Water | Food & Water Watch - Part 6
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Blog Posts: Water

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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March 6th, 2013

The Struggle for Water in the Americas

By Marcela Olivera

This blog was originally posted at Thebrokeronline.eu.

Fighting for Water RightsIn the Americas, we have been fighting water privatization since the early 1990s: from Detroit in the United States to Buenos Aires in Argentina. After the infamous 2000 water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia, that led to the expulsion of a multinational corporation, social movements throughout the Americas have organized themselves to protect water from greed.

In August 2003, in El Salvador, several organizations from the Americas assembled and decided to create the Red VIDA (Network for Inter-American Vigilance in Defense of and for the Right to Water).  Through this network, we would launch a coordinated hemispheric campaign to defend water as a common good. 

Since its beginning in 2003, we have worked very hard resisting water privatization and expelling corporations that were profiting from our water sources and water utilities. We have also insured that constitutional amendments were passed that prevent the commodification of water. In Uruguay, for example, the Red VIDA was active in the campaign that led to a constitutional amendment declaring access to water as a human right. 

Read the full article…

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…

February 13th, 2013

The Senator’s Sip

Last night in the Republican Party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Senator Marco Rubio unintentionally added some dramatic flair to his speech when he paused to reach off-camera for a bottle of Poland Spring water. Now we have a response of our own to the “sip heard around the world.”

 

Dear Senator Rubio, 

First, what an epic sip! When thirst strikes, Senator Rubio, it strikes regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. In this case it struck a few feet too many to your left during your formal response to the State of the Union. Yikes.

While we’re sure you weren’t intentionally plugging Poland Spring, we’d like to offer a few suggestions for your next on-camera appearance: Read the full article…

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