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Water | Food & Water Watch - Part 4
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Blog Posts: Water

June 26th, 2013

President Obama: Fracked Gas is Not a Solution to Climate Change

By Mark Schlosberg 

I watched with anticipation yesterday as President Obama delivered his speech laying out his new climate action plan. Climate change is one of the most pressing issue of our time, and one on which the United States desperately needs to lead. While it was heartening to hear the President take on climate deniers and pledge to fight the problem, his full-throated advocacy for fracked natural gas and oil was more a case of two steps back than a giant step forward.

Read the full article…

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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.

May 9th, 2013

Fighting Back in Fracking Country

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!After enduring the harsh realities of fracking for almost a decade, the people of Pennsylvania are fed up. They’re sick – literally – of the poisoned drinking water and air pollution. They’re tired of the incessant noise and the truck traffic. And they’re coming to terms with the boom-and-bust reality of rural industrialization, environmental degradation and eventual abandonment that fracking inevitably brings.

Now the people of Pennsylvania are pushing back against the horrors of extreme gas drilling by taking matters into their own hands and making their voices heard. Recently they delivered more than 100,000 petitions to Governor Corbett and the state legislature calling for a moratorium on fracking in the state. 20 large boxes, each filled to the brim with page after page of residents’ signatures, were hauled into the Statehouse. With that, the people had spoken.

“Pennsylvanians are disgusted with fracking,” said Food & Water Watch statewide organizer Sam Bernhardt. “They’re organizing street by street and town by town – at churches, at colleges and at coffee shops. Across the state, local officials have been feeling the heat from residents for years, and now our leaders in Harrisburg are feeling the heat as well.”

Many of the residents working so hard for a moratorium are motivated by the personal tragedies beset on their families by fracking. Sadly, these families are a large and growing constituency. The Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air maintains a List of the Harmed, citing more than 1,200 separate cases of Pennsylvania residents whose health or safety was harmed by fracking operations. Considering that the oil and gas industry has been cited for more than 4,300 environmental violations in recent years, it’s a wonder that the list isn’t larger.

One reason so many cases of human health impacts go unreported in Pennsylvania is the controversial Act 13, a state law passed last year that has done almost as much harm to the people of Pennsylvania as the gas drillers themselves. For many residents now engaged in the struggle to halt fracking, Act 13 was the final straw that pushed them into action.

Billed as a regulatory mechanism that would empower local communities subjected to fracking, Act 13 was actually a sinister Get Out of Jail Free Card for the industry. It prevents medical doctors from sharing with patients who are exposed to toxic fracking chemicals the facts and details about those chemicals and their health risks. Essentially, Pennsylvania doctors are prohibited from discussing with fracking victims the details of how and why they are ill. Shocking.

If there’s any good that’s come from the countless hardships Pennsylvania families have faced due to fracking, it’s the education and inspiration these circumstances have provided to activists in states like New York that are working feverishly to prevent such tragedies in their own communities. But this comes as little solace to the sick and tired in Pennsylvania for whom only a fracking moratorium in their own state will console. For them, 100,000 petitions delivered to the statehouse are only the beginning of their effort.

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May 8th, 2013

Nestlé Flexes Its Muscle With Political Contributions

By Ben King Bottled Water at Grand Canyon

It’s no secret that big businesses try to influence the political environment and government through lobbying, PAC money and plying elected officials with campaign contributions. After reviewing contributions made by Nestlé Waters, it seems that the company is no stranger to this strategy. 

From Michigan to Florida, Nestlé has been very generous with contributions to members of Congress whose districts include springs and other water sources or bottling facilities. 

In 2007, Nestlé gave thousands in campaign contributions to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels [R], who supported the Great Lakes Compact, a legal agreement among states in the Great Lakes region governing management of the local water supply. The Compact included a loophole that exempted the bottled water industry from following its water withdrawal regulations. Nestlé also received $850,000 in property tax credits from the state for a bottled water facility built in Greenwood, Indiana during his term.

In 2004 and 2008, Nestlé gave big contributions to New York State Senator Carl Marcellino [R], a vociferous opponent of a new bottle deposit bill which would have imposed fees for certain plastic bottles, including those for bottled water, to encourage recycling. Marcellino called the bill a “money grab” out of the pockets of beverage makers.

But it seems that there’s nowhere that Nestlé has spent more money than in the state of Maine. 

As Food & Water Watch blogged last month, Nestlé is trying to enter into a new 25-to 45-year contract with the Fryeburg Water Company, which has been supplying the company with water since 1997. Though Nestlé claims the agreement will benefit the public by generating substantial revenue, there is no certainty that this plan would actually keep water rates down. The State Public Utility Commission is currently reviewing the contract. 

In this contentious environment, Nestlé, its employees and lobbyists have spent nearly $650,000 on campaign contributions and support in the state of Maine. Notably, they spent $218,000 to defeat a state bottled water tax in 2004 and 2005, and another $106,000 to help repeal a state beverage tax in 2008. They’ve also given to dozens of candidates and PACs across the state, from Aroostook County to Portland. Among these legislators are more than a few representing districts where Nestlé’s springs and bottling operations are located, including those in Denmark, Fryeburg, Kingfeld and Poland.

But Nestlé’s influence on state government doesn’t end there. One member of the State Public Utility Commission – the very body deciding whether to allow Nestlé’s new contract – has already recused himself from that decision because of his ties to the company, and the two remaining commission members also have documented ties to the corporation. Maybe that’s not surprising though – two of the commissioners were appointed by Governor Paul LePage [R], the third by former Governor John Baldacci [D]; both candidates received campaign contributions from Nestlé.

Residents of Maine, and all states for that matter, deserves public servants who make decisions based on what’s best for their constituents, not their corporate donors. Communities need to stand up to protect one of their most precious resources–their water–from being subject to corporate takeover. 

Ben King is a Food & Water Watch spring water research and policy intern and a Master of Public Policy student at Georgetown University.  


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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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April 5th, 2013

How to Crash a Nestlé Waters Press Conference

By: Alison K. Grass Bottled Water at Grand Canyon

Did you hear the news? Yesterday I attended a media briefing where Nestlé Waters Chairman Kim Jeffery spoke. It was so nice to finally put a face to a name!

It was quite clear from the beginning that Mr. Jeffery knows about Food & Water Watch and our Take Back the Tap campaign, which encourages consumers to choose tap water over bottled. He repeatedly informed the audience that our organization is one of the two national advocacy groups involved in the movement against bottled water. Thanks for the shout-out, Kim!  

When I had the opportunity, I pointed out to Mr. Jeffery and the audience that the rosy picture he painted about Nestlé Waters’ business may not reflect what is actually going on with his company. Over the past five years, Nestlé Waters’ total sales declined 31 percent—28 percent in North America, and 51 percent in Europe. In that time, other regions of the world, which the company calls “emerging markets,” experienced a 73 percent increase in sales for Nestlé Waters.
Read the full article…

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April 4th, 2013

Allentown Leadership Undermining Public Input on Water Deal

By Sam Bernhardt

Sam Bernhardt, Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch

Last night’s Allentown city council meeting was the latest slap in the face for residents who have been trying to exercise their right to weigh in on the fate of their water and sewer system. Mayor Ed Pawlowski is rushing through a proposed 50-year lease of the city’s water and sewer system as fast as he can, and many members of the city council appear to be going along with it and silencing dissent.

At the meeting last night — a mere day after the city opened the final bids — the city council introduced a resolution and a bill to approve the lease to the winning bidder, the Lehigh County Authority.

More than 100 city residents, many wearing red shirts to show their opposition to the water lease, packed the council chambers to give public comment against the lease. However, the City Council President Julio Guridy and Vice President Ray O’Connell denied the public the right to speak on the water lease, stating that it was tradition not to discuss or take public comment on a bill the night it is introduced.

Residents made clear that the city charter did not say that the council should refuse public comment that night. Check out Rich Fegley, the owner of Brew Works, and other residents taking a strong stance and challenging the council, in the video on 69 News WFMZ-TV.

In fact, the charter explicitly states that the public has the right to comment on any topic of concern and be heard by the city council at the beginning of a meeting (see photo):

 

There are many good reasons why Allentonians oppose the lease, which Mayor Pawlowski touts as the only way to offset budget shortfalls and pay down the city’s pension debt. However, a new Food & Water Watch report released today, Borrowing Trouble: Water Privatization Is a False Solution for Municipal Budget Shortfalls, explains that taxpayers ultimately suffer when water systems are leased off. A lease is a one-shot ploy that simply masks, not alleviates, local budget shortfalls. Such backdoor borrowing may take debt off the city’s books, but it is only possible because the city is sacrificing future revenue and allowing the authority to hike water rates.

Residents in Allentown are well aware of these problems and have been working to try to stop the water lease. But they have faced an uphill battle against a mayor so intent on his lease scheme that he has undermined the democratic process. Last fall, for example, Mayor Pawlowski interfered with the residents as they worked to collect the signatures to put a question on the ballot to require voter approval before any major lease or sale of public assets.

Despite his interference, they collected more than 4,000 signatures, more than enough to get a public vote. Unfortunately, however, the county rejected the petitions because the residents collected them at the wrong time by following the city’s charter, which differed from state law.

The mayor’s administration has also bullishly supported the lease by limiting public input and refusing to disclose important information about the companies that sought to take over the water and sewer systems. It refused to reveal the full identities of the bidders and the responses to the request for qualifications for the water and sewer concession. This lack of transparency is common with these asset deals, and it is clear the mayor is trying to hide behind closed doors to rush this deal though.   

March 26th, 2013

After 15 Years and a Pool of Debt, New Poland Spring Water Sale is Wrong for Maine

By Seth Gladstone

Right to WaterOne of Maine’s most essential resources is its clean freshwater; it is critical for supporting public health and key local economic sectors such as farming, fishing and tourism. When bottled water companies like Nestlé tap groundwater sources for profit, they don’t do states like Maine any favors.

Unlike local irrigation and agricultural water users who do return water to aquifers, bottled water companies do not replenish what they pump out. Groundwater sources are often connected to surface waters, and when an aquifer is over-pumped, the water levels of a connected surface water body can fall and water flows can change. As stated in a U.S. Geological Survey report, “changes in the natural interaction of ground water and surface water caused by human activities can potentially have a significant effect on aquatic environments.” Case in point: after Nestlé groundwater pumping from a Michigan aquifer, water flows in connected surface waters fell to the point that mud flats developed.

Since 1997, Nestlé has been buying water from the Fryeburg Water Co., after the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) approved the lease of one of the Company’s wells to Pure Mountain Springs—a middleman company that purchases water then resells the water to third parties, including Nestlé, at higher prices. According to an estimate in an ECONorthwest study, Pure Mountain Springs sold approximately 450 million gallons of water to Nestlé between 2003 and 2007 alone, which comes out to an average of 90 million gallons of water a year and roughly 1.3 billion gallons of Fryeburg’s water over the past 15 years.

Now the Fryeburg Water Co. and Nestlé are seeking to enter into a new 25 to 45 year water contract. Despite their claims that this would benefit the public at large by generating substantial revenue, there is no certainty that this plan would keep water rates down. An attorney from the state public advocate’s office stated recently that the MPUC “does not have sufficient information and data” to determine whether this agreement could sufficiently supplement Fryeburg’s general revenues and offset the need to increase the cost of services and sustain water rates.

The fact that after 15 years of water sales to Nestlé the Freyburg Water Co. is more than $1 million in debt would further debunk any suggestion that the continued sell-off of billions of gallons more will make economic sense for Freyburg. The State Public Utilities Commission is investigating this contract and we hope it will make a decision that is best for the people of Maine. A year-to-year contract would certainly make more sense than a long-term sell-off.

According to the plan, Nestlé would be granted the right to extract as much water as it desires so long as pumping did not exceed the annual, sustainable capacity that Emery & Garret Groundwater, Inc. established in an August 2005 report. Unfortunately, what was considered a “sustainable” amount of water extraction in 2005 is likely to differ greatly by 2058, which is when the proposed 45-year contract would end.

Maine should not allow the interests of a multinational bottled water company to take precedence over the interests of the public, and our water sources should be protected from for-profit exploitation. After all, water is a public resource and should always remain so.

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March 13th, 2013

“Promised Land” Comes to Princeton in the Form of a Fracked Gas Pipeline

By Karina Wilkinson and Lauren Petrie

PipelineRecently a public meeting was held in Princeton to address a proposed natural gas pipeline project that would cut through the backyards of as many as 29 property owners in Princeton, NJ. The meeting, hosted by TranscoWilliams and two staff members from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was eerily reminiscent of a scene from the new movie Promised Land where a natural gas landman, played by Matt Damon, makes a presentation to a Pennsylvania community in the high school gym. In the movie, an outspoken man sounds the alarm against the company’s proposal to purchase land rights for natural gas extraction from private homeowners and Matt Damon’s character fields his concerns without missing a beat. In Princeton, the plush seats of the council chambers replaced gymnasium bleachers and many of the “potentially affected” homeowners shouted out questions to the Oklahoma-based pipeline company and FERC representatives regarding explosions, property rights and a long history of TranscoWilliams safety violations.

The two and a half hour meeting began with one resident lambasting panelists about the proposal to build through a densely populated community. “What about explosions?” he yelled. Right off the bat, his outbursts delayed the opening slideshow and set the tone for the rest of the meeting. FERC, the agency that approves pipeline projects, boasted that this type of “unofficial” meeting was the first of its kind, but instead of praising them for the gesture, many homeowners were perturbed by the unofficial nature of the meeting; despite strong public turnout, none of the questions, comments or concerns were recorded for public record.

Read the full article…

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