Water | Food & Water Watch - Part 5
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Blog Posts: Water

August 19th, 2013

Protect the Wayne, Protect our Planet: Say NO to New BLM Fracking Rules

By Heather Cantino fracking for natural gas

My heart breaks when I think of the growing assaults on our commons –– on our air, our water and our public lands. In southeast Ohio, Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only national forest, has been abused for decades. Extensive logging takes place under false pretenses as “ecological management.” The area has been assaulted by “prescribed” burns, which are not even appropriate in eastern forests. ATV trails increasingly riddle the land. Non-native species invade wherever there is a disturbance. 

Recently, the Wayne National Forest faced an imminent gas and oil lease sale of over 3,000 acres, most of it in the Hocking River Valley. Maps of the parcels to be sold revealed all to be riddled with abandoned coalmines. Two cities in the watershed, Nelsonville and Athens, rely on the Hocking River aquifer as their sole-source drinking water supply.  The sale would threaten the drinking water of more than 70,000 people. 

Thanks to legal expertise provided by Nathan Johnson of the Buckeye Forest Council and to public alerts by community activists, dozens of formal protests, including letters from local officials and Ohio University, were submitted to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of the sales process, in the final week before the October 7, 2011, public comment period deadline. The sale was canceled.

Despite further legal appeals by the Buckeye Forest Council and its state and national allies and by a dozen regional and national environmental groups, as well as thousands of petition signatures, rallies attended by hundreds of people and voluminous research and visits by community members and leaders, Wayne Supervisor Anne Carey concluded that a future lease sale could be conducted without an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This decision flew in the face of legal arguments that an EIS was necessary to evaluate risks of deep-shale drilling and high-volume horizontal fracturing. No new sale has been scheduled. 

Our region, long a sacrifice zone, was heavily affected by nineteenth and twentieth century coal mining and is just beginning to recover with an attractive university, healthy tourism and a nationally recognized farmers’ market and local food economy. The fate of this newly flourishing community now lies with the BLM and President Obama, putting it in grave danger. 

The BLM’s proposed rules for fracking on federal lands will not protect our water supplies from tens of thousands of pounds of undisclosed toxic chemicals, many of them known carcinogens or neurotoxins, used per frack. Casings inevitably leak, and acidic mine water makes well failure likely sooner rather than later. 

Furthermore, Ohio law permits unlimited water withdrawals from public waterways (each frack job uses as much as 10 million gallons of water). It also permits air emissions of volatile organic compounds, including the known carcinogens benzene and toluene, which average 23 tons per well according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There could be thirteen well pads in the Wayne forest in the next three years, each potentially containing 10 wells. Fracking and drilling there would add six million pounds of toxic pollutants to the air, excluding truck carbon dioxide emissions and methane leakage. 

Read the full article…

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August 9th, 2013

Protect Inyo National Forest and Other California Treasures: Ban Fracking on Federal Lands

By Karina Wilkinson  

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been going to the Eastern Sierras in California to fish, hike, sail and relax. I am fortunate that my grandfather owned a sporting goods store and was able to buy or, according to family lore, barter for a cabin in the Sierras. I grew up in Los Angeles, where in the 1970’s, the skies were yellow with smog a lot of the time, even more so than now. But for at least a week or two in the summer, we were able to go to a place with fresh, crisp air. 

I’ve hiked into the Yosemite Valley from Porcupine Creek, and all around Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining in the Inyo National Forest, including the Ansel Adams and Hoover Wilderness Areas. There are hikes to lakes and waterfalls and mountain passes, through Jeffery Pine forests and a wildflower hike with a series of cascades that in some years, thunder with water.  Some friends and members of my family have not taken to my hikes, since I go out even if afternoon temperatures hit 80 or 90 degrees, and reach an altitude anywhere from 4,000 to over 10,000 feet. I often walk for five to six hours with a break for lunch. 

Unfortunately, last year I couldn’t enjoy one of my favorite hikes, which connects to a former Native American trail, because in November 2011, a freak windstorm from the north blew down tens of thousands of trees throughout the Sierra Nevadas. The winds don’t normally come from the north, which is why so many trees fell and blocked formerly passable trails. Read the full article…

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July 26th, 2013

Treasured Parks and Water Quality in the Mountain West: Two More Reasons to Ban Fracking on Federal Lands

By Katherine Cirullo, Food & Water Watch

This blog is the first in a series highlighting national treasures that could be affected by natural gas development should President Obama allow fracking to move forward near federal lands.

Vast, otherworldly, humbling. This is red rock country. Notable to Utah, it is a place of wonder. It is a place where I have spent days happily lost, wandering about deep slot canyons and standing atop spires of sandstone, gazing out at fields of hoodoos that look as if they have been melted by the sun. I have spent nights wrapped in my sleeping bag beside canyon walls, craggy silhouettes against a sky spattered with stars. I have woken up to those same canyon walls illuminated pink by the light of dawn, beckoning a new day of adventure. Read the full article…

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July 25th, 2013

Moving Dirty Crudes, Another Threat Posed by Dirty Fossil Fuels

By: Alison K. Grass and John Wu Join the Movement to Ban Fracking

Earlier this month, fire and a series of horrific explosions swept through Lac-Mégantic, a small town in Québec just miles from the Maine border, after an unmanned 72-car train derailed.  The train was transporting 27,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick on the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA). The death toll has climbed to more than 50 people. This is but one of the latest tragedies resulting from the rapid expansion of risky oil and gas drilling and fracking across North America. 

Oil produced by the boom in North America from tar sands in Alberta and the Bakken Shale Formation under North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba requires transport.  With pipelines already pumping at capacity, companies are turning to rails and ships to move their dirty products. Because most refineries in East Canada are not able to process heavy tar sand crudes, they are switching from distilling imported foreign light crudes to the cheaper Bakken light crudes

Read the full article…

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July 16th, 2013

Sale of Bethel’s Water System Would be a “Tax Through the Tap”

By Seth Gladstone

The proposed sale of Bethel, Connecticut’s drinking water system to Aquarion is a bad deal for residents and one that they should reject. Not only would the privatization mean much higher water rates for town residents in the future, it would also take the drinking water system out of local public oversight and control.

Aquarion agreed to charge the same rates as the town would charge through 2015, but after this period, the company will likely bring Bethel’s rates up to those of its Eastern Division – an extra $141 a year, or 37 percent more. Plus, Aquarion seeks a rate increase once every three years, and right now, the company is seeking to hike its Eastern Division rates by 23 percent over the next three years, which would bring the typical household’s annual bill up to $642 by 2015.

Statistically, privately owned water systems charge higher rates than publicly owned water systems of the same scale. This makes sense. Privatized water systems have two key disadvantages that drive up their rates significantly. First and foremost, private utilities demand profit on their investments. This profit motive compels regulated utilities to overinvest and prioritize reimbursed capital expenditure over efficiency. This is a well-established economic phenomenon, and it comes at the expense of ratepayers.

Read the full article…

July 2nd, 2013

There is nothing “innovative” about privatizing our water

By Elizabeth Schuster 

Yesterday, I participated in a meeting hosted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency on financing water infrastructure.  

Although I applaud the administration’s efforts to convene a discussion about the enormous need to invest in our nation’s aging infrastructure, I was discouraged that much of the meeting focused on promoting public-private partnerships and attracting more private financing for public water systems.   

Read the full article…

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July 1st, 2013

Watch a TV Journalist Debunk Nestlé’s Water Rhetoric

By Briana Kerensky

Working to expose the truth about Nestlé’s dangerous and unethical bottled water sales sometimes feels like trying to storm a castle. Nestlé, the largest purveyor of bottled water in the world, hides their efforts to privatize public water sources behind walls of powerful marketing schemes. They don’t sell water; they sell a lifestyle of “health” and “wellness.” Nestlé tries to pass its product off as “Pure Life,” as their most popular brand’s name suggests. So how are smart consumers supposed to fight against “Pure Life?”

Well last week, Nestlé’s castle started to show some cracks. In a great segment on Russia Today’s “Breaking the Set,” host Abby Martin responded to a video message from the corporation in which they tried to defend their water-grabbing tendencies. In the video, a Nestlé spokesperson claims that the corporation’s top priorities are consumers, the environment and the human right to water.

The truth is, as Martin makes clear, that Nestlé’s only real priority is padding its bottom line. In the “Breaking the Set” segment, which you can watch below, the reporter refutes the corporation’s statements, pointing out that consumers are wasting money on a product that costs thousands of times more than tap water from their faucet, even though almost half of bottled water comes from municipal water systems; Nestlé continues to tap ground water sources during times of drought. While Nestlé is currently promoting the human right to water through marketing schemes, this only came about after public backlash that ensued when Chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck went on record saying that water is neither a public nor a human right.

Read the full article…

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.

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