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and associated activities such as wastewater injection can contaminate nearby rivers and streams that feed these treasured places – their vegetation and wildlife. Stopping fracking on public lands will bring us one step closer to stopping fracking, and protecting water, everywhere. Ask your member of Congress to cosponsor the bill.

PublicLands

5. Sign this emergency petition to immediately stop fracking in California.

According to NASA, California has only one year of water left. But did you hear that oil and gas industry regulators in California recently admitted that they’ve failed to protect the state’s precious water supply from toxic contamination? Regulatory systems like these are unacceptable. Join us in calling on Governor Brown to issue an immediate emergency moratorium on fracking in California.

California

6. Urge the Ohio Legislature to protect the Great Lakes from toxic algae blooms.

Industrial agriculture is threatening Lake Erie. Last summer, a huge algae bloom left half a million people in Toledo, Ohio without water. The state legislature is trying to address the problem, but their bill falls short of real, meaningful agricultural reform. Tell them to toughen up and protect the Great Lakes from factory farms!

Toledo Algae

7. Demand that authorities in Detroit restore affordable water service.

Detroit’s water is simply unaffordable, and thousands of residents have had theirs shut off as a result. The United Nations recently visited Detroit to investigate the water shut offs and found that they violate the human right to water. Protect public health and the human right to water by urging officials in Detroit to restore water service under a water affordability plan.

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8. Educate yourself and your friends on the global water crisis by reading Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, by internationally best-selling author and Food & Water Watch Board Chair, Maude Barlow.

Maude Barlow is a water justice warrior. The latest in her best-selling series, Blue Future exposes the handful of corporate players whose greed is impeding the human right to water. It lays out the obstacles ahead in this looming water crisis and details the many victories that have been won by communities in the fight to protect their right to water.

Maude_Barlow

 

9. Keep an eye out for a pre-screening of the film Dear President Obama, Americans Against Fracking In One Voice from Jon Bowermaster.

In this film, Bowermaster takes a national look at the issue of fracking and the threats it poses to water quality and public health. The film profiles the victims of fracking across the U.S., checks in with experts on the topic, and takes a look at alternative energy sources gaining traction around the globe.

DearPresidentObama

10. Stay up to date on global water issues and learn how you can get involved by signing up here.

Whether by banning fracking, stopping terrible trade deals, promoting public ownership of water systems or protecting waterways from agricultural pollution, Food & Water Watch is working with communities to hold the industries that threaten the right to safe, clean, affordable water accountable.

IMG_3406

Update, March 22: Check out Maude Barlow’s World Water Day post about how to address the world water crisis.

March 6th, 2015

Capitol Hill’s Other Funding Battle

Water_Manhole_CoverBy Kate Fried

As the battle to fund the Department of Homeland Security quelled this week, another funding controversy quietly took shape. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced plans to cut the department’s main wastewater fund by 23 percent in 2016. The Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRFs) are the primary source of federal funding for our wastewater and storm water infrastructure, critical to keeping our wastewater systems in working order. You don’t want to image a scenario in which they can’t. Read the full article…

February 25th, 2015

Governor Christie Sells Off New Jersey to the Highest Bidder

By Jim Walsh

It was Hurricane Sandy, the disastrous “super storm,” that thrust Governor Christie on to the national stage as a supposedly straight-talking hero of the common man. But the truth can’t hide forever. Sooner or later, Americans will come to realize what many of us in New Jersey have known all along: Christie is selling New Jersey off to the highest bidder, at the expense of hardworking families and our environment.

While Christie’s recent gaffs and scandals have been good fodder for late-night television comedians, behind these missteps is a governor tied to corporate interests that he hopes will fund his national political ambitions. It seems he’ll do just about anything to put those corporations ahead of regular people.

Early in his first term, Governor Christie created a privatization task force, creating a virtual road map for transferring billions of dollars in public assets to private profit driven companies. And throughout his tenure as governor, Christie has pushed to privatize public television, parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, public parks, inspectors, and now our water.

Governor Christie just signed a bill that will open the floodgates for water system privatization in New Jersey. The bill removes an important requirement that communities have the right to vote on any water privatization plan and the rate details associated with it. The elimination of these important consumer protections are a dream come true to corporate water giants like American Water, which just donated $50,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association when Governor Christie was the chair.

Governor Christie used this his position as Governor’s Association chair to raise money and build his political presence and influence. But far more sinister is Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program. The program was enacted when Christie signed an executive order allowing the New Jersey governor (and only the governor) to accept large gifts from personal friends.

One of Christie’s personal friends seems to be Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who gifted Christie a $30,000 trip to a Cowboys playoff game. What folks may not know is that Jerry Jones amassed a fortune as on oil and gas mogul. This is concerning, considering that Christie recently refused to sign two bills that would have banned fracking and fracking waste in the state. At the same time he supported billions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies for the construction of fracked gas power plants in New Jersey, and a massive fracked gas pipeline through the Pinelands, a environmentally-protected area that preserves a 12 trillion-gallon fresh water aquifer in southern New Jersey.

Speaking of southern New Jersey, Christie has recently appointed an emergency fiscal manager for Atlantic City, a community on the brink of financial collapse due to long-term neglect and the downturn in Jersey’s casino industry. Instead of offering support, he appoints Kevyn Orr as the emergency manager. Kevyn Orr is the same person who, while serving as the emergency manager for Detroit, sought to solve Detroit’s financial struggles by recommending a fire sale of public assets, including their public water.

Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program has also garnered contributions from the King of Jordan and Sheldon G. Adelson, a wealthy casino owner. One can wonder exactly how much it costs to buy the governor’s friendship, but what is clear is that being “friends” with Christie comes with some fairly lucrative benefits.

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January 22nd, 2015

Opportunity for Some, Favoritism to Corporate Interests

Corporate_BS_Detector

By Wenonah Hauter

Once again, dark money ruled on Election Day 2014 when a slew of die-hard reactionaries swept into office, their victories clinched by donations from a small group of selfish big money donors. These wealthy funders seem to believe they can hide behind the gates of their fancy estates and not experience the adverse effects of global climate change or the consequences of the other regressive policies they promote. So how did these radicals, who are out of touch with the values of most Americans, spend their second week of the 114th Congress? Rubbing elbows with one another and the other sycophants that feed at the trough of dirty money.

I’m talking about the Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action’s 2015 Conservative Summit, “Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None,” the perfect setting for a love fest of extremists that included a number of House and Senate members. Speaking on their frightening agenda for energy, the House budget, trade and other matters, the name of the game for the current Congress is DEFENSE. Read the full article…

January 13th, 2015

The Research Is In: Regulations Alone Won’t Save Us From Climate Disaster

By Wenonah Hauter

We are convinced that any serious attempt to address climate change means that a large portion of the natural gas, oil and coal currently locked underground must remain unexploited. Unfortunately, rather than aggressively deploying renewable energy resources, the Obama administration has opted to allow polluters to continue burning these dirty, polluting fossil fuels. Case in point: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to soon release rules to regulate methane leaks from natural gas production and transportation. But two new reports released this week underscore the importance of keeping fossil fuels where they belong—underground.

Read the full article…

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