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

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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January 31st, 2013

I Spy a Corporation Desperate to Regain its Market Shares

By Kate Fried Food & Water Watch is working to Keep Nestlé out of the Gorge

Thanks in part to the consumer backlash against wasteful, unnecessary bottled water Nestlé’s sales figures are declining in the United States, Europe and Australia. The company has recently resorted to unorthodox, nay, illegal measures to maintain its stranglehold over the earth’s vital food and water resources. Even before the company’s share of the bottled water business fell by two percent in the west in 2011, Nestlé ripped a page from a James Bond villain’s playbook, turning to good old-fashioned espionage to protect its corporate interests. Read the full article…

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January 25th, 2013

New York’s Chefs (From Mario Batali to Our Moms) Agree: Fracking Would Cook Up Nothing but Trouble

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!In our work to ban fracking across the United States, we talk quite a bit about the unacceptable dangers the extreme gas drilling process poses to our water. From toxic fracking chemicals leaching into underground drinking water sources to regular leaks and spills polluting surface lakes and streams, “Don’t frack our water” has become a primary rallying cry in the anti-fracking movement.

But an equally urgent plea has been gaining steam in places where fracking threatens to invade: “Don’t frack our food!” And in New York, where Governor Cuomo may decide in the next few weeks whether or not to open the state to fracking, the call to protect our food is coming most recently from a group of professionals who know as much about the subject as anyone: top chefs.

This week, more than 150 prominent New York chefs – including the culinary superstar Mario Batali – sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to ban fracking in their state. In the letter they state that “fracking leaks and spills have stunted and killed crops and livestock and sickened humans…. This is of great concern to our community because agriculture, food and beverage production, restaurants, and tourism are vital, growing, interdependent economic engines that rely on our famously pristine water and farmland for their success.”

Indeed, these top chefs have much to fear and much to lose from fracking in New York. But their letter also speaks to the long chain of food, agriculture and farming professionals throughout upstate New York who have everything to lose as well.

“Those of us who treasure and increasingly rely on locally sourced food and beverages are deeply concerned that fracking will destroy our state’s environment,” says Heather Carlucci, a chef and co-founder of Chefs for the Marcellus, a partner group that helped coordinate the letter delivery. “It could destroy upstate farms, which are celebrated around the world and contributes a huge amount to the state economy.”

Heather’s reading couldn’t be truer. In a new issue analysis from Food & Water Watch, the potential impacts of fracking on New York’s food, agriculture and farms are spelled out, and the facts aren’t pretty. As the report notes, New York is the third-largest dairy state in the nation and the second-largest producer of apples, maple syrup, cabbage and wine production, among many other crops. These products end up not just on the tables of fine restaurants in Manhattan, but in family kitchens across the northeast.

December 10th, 2012

Fracking Companies Seek Exemption from Democracy

By Scott Edwards

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food & Water Justice project

While the nation was largely focused on the presidential election in the swing state of Colorado, there was another very important vote taking place in the state in Longmont, a city of about 86,000 people located just northeast of Boulder. On the same day Obama carried Colorado, the citizens of Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban the harmful practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a method of extracting local gas deposits in their community. Longmont’s ban of fracking was nothing short of heroic given the undue influence, massive amounts of money and open threats of financial ruin thrown about by the oil and gas industry and the state’s governor leading up to the vote on November 6th

Each day brings new, irrefutable evidence that fracking is poisoning our communities. Data released just last week shows that 17 percent of the over 2000 fracking chemical spills and releases reported in Colorado resulted in groundwater contamination with cancer-causing chemicals like benzene. None of that, of course, gives the industry or its supporters any pause. In fact, groups like Environmental Defense Fund and the fracking companies have once again shamelessly joined hands and are sharing talking points in Colorado in response to this new evidence. They’re jointly calling for a testing protocol to raise “public confidence” in fracking when the only thing the public can be increasingly confident about is that fracking is threatening their communities and clean water. 

The passing of the ban was the latest step in Longmont’s battle to keep the oil and gas industry from polluting their drinking water and poisoning their community. The next fight will be in the courts, where industry will dispatch its high-priced lawyers to ask a judge to quash the rights of tens of thousands of Longmont residents and allow the big gas companies to do what they want, where they want, without regard for the citizens of the state or the democratic process which enacted the ban in the first place.

On one level, this will be a legal battle about fracking and the devastation it brings to our public health and precious resources. The fracking companies like to pretend that fracking is harmless, but the truth is the fracking “debate” ended in 2005 when the industry deployed their lobbyists and got Dick Cheney and Congress to exempt their inherently harmful gas extraction process from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Their need for an exemption from the one federal law that protects our aquifers was an open concession that they couldn’t engage in fracking without poisoning our drinking water supplies. That fact was just proven with the latest Colorado contamination data. The SDWA free pass added to their exemptions to parts of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and virtually any other public health law with the words “safe,” “clean,” “conservation” or “environmental” in it.

But even all these regulatory exemptions aren’t enough for the industry; they’ll be walking into court any day now in Colorado seeking an exemption from democracy, the last great hurdle in their effort to poison and pollute with absolute impunity.  And that’s the other important aspect of this upcoming case – its about the fundamental rights of people in communities in Colorado, and elsewhere, to decide what they want their towns and cities to look like, what kinds of activities they want taking place next to their schools and playgrounds, how safe they want the water they drink and the air they breath to be.

Whether you’re for fracking or against it, whether or not you’re paying attention to study after study which shows that fracking is having detrimental impacts on ground and surface waters, airways, climate, property values and public health, and regardless of whether you think extreme fossil fuel development is worth the price we’ll all have to pay if fracking is allowed to proliferate even more, the one thing we can all agree on is that we live in a country where voting and the democratic process should count for something. All, that is, except for industry and the bought-and-paid-for politicians who are so willing to sacrifice the rights of their citizens for the profits of fracking companies. 

Just as EDF has lost its way in the fight to preserve our environment, Colorado’s governor, John Hickerlooper, has forgotten who elected him when he recently stated that that he would support industry if they sued his own citizens in Longmont over the fracking ban.  Perhaps Hickernlooper should take a lesson from the authors of Colorado’s State Constitution; they understood the rights of local citizens in ways that the governor doesn’t seem to grasp. This document, written in 1876, grants the people of Longmont and everyone else in the state “essential and inalienable rights,” including the right to enjoy and defend their lives and liberties and protect their property, to seek and obtain safety.  They also understood that these inalienable rights can never be eclipsed by the financial interests of industry. Article XV of the Constitution says that the state can never use its powers to “permit corporations to conduct their business in such a manner as to infringe the equal rights of individuals, or the general well-being of the State.”

Once the will of corporations take over the rights of citizens, we lose the power to determine our own future. When industries get to decide how safe our water and air is, we no longer control our own health and safety. And if the fracking companies who seek to profit in Longmont area allowed to undo the November 6th fracking ban, we can no longer pretend to live in a democracy.

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December 7th, 2012

Trickle-Down Benefits from Exporting Fracked Gas? Don’t Bet on It

By Hugh MacMillan

A new report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy and conducted by NERA Economic Consulting, touts the supposed net benefits to the U.S. economy of allowing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The study is incredibly out of touch.

The headline that LNG exports are unequivocally good – the more exports the better! – gives a huge gift to the oil and gas industry, and to its backers on Wall Street, but the devil is the details. Look closer, and you see that the narrow economic analysis does the public a disservice. As our Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter, has put it, “NERA’s report not only sweeps under the rug the public costs of more drilling and fracking, it insults us with the argument that the benefits enjoyed by the oil and gas industry and its financiers will trickle down.”

First, LNG exports will mean higher natural gas prices for American consumers, but the NERA report claims that on average, Americans will benefit because the gains will be so large for the oil and gas industry. This is the old “Bill Gates walks into a bar” illustration of lying with statistics.

In essence, the NERA analysis is that, while 10 million Americans would likely pay $100 each, a couple of oil and gas industry executives and banking executives could pocket a couple billion dollars, so if you take an average over everybody, it works out to everyone getting an extra $100. How the net economic benefit is distributed is completely lost. To its credit, the report does acknowledge that those Americans who rely on income from wages “might not participate in these benefits.” That says it all—how many people do you know that don’t make a living from wages, but who instead live off of their oil and gas industry investments? Not many? I didn’t think so.

Second, the NERA report has an appendix called “Factors That We Did Not Include in the Analysis,” but it needs another appendix. Perhaps it could be called: “Factors That We Did Not Include in the Factors-That-We-Did-Not-Include-in-the-Analysis Appendix.” 

LNG exports also mean more widespread and destructive drilling and fracking, but the costs to local communities exposed to this drilling and fracking – the long terms costs of a legacy of pollution – are ignored in the NERA report. These communities will be worse off when the fracking boom goes bust. They will face long term risks to their public water resources. And all of us will bear the escalating costs of global climate change that will come from giving the oil and gas industry its wish, and allowing it to drill and frack for as much fossil fuel as possible, as fast as it can.

Finally, it’s no surprise that more drilling and fracking would be projected to increase GDP, especially given that all the destructive and costly negative impacts are externalized, foisted on to the public and not included in NERA’s calculations. But increased GDP is not a measure of economic welfare.

The Natural Gas Act mandates the U.S. DOE swiftly authorize applications to export natural gas to countries with which the United States does have a Free Trade Agreement. The unbalanced findings of the NERA Economic Consulting report are being used by the U.S. DOE to evaluate whether LNG exports to countries with which the United States does not have a Free Trade Agreement are actually in the public interest. The potential impact on U.S. energy security is also being considered by the U.S. DOE as it decides whether or not to authorize LNG exports.

Our recent report, U.S. Energy Insecurity: Why Fracking for Oil and Natural Gas is a False Solution, exposes the misconceptions, falsehoods and misleading statements behind the oil and gas industry’s claims that modern drilling and fracking can deliver U.S. energy security. We show that the 100 years of natural gas is a dangerous mirage. There are a lot of threads to the industry’s claims that are unwound in our report, but above all else, the industry’s plans to export shale gas, America’s supposed ticket to energy security, are the most revealing. The only thing the industry seeks to secure is its bottom line. NERA’s report, commissioned by the U.S. DOE, moves them one step closer.

The U.S. DOE will be making an enormous mistake if it adopts the unbalanced and shortsighted conclusions of this study. The agency must not allow the oil and gas industry, and its Wall Street backers, to write federal energy policy to benefit its bottom line at the public’s expense.

The oil and gas industry will simply extract as much natural gas as possible, as fast as possible, for maximum profit, while fighting tooth and nail to prolong America’s destructive dependence on fossil fuels. Then, once U.S. natural gas is gone, the global oil and gas industry will simply convert the export facilities back to import facilities and bring in foreign sources of fracked natural gas to feed the entrenched U.S. dependence.

It is not too late for the United States to avoid going down this self-destructive path. Long-term U.S. energy security and independence can only be achieved by getting off of fossil fuels, but the country needs to act now to deploy existing energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions, invest in public transportation systems to reduce energy demand, and invest in future technologies that build on these proven solutions.

The U.S. DOE will be considering public comments on the NERA report until mid-January, and Food & Water Watch will be working with allies to urge the agency to reject the unbalanced and shortsighted economic study. Food & Water Watch will also be calling on you in the coming weeks to make your voices heard.

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November 27th, 2012

After Another Hard-Won Delay, No Fracking in New York This Year

By Seth Gladstone

Ban Fracking!It’s official: after years of edging steadily towards the decision to open up New York State to the danger and environmental degradation of fracking, Governor Cuomo has finally opened his eyes and ears to the groundswell of opposition to the controversial gas drilling method and put the breaks on the approval process. We’re pleased and encouraged by the fact that there will be no progress toward fracking in New York in 2012.

As we noted in October, intense pressure from the grassroots anti-fracking movement forced Gov. Cuomo to conduct a new health review of his proposed fracking regulations. Cuomo appointed three health professionals to conduct the review, but offered little detail in the way of exactly what their mandate would amount to. More questions were created than answered with the governor’s new twist to the review process. Meanwhile, a procedural deadline of November 29, 2012 still seemed to loom for his administration to approve final fracking regulations or be forced into some re-initiation of the review and regulation process.

Finally, last week, Gov. Cuomo confirmed that his administration would not meet that Nov. 29 deadline, assuring that nothing will be decided on the issue this year. While it seemed just a few months ago that Governor Cuomo was ready to carve a vast fracking sacrifice zone throughout the state’s Southern Tier, the immense pressure placed upon him by a broad coalition of thousands of concerned residents, activists and organizations has forced a rightful second-guessing of fracking by the governor. All of which buys our growing movement more time to energize, strategize, mobilize and activate anew against the still-looming threat that continues to cloud New York’s future.

Additionally, the fight for truth and transparency around fracking in New York enjoyed another victory this month, as a university research institute that had been closely tied to the oil and gas industry was shut down by the school’s president recently. In an era when it has become commonplace for corporate interests to coopt supposedly legitimate academic research institutions with funding, influence and biased engagement, to see such an entity rightly shut down is a win not just for concerned New Yorkers but for science and academics at large.

When the New York State University at Buffalo’s Shale Gas Resources and Society Institute opened last year, it was widely suspected that the institute was receiving financial support from the oil and gas industry. Last May, it released a study that was loaded with misinformation and drew the obviously false conclusion that fracking was a safe procedure that would have no negative effects on surrounding communities. After much criticism and controversy, the fact that the institute has been permanently shuttered should be affirmed and celebrated.

As the eyes of the nation remain on New York State and the prolonged fight to protect countless communities from the ravages of fracking, we can look forward to building our movement and our momentum in 2013. Help keep the pressure on Governor Cuomo by signing our petition and letting him know you won’t tolerate fracking in New York State this year, next year or ever.

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