Newsom Drought Plan Doesn’t Hold Water

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Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA – Today, Governor Newsom is expected to release a plan purporting to prepare California for a hotter, drier future fueled by climate change. Yet the steps outlined rely heavily on desalination and controversial tunnel and dam projects. The plan makes no mention of curbing the most intensive water users of the state — Big Ag and Big Oil.

Food & Water Watch research recently found California could save as much as 82 million cubic meters of water every year by switching from fossil fuels to renewables like solar and wind power — that’s a 98 percent reduction from the water currently needed to maintain the state’s fossil fuel reliance. The water used for industrial cultivation of thirsty crops like almonds and pistachios is equally stark. Between 2017 and 2021, Food & Water Watch found almond bearing acres grew by 32 percent and pistachio acres increased by 63 percent. That expansion necessitated the withdrawal of an extra 523 billion gallons of water for irrigation — enough water to supply nearly four million households with enough water for an entire year.

“Newsom’s drought plan to conserve water ironically does nothing to curtail the biggest water abusers who are also the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions fueling the crisis,” said Food & Water Watch California Organizing Manager Tomás Rebecchi. “The toxic cycles of industrial agriculture and fossil fuel extraction use massive amounts of  water that could otherwise go to public uses, kneecapping any attempt at meaningful water conservation. Coupled with his energy plans that include continued reliance on fossil fuel gas plants and his failure to crack down on corporate water abuse, this drought plan heralds an increasingly dry, inequitable California at the mercy of fossil fuel and industrial agricultural companies.

Environmental advocates, scientists and frontline community members have long decried ocean desalination as a wasteful boondoggle that puts marine life at risk and threatens to extend the life of fossil fuels needed for its power. In May, advocates successfully shut down plans for a desalination plant by Poseidon, a client of Newsom’s close adviser, Jason Kinney, and his lobbying firm, Axiom Advisers.  Newsom proposes to “streamline and expedite permitting” for desalination facilities.  

“Frontline communities can’t afford desalination and neither can the environment,” continued Rebecchi. “And time after time Californians have fought against these boondoggle projects and won. It’s time Newsom treated water like a human right, not a commodity to be traded for corporate profit.”

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Thirsty Fossil Fuels: Potential for Huge Water Savings by Switching to Renewables

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PDFClimate and EnergyClean Water

As water resources across the United States experience historic stress
thanks to perpetual megadroughts and other climate change impacts, the unsustainable relationship between water and fossil fuel electricity
generation is even more apparent. While all forms of energy production require water at some point in their life cycle, fossil fuels use an exorbitant amount compared to renewables such as wind and solar.

This underscores the need for a swift transition to a renewable electricity grid, which can cut lifecycle water use by up to 99 percent.

Food & Water Watch found:
  • If California replaced fossil fuel and nuclear electricity production with 100 percent renewable energy sources like solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind, the state could save 82 million cubic meters of water annually. This is a 98 percent reduction from current levels consumed for fossil fuel and nuclear electrical generation.
  • Similarly, California’s water withdrawals could be reduced by over 99 percent while producing the same amount of energy — amounting to nearly 6.3 billion cubic meters of water. That is equivalent to 2.5 million Olympic swimming pools of water.
  • Similar water savings are possible at the national level, with more than a 99 percent decrease in water consumption and withdrawal by replacing fossil fuels and nuclear with wind and solar PV.
  • Nationally, over two-thirds of water used in electrical generation for cooling comes from freshwater sources. Shifting to 100 percent renewable energy would free up enormous amounts of freshwater for truly beneficial purposes.

On The Right To Water With An Activist On The Front Lines

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Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

This week marks the 12th anniversary of the United Nations’ recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation. To commemorate the anniversary, Digital Copywriter Mia DiFelice sat down with Maude Barlow, FWW board member and long-time international water rights activist. In this interview, Maude talks about her experiences fighting for the right to water, the current challenges we face and her hopes for the future. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Journey To The United Nations

How did you come into the water movement?

I came out of the women’s movement here in Canada, and I came into water absolutely by accident. Back in 1985, Canada negotiated a free trade agreement with the U.S. I was concerned about its effects on social security for women. All these goods would be subject to new rules of trade that basically said, “Government is hands-off, the corporations get to decide.” But when I read the annex at the back of this agreement, it listed all of the goods under the new rules, like running shoes, cars and so on — and there was water in all its forms.

I remember thinking, I don’t understand this at all, how is water a tradable good? Water is a public trust! And that’s what set me on a journey. I realized that there were corporate interests that recognized before most of us that the planet was running out of clean, accessible water. They saw we were taking it for granted, we weren’t treating it well. They saw that anyone who controlled it was going to be both powerful and potentially wealthy.

In the run up to the UN’s recognition, you were the Special Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly. What were the high and low points of that experience? 

In 2008, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann took over as president of the UN General Assembly. He called me and said, “Come work with me, we’re going to do this together. We’re going to make water and sanitation a human right.” We put our heads together with other activists and put the question to the General Assembly on July 28, 2010. I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it. My country [Canada] was leading the fight against the human right to water. The U.S. was opposed, Great Britain was opposed. The World Bank was opposed, all the big water companies were opposed, etc.

But during the campaign, we brought people in to tell their stories to the United Nations. When Pablo Sonam, the ambassador to Bolivia, stood before the General Assembly on July 28, 2010, he had a report in his hand from the World Health Organization. He read from the report, which said that every three and a half seconds, somewhere in the Global South, a child dies of waterborne disease. And he held up one finger. And then another. And another, and then just half a finger — and you could have heard a pin drop in the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was so powerful. 

The Importance Of The Right To Water

How has the UN’s recognition of the human right to water changed the playing field for activists, especially here in North America?

The right to water matters, even though some people say, “Well, everything didn’t change the next day.” Because rights turn it into an issue of justice, not charity. 

Since 2010, over four dozen countries have either amended their constitution, or introduced new legislation to guarantee the human right to water. Once it’s in the constitution of a nation state, it becomes the right of the citizens of that state, and those citizens can use it in legal cases. I’d like to see it more widely understood and widely used. But it was a really important beginning. And I consider it an evolutionary step forward for humanity.

In Canada, we launched this Blue Communities project where municipalities pledge to protect water as a human right, to not allow privatization and to start phasing out plastic bottled water on municipal premises. That’s been tremendously exciting. It’s now hit 337 municipalities around the world, including big ones like Berlin and Paris. 

Los Angeles became a blue community a couple of years ago. And you might think, Well, Los Angeles is so wealthy, why would they need to do this? But in the Greater Los Angeles area, there are a million people without proper access to water and sanitation. So people who think this is just an issue in the Global South are wrong. I want to disabuse us of this notion that it’s only in some poor countries, although, of course, the crisis is much more stark in some places than others. 

The Fight Ahead For The Right To Water

What do you see as the next steps and challenges in the fight?

I worry about the financialization of water, which is something Food & Water Watch is leading the fight against with legislation and with public outcry. I worry about the commodification of water in different ways. For example, in the Western United States, water markets are opening up and farmers can sell their excess water, like a cash crop. 

We are facing what I call “the perfect storm” of declining water sources, either polluted or decimated. We’re pulling water faster than it can be replenished by nature. The demand for water on our planet is going straight up and the supply is going straight down. It is absolutely startling. There’s also growing inequality within and between countries. And then there’s the rising cost of water, particularly when it’s privatized. 

Protecting and restoring watersheds, forest soils and wetlands is absolutely crucial. Yet we continue to take those forests and wetlands down as we build more stuff and we trade more stuff. We have this notion of unlimited growth. But we don’t yet understand how sacred water is and that water is life and that we’re part of water, we’re part of nature, we’re not separate from it.

What has helped you persist in what looks and feels like a very uphill battle?

The wonderful people in our movement, including Food & Water Watch and the leadership of Wenonah Hauter and others, gives me tremendous hope. And meeting young people from around the world who care and are doing something. 

I’ve just finished a new book called Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism. In the book, I share that you never know where the wind is going to come from. As Rebecca Solnit wrote, “History is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways.” 

We can’t control the outcomes. But my definition of hope is a commitment to protecting all that is good for future generations and the planet, knowing that you can’t control the outcome. But you have faith that what you do matters. So you put your hand out and you touch the web of the universe, wherever you are. You can’t control everything else, and you’re not sure what others are doing. But you have to have faith that others are doing something. And that together, you’re moving forward. 

That’s the definition of what American spiritual leader Joan Halifax calls “wise hope.” I love the concept of wise hope. It’s not, “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry, be happy.” No. Having wise hope means knowing we have serious problems. But we look them in the eye, and we deal with them. 


What You Can Do: Volunteer To Turn Your Community Blue!

Hearing from Maude makes it clear how important it is for everyone to act locally to protect their resources. Communities around the world have passed local resolutions pledging to promote the human right to water and sanitation. These blue communities reject water privatization and promise to keep water in the public service. They also say “no” to bottled water in public buildings and events. With every blue community, we come closer to realizing our human right to clean, affordable water.

Learn how to advocate for your community to turn blue!

Futures Trading: Another Threat To Our Right To Water

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Clean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In late 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) launched the first water futures market, called the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index Futures. This market allows financial speculators to literally gamble on the price of water. But how does that actually work? And what are the consequences?

Water Futures Open Water Rights To Gambling 

First, let’s start with water rights. Generally, states west of the Mississippi allocate water resources through a water rights system based on the doctrine of “first in time, first in right.” Because of the history of the West, those with the most senior water rights are usually those who use it for agricultural purposes. 

These rights are appropriative. Those who hold them have the legal right to divert water from its natural flow; for example, via crop irrigation. In California, as in other western states, rights holders can sell or lease the rights to use the water to others. 

The index that Nasdaq Veles created is a single number that estimates the prevailing price of water in California. This number changes as water prices change. It’s based on an algorithm and a supposedly representative list of transactions — both of which Nasdaq Veles keeps confidential.  

CME’s new market allows investors to bet on changes in the index. Investors do this by entering a futures contract. The buyer and seller of the contract bet on how the index price will change by a predetermined date in the future. The financial speculators who sell futures contracts hope the price goes down, so they get paid at that date. Those who buy futures contracts hope the price goes up, so they get paid at that date. 

When the contract period ends, neither the buyer nor seller will get any water or rights to water. Instead, the “winner” gets cash. They “win” the difference between the index price at the start of the contract and the price at the end. So if no actual water is changing hands, what harm can it do? Turns out, a lot.

Water Futures Are Bad News For Real-Life Water Access

Proponents of the market say that rather than a casino, the futures contracts will function more like insurance. Farmers who participate in the market can insulate themselves from volatile changes in water prices by securing another source of income.

But the water futures market has inherent risks. It opens up the doors for further commodification and privatization of water. It can reframe water not as it is — a basic human right and resource that should remain in the public trust — but rather as greedy speculators would like it to be — something to bet on, like oil or gold. And, in doing so, it opens up water to excessive speculation and market manipulation, with consequences on the price of actual water.

First, investors, especially if they have huge contracts and stand to make or lose a lot of money, may try to profit from the futures market by manipulating the underlying market for real-life water. A single investor is allowed to buy water futures contracts equal to 31% of the average annual water rights transactions. Market manipulation is rampant in other futures markets that are based on price indices. 

California is particularly vulnerable to market manipulation because it lacks price transparency for water rights transactions. This is even more concerning considering that the CME can keep the data and algorithm of its index secret, calling it “confidential business information.” The public has no way of knowing if the index is accurate.

Excessive speculation is the second way that the water futures market could lead to real world price hikes. The presence of many large speculators on the futures market could send price signals that the price of water will increase. So rights holders of real-life water may hoard their water in response. This would cause prices for water to rise. 

“You can’t put a value on water as you do with other commodities. Water belongs to everyone and is a public good. It is closely tied to all of our lives and livelihoods, and is an essential component to public health.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

If prices rise, small farmers will be among the hardest hit because agricultural users are the largest sellers of water rights. High prices would make irrigation unaffordable for many small farmers. They’ll close up shop and sell their land, usually to big agribusinesses. That means more farmland consolidation and more profits and power to big corporations.

We Need The Future Of Water Act To Protect Our Water

Financial speculators should not be allowed to gamble on and profit off of drought in California. As droughts, wildfires and climate chaos threaten our water supplies, we need to protect this invaluable resource as a public trust, managed in the public interest.

Water futures will incentivize the rich to protect their interests in water. Meanwhile, everyone else will face increasingly scarce and unaffordable water. 

Fortunately, in March 2022, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced legislation to ban water futures trading. The Future of Water Act will ensure water is not a financial toy for speculators to play with, hurting families and small farmers in the process. Passing this legislation is an essential step to secure our human right to water.

Tell Congress to cosponsor the Future of Water Act!

Bucks County Sewer Proposal Details Remain Hidden from Public

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Clean Water

Today, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records denied Food & Water Watch’s appeal seeking to overturn the Buck County Water & Sewer Authority’s refusal to provide information about its dealings with Aqua Pennsylvania. 

In early March, after hearing rumors that the BCWSA was in private talks with Aqua, Food & Water Watch requested copies of any presentation, draft proposal, unsolicited bid or other materials or communication from Aqua Pennsylvania or Essential Utilities from January 1, 2020 to present. 

The Office of Open Records ruled that the documents would be confidential until the execution of a contract, but failed to respond to any of Food & Water Watch’s arguments for the release of the records. Their decision, which was delayed by months, comes two days after BCWSA approved an exclusivity agreement with Aqua Pennsylvania. 

The entire process has been highly flawed. On Wednesday, the BCWSA Board voted on the exclusivity agreement even though it excluded it from the public agenda posted before the meeting, and it failed to notify the public that the vote was happening. The Board, however, did take the time to hold a private press briefing the day prior to the vote to discuss the agreement. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerslake issued the following statement:

“What is the BCWSA Board trying to hide? The people of Bucks County have a fundamental right to know what is being discussed about the future of their sewer system. The entire privatization process has been shrouded in secrecy without public access to even basic information. The process has been flawed since its conception. Sewer privatization is not in the public interest and will sacrifice public control over an essential asset, leading to massive increases in bills for households and local businesses. The BCWSA Board must reject the sewer privatization deal.” 

Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority Advances Backroom Deal with Aqua

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Clean Water

This morning, the board of directors of the Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority (BCWSA) announced a year-long exclusivity deal with Aqua Pennsylvania to finalize the sale of the authority’s sewer system to the corporation. This comes after months of community opposition, and it follows months of private conversations between the BCWSA board and the corporation. The proposed $1.1 billion sale would be the largest sewer privatization in the United States. 

Aqua Pennsylvania submitted an unsolicited proposal in late 2020 and has since been attending Board meetings. The BCWSA has rejected Food & Water Watch’s Right to Know request for a copy of that proposal or any information about its ongoing conversations with the corporation. According to a document submitted by BCWSA in response to an appeal of that denial, Aqua Pennsylvania has claimed that the proposal and all communication are confidential “without regard to time.” 

“This backroom dealing is a recipe for disaster for the customers of the BCWSA,” said Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The process was ripe for manipulation by private interests at the public expense. The Board has failed the public, who should have been informed and consulted before the Board started down the road to privatization. This major transaction would stick generations of Bucks County residents with higher utility bills. The Board must reject the deal.”   

“When you put politics before the residents who would be affected by the increases privatization of services and the effects it has on their daily life brings, it’s a sad day for all of us who will have to live with this mistake,” said Tom Tosti, Director of District Council 88, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). 

“Yet again we see Aqua Pennsylvania continue its drive to be the regional water monopoly in our area and yet again we have a set of local officials who do not appear to understand the bigger and profound negative impacts from commodifying our water and wastewater systems,” said David McMahon, cofounder of Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE). “And so once again it is left to the ratepayers themselves to do the due diligence and show how these privatization efforts are simply not in the public interest.” 

“We keep playing this game where consultants and public officials pretend that there is a magical benefit to privatizing water and wastewater systems but time and time again we are shown that the PA PUC is unable to protect ratepayers,” said Kofi Osei, a community organizer with NOPE. “Investor owned utilities consistently have double or triple rates of nearby systems owned and operated by municipal authorities. Section 27 of the PA constitution states that ‘ Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come’. Investors have no right to our constitutionally protected resources and Municipal Authorities, especially huge multi county ones like BCWSA, have no right to explore giving away our property.”

“This is disappointing but not surprising,” said Margo Woodacre with Keep Water Affordable. “We spoke at one of the suddenly-announced Buck’s County Sewer and Water Authority’s board meetings to warn the board of our experience with Aqua’s tactics of raising fees on the ratepayer. We were surprised to see Aqua’s leadership quietly present at that meeting.  Although the board promised that this would be an ‘open process,’  this decision seems to have been made behind closed doors with no public input!”

Since last winter, community groups, workers and residents have attended Board meetings to express opposition to privatization of BCWSA. More than 300 Bucks County residents have signed petitions opposing the privatization. 

The authority will not pursue the traditional competitive bidding process. It has engaged in exclusive conversations with Aqua Pennsylvania. The vote was made without advance public notice. The item was not included on the agenda. This has raised concerns that the anticompetitive nature of the transaction will result in higher costs for the public. 

We Need To Get The Lead Out. Now.

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Clean Water

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0© Theen Moy / Flickr.com
by Mia DiFelice and Mary Grant

We’ve heard this story so many times, it’s lost its shock. Lead found in our cities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our plumbing. Since the scandal in Flint, Michigan came to light in 2016, lead in our water has been a running story in our newsfeeds. And no wonder — every state in the country has lead service lines. 

A reminder: there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and it’s especially dangerous for children. It can lead to developmental disorders, damage to the nervous system and blood cells, and more. In 2021, out of a million children in the U.S. tested, half showed detectable levels of lead in their blood. Lead exposure is much more likely for poorer children and children of color, reinforcing historical inequities. 

Replacing lead lines is a human rights issue, a public health issue and a social justice issue. Yet, our elected officials have dragged their feet on full funding to fix this problem. Meanwhile, corporations are targeting municipal governments for privatization — which only stands to worsen the crisis.

The Link Between Lead And The Loss Of Local Control 

Flint’s lead crisis began when a state-appointed emergency manager took control of the city and changed its water source, supposedly to cut costs. Then-Governor Rick Snyder used the state emergency manager law to strip majority Black cities of democratic decision-making. This put money for bondholders before the health and wellbeing of residents. Immediately after the switch, residents raised the alarm about the gross, discolored water. The state emergency manager’s response? To repeatedly insist that the water was safe to drink. 

In 2014, Veolia, the world’s largest water corporation, was hired to study Flint’s water system and offer advice. It told the city that the water was safe. Now, the company faces a lawsuit from Flint children who were poisoned. It wasn’t until October 2015 that public health community organizing and advocacy got the emergency manager to switch the water supply back.

After Flint’s crisis came Pittsburgh’s. Pittsburgh also relied on a deal with Veolia that failed to protect public safety. As in Flint, the City was strapped for cash. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the City needed billions of dollars to get its water system up to snuff. So Pittsburgh called on Veolia to cut costs and manage the system. 

Veolia’s contract with Pittsburgh, as with many of its other clients, paid the company a percentage of the savings it touted. This explicitly incentivized Veolia to cut costs as much as possible. One of the items on the chopping block during its tenure was water treatment. The system switched to a cheaper corrosion control chemical — a change made without necessary state approval. And the consequences, as in Flint, were dire. Lead contamination surpassed the EPA’s action levels, or the level at which water systems must take action. It blew past the level of contamination deemed safe by public health officials — that is, zero. 

We Need Clean And Affordable Water

Nationally, privatization is wreaking havoc on our water supply. On average, utility bills are 59% higher for those on private systems versus public. At the same time, the incentives for quality plummet. Cutting costs for profit means cutting corners. Ultimately, residents pay the price.  

This summer, Rep. Rashida Tlaib led a tour of Michigan for the “Get The Lead Out” Caucus. The caucus is digging deeper into the issue of lead in our drinking water through research and conversations with residents on the ground. As they prepare recommendations for the House, we need to make clear our demands for clean, affordable, lead-free water. 

Get the lead out in…

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In 2016, 17% of Pittsburgh houses were turning up with lead contamination above the EPA’s action level. Since then, the local water authority has replaced 52-miles-worth of public and private lead service lines. However, the City has much more work ahead of it. About 8,000 service lines still need to be replaced, with aims to finish by 2026. Meanwhile, about 400 children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in the City each year.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

The Wet Well is where all of the wastewater enters the plant. CC BY-SA 2.0; 90.5 WESA, Flickr
Get the lead out in…

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.’s lead crisis began in November 2000 when the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority changed a water treatment chemical. Lead rose to dangerous levels among the city’s 25,000 residences with known lead service lines. The DCWSA tried downplaying the risks of lead. They knew the lead levels were elevated in 2002, but the public didn’t know until the Washington Post published an exposé in 2004. By failing to properly notify the public, DCWSA violated our national lead-in-water rule. Now, twenty years later, NRDC estimates that D.C. has almost 32,000 lead service lines. The District’s officials and utility company have taken little action to address the ongoing threat.

Construction workers check on progress inside a CSO tunnel for the Clean Rivers Project in D.C.
Get the lead out in…

Benton Harbor, Michigan

Since 2018, lead testing has revealed dozens of homes in Benton Harbor with dangerously high levels. Last fall, a coalition petitioned the EPA for emergency action to bring those levels down. In response, the Governor signed an executive order to give residents alternative water and filters. It will cost $30 million to replace the City’s service lines, as nearly all were confirmed to have lead or could possibly have lead in 2020. By June 2022, two-thirds of the city’s lead service lines had been replaced. Residents continue to call for a stronger response to the crisis, including faster assistance to replace all lead service lines.

Get the lead out in…

Flint, Michigan

Eight years have passed since Flint’s water crisis shone a national spotlight on the lead in our pipes. Yet, Flint residents still struggle with untrustworthy water and unaffordable water bills. In 2015, tests showed that Flint’s water exceeded 25 ppb of lead in most samples, with some reaching over 100 or even 1,000 ppb. City and state officials repeatedly insisted the water was safe to drink, but local organizing forced the emergency manager to switch back water sources. Flint is aiming to finish all lead service line replacements by September 2022. 

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; George Thomas, Flickr

A Strong Lead-in-Water Rule

By October 2024, President Biden’s administration has promised a stronger Lead and Copper Rule. For years, community groups have urged action to fix the broken lead-in-water regulation. Our government needs to lower the action level as close to zero as possible, improve sampling and require full lead service line replacement within a decade. These changes will help ensure that we get lead out of our water. 

At the same time, communities must get the funding they need to ensure everyone can access clean water — water that isn’t poisoned by lead.

A Solution In The WATER Act

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill directed $15 billion a year for lead service line replacements. It distributes about half of that through loans instead of grants dedicated to disadvantaged communities. This is not enough. In fact, it’s only a quarter of what the water industry says we need to replace every lead service line in the country. 

We have another option — the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act led by Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Ro Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders. This legislation has more than 100 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 6 in the Senate. The WATER Act would dedicate $35 billion each and every year to update our water systems, including replacing lead service lines. It would send $1 billion a year specifically to schools to improve water pipes and fixtures. And, the WATER Act is the only water funding proposal that explicitly calls for water to remain in public hands.

Call on Congress to support the WATER Act.

Announcing 100+ Sponsors for the WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

by Mary Grant

More than eight years ago, millions of people watched the water crisis in Flint, Michigan unfold on national television. An entire city was poisoned when decades of federal disinvestment in water infrastructure collided with a racist emergency management regime imposed by former Governor Rick Snyder. Justice was denied to Flint on June 28, 2022, when the state supreme court threw out charges to hold Snyder accountable based on a technicality. 

In early 2016, driven by the crisis in Flint, Food & Water Watch worked with our allies on a pivotal piece of legislation: the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act — the WATER Act. This month, we reached a major milestone in this six-year campaign. Since it was introduced by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Ro Khanna and Sen. Sanders, more than 100 representatives and 6 senators now officially support this legislation. With more than 550 endorsing organizations, we are continuing to grow support in Congress to pass the WATER Act as the landmark water law of the 21st century. We have a lot more work to do to ensure water justice.

A Permanent Water Solution 

The WATER Act is the only comprehensive approach to improving our drinking water and wastewater systems. It will create a trust fund to provide funding to meet the level that the EPA says is necessary to update and repair our public and household water systems. To do that, the Act will provide $35 billion annually to restore the nation’s public water infrastructure, including: 

  • $15.2 billion a year to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to upgrade and improve public drinking water systems (including lead pipe removal and treatment for PFAS contamination); 
  • $15.7 billion a year to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to pay for publicly owned wastewater system upgrades;
  • $1.1 billion a year to fix drinking water infrastructure in schools, including replacing lead pipes and fixtures; 
  • $1.2 billion a year to help update and install household septic systems and wells;
  • $1.4 billion a year to protect drinking water sources from pollution; and
  • $349 million a year for technical assistance to rural, small and Indigenous wastewater and drinking water providers. 

The WATER Act will help prevent another water crisis like Flint by restoring federal funding to safe water. And it will ensure local communities have the support they need to provide every person access to clean water. 

Deepening Water Crises 

Many of the water and sewer pipes under our streets were built in the years immediately following World War II. They are outdated and wearing out. Since that era, we’ve learned about many new toxic chemicals that their treatment systems aren’t built to remove. On top of that, they were not built for today’s climate reality. 

For many, the signs of our aging water systems erupt to surface in the form of water breaks and sewer overflows. Each year, we waste 2 trillion gallons of drinking water from hundreds of thousands of water main breaks. And in a dire threat to public health, more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage spills into basements, homes, roads and waterways.

For some communities — disportionately Black and Indigenous communities and communities of color — the harm has been more profound. Communities like Flint and Benton Harbor, Michigan face toxic lead poisoning, while communities like Jackson, Mississippi and Puerto Rico have faced climate change-fueled catastrophic system failures. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Fell Short 

When President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure package into law last year, it provided a downpayment on our water improvements. But it falls far short of what our water systems and our communities desperately need. 

According to the EPA’s latest assessments, our water systems require at least $744 billion in investment over the next 20 years. That’s more than $35 billion a year — just to comply with existing federal law.  

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided only 7% of the funding that our communities require to meet existing water quality standards. Congress needs to hear that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law cannot be the end of support to fund clean and safe water for everyone. 

We need a permanent water solution. We need the WATER Act.

Tell Your Congress Members to Cosponsor the WATER Act Today!

Pleasantville Flushes Sewer Privatization Deal

Categories

Clean Water

Tonight the Pleasantville City Council approved an ordinance to rescind its earlier approval of a 39-year sewer concession deal with the private equity firm Bernhard Capital. 

The 4-3 vote represents a remarkable turnaround after months of organizing by community groups opposed to the privatization deal. 

The original memorandum of understanding would have transferred control of the operation, management and financing of the sewer collection system to Bernhard Capital in exchange for $15 million upfront. Advocates had raised concerns with contract provisions that could have led to unexpected rate increases as well as with the approval process. The original ordinance was approved during consecutive meetings in February 2022, when community members were barred entry from City Hall due to unrelated protests. 

“This is a huge victory for democracy in South Jersey. This privatization scheme was a horrible deal for Pleasantville residents,” said Food & Water Watch senior organizer Kate Delany. “It would have gouged residents with excessive sewer rate hikes to profit a private equity firm. We applaud the City Council and the community organizations who stood up to this financial firm to protect their essential wastewater system. Responsible public provision is in the best interests of the public.”

This is the second time Bernhard Capital has lost an attempt to privatize a water system in South Jersey. The company faced stiff opposition to its bid to take over the public sewer system in Cumberland County. 

“From Fayetteville, Louisiana to Pleasantville, New Jersey, controversy follows Bernard Capital,” said Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez, Pleasantville resident and co-director of El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City. “This is not a coincidence. Bernhard is a firm that will do whatever it takes to profit off the public utilities of American cities. Public utilities should be public and never at the mercy of money.”

VP’s Pittsburgh Visit Underscores Need for More Lead Funding

Categories

Clean Water

Today, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Pittsburgh to highlight the city’s lead line replacement program. Her visit should help shine a light on policies that have worked – and on the level of funding that is necessary to replace lead lines across the country.

Food & Water Watch Water for All Program Director Mary Grant issued the following statement: 

“Cities like Pittsburgh and Newark have had real success in replacing lead lines, thanks to the work of community activists and the availability of public funds to do the work. We applaud the Our Water Campaign led by Pittsburgh United for its work to advocate for lead line replacement, and for pushing back on the water privatization that aggravated the lead crisis itself. Pittsburgh still has much work to do to eliminate all lead service lines, and federal support will be crucial to achieving lead-free water without exacerbating the city’s water affordability problems.

“Unfortunately, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law did not provide the level of funding that is necessary to end the nation’s lead-in-water crisis. The infrastructure law that was championed by the Biden administration devotes $15 billion to lead pipe replacement, which is only a quarter of what the water industry estimates is necessary to replace all lead service lines. And about half of that funding comes in the form of loans, instead of grants, which disinvested-in cities urgently need. 

“If the administration wants to fully confront this crisis, President Biden should make the WATER Act a part of his infrastructure agenda. This bill is the only permanent fix for our water crises, allocating $35 billion per year to urgently address the problems facing communities all across the country. The WATER Act prioritizes disadvantaged communities and would be fully paid for by rolling back some of the previous administration’s corporate tax breaks. And the WATER Act would make sure that the funds would not flow to large private water companies that take control of public water systems. It is the most comprehensive solution to our national water crisis, already backed by over 100 members of Congress. It’s time to act.”

EPA Action on PFAS Contamination is Modest First Step

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, DC – Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new drinking water health advisories for four specific PFAS “forever chemical” substances, in an effort to address the rampant contamination of drinking water sources from the highly toxic class of chemicals commonly found in proximity to military bases and industrial sites. The announcement includes updated advisories for PFOA and PFOS at near-zero levels and new advisories for two additional compounds, including GenX. These are just four of the thousands of known PFAS compounds known to exist in communities across the country.

In response, Mary Grant, Director of Food & Water Watch’s Public Water for All Campaign issued the following statement: 

“This modest action by the EPA to warn communities of the harm caused by these four specific chemicals is good, but it only represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of adequately acknowledging and mitigating the hazards posed by the thousands of highly toxic variants existing in the PFAS ‘forever chemical’ family. The EPA needs to go much further by implementing strong, enforceable regulations on the entire class of PFAS chemicals that are sickening communities around the country as we speak.

“Funding in the bipartisan infrastructure law provided a down payment on what needs to be a continuing stream of adequate funding to properly address the drinking water crisis facing our country. The WATER Act, which now has more than 100 cosponsors in Congress, would provide the adequate long-term solution we need to provide clean water for everyone for years to come.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

PFAS: No Sticking, No Staining … And Not Going Anywhere

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

By Mia DiFelice

The story begins in 1938, with the accidental invention of Teflon. Made famous by the miraculous “nonstick” cookware, Teflon flooded American kitchens in the 1960s. But Teflon’s stick- and stain-fighting power comes from the chemical PFOA. As Teflon sold the miracle of PFOA to consumers, new, similar chemicals flooded the market. Those chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are showing up in our baby clothes, our burger wrappers, our blood. And they’re not going away any time soon.

Is That a Bad Thing?

Very — and PFAS manufacturers have known this for a long time. In 2005, the EPA fined Dupont, the maker of Teflon, $16.5 million. The fine penalized Dupont for covering up decades of studies that linked PFOA to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. Dupont and 3M, the maker of another PFAS chemical, knew back in the ’60s that these substances could be dangerous.

Now, we see studies linking PFAS to thyroid disease, decreased fertility, endocrine disruption, cognitive problems and immune system impacts (for example, reduced response to vaccines). There is even evidence linking PFAS exposure to greater risk of COVID and more severe COVID symptoms.

Despite this research, the U.S. still lacks federal regulations for PFAS. Chemical companies can keep information on PFAS close to the chest, so we often can’t know if a product we purchase contains the chemicals. Our federal government does not regulate all industrial PFAS wastewater discharges, either. On top of that, it has not designated PFAS as hazardous substances, which would help clean up contamination sites.

Where Do We Find PFAS?

In short, everywhere. If a product is labeled non-stick, stain-resistant or water-resistant, there’s a good chance it contains PFAS. And once PFAS are in the environment, they spread and persist. When we toss garbage with PFAS in it, the chemicals leach from the landfill into our air, water and soil. Then they can get into the groundwater. Scientists have even found PFAS in places thought to be undamaged by humans, like the Arctic and the deep ocean. In the U.S., researchers estimate they’re in 97% of people’s blood.

And PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” are nearly impossible to get rid of. If a manufacturer stopped using PFAS right now, they could still find traces in products coming out of that plant a decade later.

The Stuff We Buy

Stain-resistant and water-resistant fabrics usually have PFAS. For instance, a recent study found 60% of fabrics used in children’s products labeled “waterproof” or “stain-resistant” contained PFAS. When PFAS-treated upholstery or carpeting wears down, we inhale the dust. We can eat PFAS when they slide off our water-resistant food packaging. They’re also in our cosmetics and our toiletries, where they are most likely to get into our systems through our eyes.

The Food We Eat

When we flush products with PFAS down the drain, the chemicals build up in our sewers. Many wastewater treatment plants filter out the solids and clean the water. But those solids have to go somewhere, and often, they go to farms. Farms have long-used sewer sludge as fertilizer. As a result, the Environmental Working Group estimates that 20 million acres of US cropland could be contaminated with PFAS. The chemicals now appear in the crops of PFAS-affected farmland — and in the meat and milk of animals that eat those feed crops.

The Water We Drink

In 2021, EWG found PFAS contaminants in the public and private water of all 50 states. We might drink from the tap several times a day, so if PFAS are in the water, our bodies are continuously contaminated. Researchers have found PFAS in the drinking water of towns near factories that work with the chemicals. They’ve found the chemicals in the drinking water of towns near military bases, which use PFAS-laden firefighting foam for training exercises. We depend on water to survive — our government should not allow it to be laced with toxic forever chemicals.

What Can We Do About PFAS?

Many companies have voluntarily phased out PFAS, especially in the last twenty years as their dangers came to light. However, the EPA has not set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water, nor required manufacturers to help clean up contamination.

In 2021, the agency released its “PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” committing the agency to several measures to combat PFAS in the next few years. And just this week, it designated $1 billion of Infrastructure Bill funds to help local communities address PFAS. In the same announcement, the EPA published health advisories on four major PFAS chemicals — but this is out of thousands in the family.

While these are important steps in the right direction, the advisories aren’t enforceable, and communities have already waited decades for action. There is so much more work to be done. 

Food & Water Watch calls for:
  1. PFAS to be regulated as a class of chemicals, not on an individual level. Much of the work on PFAS so far has focused on PFOA and PFOS, allowing dozens of other PFAS to come onto the market with little scrutiny. When PFOA came under fire, Dupont was quick to replace it with GenX, shorter-chain compounds that share many of the same toxic traits as its sibling chemicals. But GenX may be even more toxic and could be more difficult to remove from drinking water. Without addressing PFAS as a category, the EPA will continue playing whack-a-mole with the thousands of varieties.
  2. Enforceable national drinking water limits, not only for legacy PFAS chemicals but all the chemicals in the family.
  3. Hazardous substance designation under the Superfund law for PFAS as class to jump start the cleanup of contaminated areas. 
  4. Passage of the WATER Act, which provides greater support for local water systems to test and treat for PFAS in drinking water and wastewater systems. This support must reach both public water utilities and household wells. If remediation isn’t possible, Congress must provide support to connect communities with contaminated water  to new, clean water sources. 

We need more funding and better policy for PFAS. Tell Congress to pass the WATER Act!

Baltimore Advocates Urge Full Implementation of Water Affordability Law as City Approves New Water Rate Hike

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Baltimore, MD — Today, the Baltimore City Board of Estimates voted to approve a water rate hike, increasing rates by three percent a year for the next three years. The rate schedule would increase a typical household’s water, sewer and stormwater bill from $118.46 a month currently to $130.21 a month, beginning in July 2024. It would be the smallest water rate increase in two decades. 

Members of the long-standing Baltimore Right to Water Coalition testified at the Baltimore City Board of Estimates meeting to applaud the City’s efforts to minimize the rate impact on households, and demand the full implementation of the Water Accountability and Equity Act, legislation that makes any rate increase less burdensome for City residents. It has been nearly one year since the legislation’s legal deadline for implementation and still the City has yet to take critical mandatory actions. 

Ongoing delays are rampant in implementation of the City’s signature water equity law, which was legally required to be implemented nearly a year ago, July 1st, 2021. The Water4All affordability program launched in February of this year, over 7 months after the deadline, and still falls short of critical enrollment thresholds. In addition, the Department of Public Works (DPW) has yet to establish the Office of the Water Customer Advocate or the Committee for Office Oversight. The Coalition demanded that the DPW fulfill its legal obligations to fully implement the Water Accountability & Equity Act, in light of ongoing rate increases.

Rianna Eckel, Baltimore organizer with Food & Water Watch and convenor of the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, a coalition of dozens of organizations that has been advocating for accountable, equitable, affordable water for all Baltimoreans since 2016, said:

“We applaud the efforts of the Mayor to minimize the rate burden on households in our City. But at the end of the day, a smaller rate increase is still a rate increase. Baltimore has a signature water affordability law on the books to protect low wealth residents from rate increases of any size — all that remains is action from DPW to expand enrollment in the Water4All program and implement the rest of the law. We urge the Mayor to fully implement the Water Accountability and Equity Act to ensure affordable and accountable service to all households in the City. Successful implementation will minimize future water rate increases by increasing payment rates for low income families, as well as restoring trust in billing accuracy with an expedient, transparent billing dispute process led by an independent Customer Advocate. Providing affordable water service is a win-win for households and for the city.” 

Jaime Lee, Director of the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a member of the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, stated, “The Advocate’s job is to listen to customers, help them resolve water issues, and craft policies that treat customers more fairly. Hiring a strong, independent Advocate would be proof that the City puts the interests of its constituents first.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

How Big Ag & Aging Infrastructure Are Blighting Our Beaches

Categories

Clean Water

by Michael Doerrer

For many families, summer means time at the beach! Streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are huge recreational draws — and they should be. They’re a natural resource we should all be able to enjoy. But broken wastewater infrastructure and giant corporations are bringing on summertime sadness. Beach closings are on the rise.

From Bathrooms to Beaches

We all know sewage spills hurt the environment. They pollute rivers, streams and other waters. Their toxins and pathogens endanger our health. Toxic overflows destroy aquatic ecosystems, kill fish and close shellfish harvesting areas. And as we try to enjoy the summer season, sewage spills have made many waters too polluted to swim, boat or fish in. Over the last five years, about a third of U.S. beaches have had at least one advisory or closing each year. 

Aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems lead to closures. Sewer spills led to nearly 15% of beach closing and advisories with known causes. Many more with unknown causes were certainly related to wastewater events.

Big Ag’s Waste Coming Ashore

Pollution from industrial agriculture and other sources leaves two-thirds of U.S. estuary waters at greater risk for harmful algal blooms. And that means more unhealthy and even dangerous waters and beaches. For example, less than a third of the shoreline along the Great Lakes is in good biological condition. A third is in fair or poor condition.

Agricultural pollution wreaks havoc on all types of water bodies and waterways. More than 50% of rivers and streams, 40% of lakes and 20% of coasts are polluted with excess nutrients that cause algal growth and fish kills. On top of that, more than 70% of wetlands have lost plant life, stressing the ecosystems there.

How You Can Help Protect Our Beaches

The handful of giant multinational corporations that control U.S. agriculture care more about profit than human health. They brazenly pollute, while would-be government regulators do little to stop them. 

But we can step in to defend our beaches. We can demand funding to improve wastewater systems and address stormwater. And we can stand up for commonsense policies and legislation like the WATER Act to help save our water and our beaches. 

Food & Water Watch is fighting to spread the word about this landmark legislation — the bill already has more than 100 co-sponsors in Congress! It’s the best way to start restoring federal support for water protections. At the same time, we’re standing up to the corporate polluters ruining our beaches and waterways.

This summer, as millions of us head for the sand, let’s remember that our waterways need our help. Our beaches — and our summertime traditions — depend on our action. 

Help save our shores. Tell Congress to support the WATER Act!

Morrow County Commission Declares State of Emergency Over Nitrate Contamination in Groundwater

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

For Immediate Release

Boardman, OR – Morrow County, one of Oregon’s primary hubs for industrial agriculture and food processing, is under a state of emergency after numerous groundwater wells showed dangerously high nitrate pollution. A leading source of nitrates is industrial animal agriculture. Mega-dairies in particular produce massive amounts of nitrogen-laden waste that can easily seep into groundwater.

“It’s a relief to see the Morrow County Commissioners doing everything in their power to protect the drinking water of vulnerable Oregonians,” said Kristina Beggen, an organizer with Food & Water Watch and the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition. “But the problem of nitrate pollution can only be solved by addressing its primary source: the irresponsible waste management practices of mega-dairies. Our coalition petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use its own emergency powers under the Safe Drinking Water Act over two years ago, but the EPA has so far failed to act. It is past time to take decisive action to curb this dangerous, mega-polluting industry and protect Oregonians’ drinking water.”

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is currently considering an additional mega-dairy for Morrow County: the 28,000 cow Easterday Dairy. According to national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch’s latest research, the proposed Easterday Dairy operation in Boardman (within Morrow County) would produce nearly 6 million cubic feet of manure and 12 million cubic feet of wastewater per year. 

Beggen added, “In light of the State of Emergency, it would be wholly unconscionable to introduce another mega-polluting industrial dairy to Morrow County’s landscape. ODA and DEQ have no choice now but to deny Easterday Dairy’s permit and focus on providing clean, accessible water to their constituents.” 

###

Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

EPA Proposes Rule to Return Key Water Protections Power to States

Categories

Clean Water

Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would return to states the legal authority to block certain key infrastructure projects that pose a threat to clean water. 

This move will restore longstanding state power to protect waterways from infrastructure projects. States’ Clean Water Act Section 401 legal authority has been a key factor in stopping several major fossil fuel pipelines and related dirty energy infrastructure, but was severely limited by a Trump administration rollback. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen released the following statement:

“In recent years, states have wisely used their long-standing legal authority to protect clean water in denying certification for dangerous new fossil fuel projects. The Trump administration’s reckless decision to gut state authority was nothing but a gift to oil and gas polluters at a time when we must leverage every tool available to combat the worsening effects of the climate crisis. It is welcome news that the White House is restoring this common-sense authority to protect our water and our climate.”

Whistleblowers Say EPA’s Toxic Management Greenlights Toxic Chemicals

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

by Mia DiFelice

In the 1960s, the United States was drowning in pollution. Air pollution killed hundreds of New Yorkers, towns stank with sludge and smog, an Ohio river burst into flames. In response to public fears and public pressure, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since then, the EPA has committed to “protecting human health and the environment” with regulations, education and funding for state and local programs. It claims to rely on “best available scientific information” to promote clean air, land and water for everyone. Yet, the agency has failed to keep up with emerging threats — in part because of industry sway.

Big corporations have made it their business to co-opt agencies meant to guard us from danger. Now, rather than fulfill its mission, the EPA too often protects the interests of polluting corporations instead. Nothing makes that clearer than information coming straight from four whistleblowing scientists. In July of last year, scientists from EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety shared evidence alleging abuse and corruption that give toxic chemicals a pass onto the market.

“The depth of it is pretty horrifying. I don’t sleep at night knowing what I know from the whistleblowers.”

Kyla Bennett, New England director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Their attorneys represent the whistleblowers.

The Office of Chemical Safety Does Not Stop all Unsafe Chemicals

Companies are constantly introducing new chemicals for manufacturing, construction, agribusiness and more. EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention studies these chemicals and keeps dangerous ones off the market. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

In 2021, whistleblowers revealed how management undermined scientific findings and pressured scientists to change their reports for numerous chemicals. Or, perhaps worse, supervisors changed the reports’ conclusions without scientists knowing until after the fact. These scientists detailed a culture of intimidation, corruption and retaliation, which allows thousands of toxic chemicals into our homes and workplaces. Chemicals that were given a pass have been linked to cancer, developmental disorders and neurological effects, among other health risks.

It looks like the executives hired to protect the public are more worried about protecting the profits of chemical companies. And these whistleblowers say they’re willing to cheat, bully and lie to their staff to do so.

Is the EPA Loyal to Chemical Companies Over Public Health and Safety?

Throughout these instances of pressure and abuse, whistleblowers report, management often prioritized the chemical companies submitting chemicals for assessment. They emphasized how upset companies would be if the work was too slow. They even dangled the threat of lawsuits over scientists’ heads, if the assessment came out unfavorably. Moreover, according to one toxicologist at the agency, “It is the unwritten rule that to get promotions, all pesticides need to pass.”

All this happens because EPA management routinely jumps into the chemicals industry after leaving the agency. In fact, since 1974, all seven former EPA pesticide directors who continued working after their time at the EPA did so at pesticide companies. Other EPA officials have gone on to work as consultants and board members at agrochemical companies. 

This revolving door has devastating impacts for our health and our environment. For instance, from June 2016 to July 2021, 3,835 new chemical applications were submitted to the EPA. Not a single chemical was kept off-market. This included 40 PFAS compounds. Studies that companies submitted linked these chemicals to neurotoxicity, cancers, convulsions and more. Yet, all 40 PFAS chemicals have been allowed, largely unregulated, onto the market.

PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” do not break down naturally but will persist in the environment. By siding with the chemicals industry, senior officials put short-term career ambitions before the forever effects of toxic chemicals. 

This Isn’t the EPA’s First Alleged Chemical Cover-up

The EPA was already in the spotlight in 2018 for its inaction on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller. Bayer-Monsanto, owner of Roundup, has faced hundreds of thousands of lawsuits by people alleging a link between their cancer and Roundup. Contrary to warnings from the World Health Organization and numerous scientific studies, the EPA insists that glyphosate is not a human carcinogen.

Yet, in 2016, the agency had done an internal analysis on glyphosate linking the chemical to cancer. But it kept the study under wraps. Instead, drafts of the EPA’s human risk assessment for glyphosate (first published that same year) gave the chemical the lowest possible cancer rating: “Not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  

In a common industry strategy, Monsanto ghostwrote research and paid academics to put their names on it. The EPA used this scientifically dubious research, as well as dozens of other industry-funded, unpublished studies, to reach its equally meritless conclusions on glyphosate. 

Interestingly, Bayer-Monsanto has announced it will stop selling glyphosate-based products for home use, but not because the EPA stopped them. It seems entirely prompted instead by the tidal wave of lawsuits the corporation has faced. The EPA should have stepped in long before that point — and banned all uses of glyphosate. 

The EPA’s Two-Pronged Problem Puts Us All At Risk

EPA managers putting their thumb on the scale of critical scientific assessments threatens our health, safety and environment. And it will only get worse as corporations strengthen their influence. The market for glyphosate is expected to grow by billions of dollars in the next few years, despite the controversy. And researchers have found PFAS everywhere from widely used pesticides to children’s clothing and everything in between.

Making matters worse, the EPA struggles with severe lack of resources, funding and staffing. Administrator Michael Regan told Congress that the agency has only 50% of what it needs to “review the safety of new chemicals quickly in the way that the law requires.” Monsanto-Bayer spent more cash defending glyphosate in court than the entire budget of the Office of Pesticide Programs. The EPA does not have the capacity to stand up to chemical companies or even do its job correctly. Besides vulnerability to corruption, this results in backlogs of work, rushed assessments and hurried acceptance of industry “science.” 

Even with the EPA’s recent change of hands in the Biden Administration, the agency faces deep-rooted cultural problems that will be hard to shake off. In 2022, an internal survey showed that EPA scientists in the New Chemicals Division still suffer from burnout and fears of retaliation. Staff reported that a culture of fear, retribution and abuse at senior levels remains common. 

EPA executives are wooed by corporate influence at the top, while scrambling to make do with scarce resources from below. The result? An agency that is failing to protect us from the toxic threats seeping into our everyday lives. 

Food & Water Watch won’t stop fighting to hold EPA accountable to public health and the environment — not corporate profits. We can’t do it without you.

Help us continue the fight.

Emily Robinson Turns Our Plastic Garbage Into Stunning Visual Essays

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Angie Aker

Many of us have spent time at the beach in recent years. If you have, it’s nearly impossible to miss a glaring symptom of humanity’s manufacturing problem — plastic. Plastic of every imaginable kind washes onto the shorelines of our world. It comes tangled in seaweed, punctuating the driftwood, and even hiding in the stomachs of decaying ocean life. Smooth or jagged, colorful or not, its presence has become an emblem of humanity’s war with the natural world. The species is pitted against nature’s innate sustainability, certain that man can triumph in the pursuit of capital and comfort. Those of us not so foolish see that folly in the plastic along the beaches. We also face our own feelings about the hugeness of the problem and our sense of powerlessness to fix it. 

This is something like what Emily Robinson was feeling during her daily beach strolls. She’s a Hollywood, Florida artist and mother with a background in journalism. She’s been a documentarian about difficult topics, including her beautiful work on loving family members with mental illnesses. That’s how I first met her many years ago. 

Recently, I noticed she was sharing fascinating beach finds almost daily. Over time, these beach finds started morphing into curations of beach plastic. Her local news even featured her in a compelling video interview. Since we at Food & Water Watch fight to disrupt the literal pipeline of fossil fuels to plastic, I was hooked. Emily kindly gave me a peek at her process for the series she calls “Peace of Plastic” and what she aims to say with it. Her observations are profound and essential.

“The joy of life is boiled down to having the most fundamental needs met. As we harm the planet, we harm ourselves. And as always, the most marginalized will always suffer first, and the most.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Plastic Pollution At Her Feet, Social Commentary In Her Hands

I asked Emily how this journey began for her. 

She said that at first she was a casual beachcomber looking for little natural treasures — shells, seaglass, driftwood. But as her eyes scanned the sand for these, she couldn’t help but notice everything that was there. Suddenly she had an epiphany. As she bypassed a chip bag to scoop up a more desirable find, she got “grossed out.” Not at the trash — at herself. She thought about how she was taking all the beautiful things the Earth gave, and leaving behind all of the ugliness that humans had contributed. Her initial shame gave way to a new mission, and she was inspired. 

“I literally began bringing home my garbage finds, then laying them out carefully on my patio table by color. I did this compulsively as another way of telling a story.

…My process was really simple. I was thinking ‘Holy shit! LOOK at all this stuff!’”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

The Big Problem That Plastic Pollution Signifies

Emily says trash, pollution, and climate change have always been upsetting to her. But she says recently she’s begun witnessing local, tangible changes that make it starker.  She notes the sargassum seaweed blooms, mainly in the summer months, becoming larger and larger. Tucked into the mounds of rotting seaweed are masses and masses of plastic debris. She says it’s like a giant floating landfill arrives. 

“Last year for many weeks the seaweed was filled with probably billions of tiny bits of shredded clear plastic. Once it’s in the water, it’s nearly invisible because its so tiny and clear. Like most people who become ‘woke’ to an issue suddenly, I think I felt really depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and a little hopeless and helpless, too. It’s like waking up to seeing the world being destroyed all around you, and looking around to find most people are still metaphorically ‘sleeping’ and you cannot wake them up to be in the same headspace as you are.”

MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

An Artist’s Compulsion To Create Order From Society’s Chaos

​​Emily Robinson didn’t set out to intentionally make art from her oceanfront scavenging. But the storyteller within her couldn’t be at peace until she took her finds and began composing them in order to say something about our society’s problem with plastic.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents
MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

“At my core, I am a storyteller. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, professional documentary-style birth and family photographer, and done a lot of other activism/advocacy projects in my life. This environmental tragedy unfolding at my feet at the shoreline feels too big and complicated to explain with words or videos or more traditional journalistic approaches.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.
MAKING STATEMENTS, PEACE BY PIECE

“Once we visually examine our garbage in a more curated way, it becomes more inviting to look at and allows us to linger there longer, too. Looking at a pile of gross garbage on the sand is sad, but it’s not that interesting anymore, you know? But laying out every single bit of that pile into something that’s carefully arranged tells a better story, I think.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Who Do We Hold Responsible For The Pollution Harming Our Planet?

When I ask her about who’s to blame for this pollution, her answer is both big picture and targeted. 

“We are trained to think material wealth is synonymous with success, and that idea is perpetuated by a system that thrives on selling stuff and making money as its primary function. That’s the Too Big answer. 

We all want and have too much stuff. 

We are all too afraid to NOT have a lot of stuff because then we are perceived as ‘not successful.’

Practically speaking though, the ones most responsible right now for making it all worse are giant corporations and political leaders who are corrupted by the intertwined greed and power of their relationships with those businesses. The more our leaders continue to allow giant pollution-causing corporations to destroy our planet, the more we can all expect to suffer as climate change disrupts our food, water, air quality, ability to afford to live, and expectations to live free of armed conflict.

How Do We Fix The Pressing Pollution And Climate Change Problems We Face?

Emily suggests we urgently need a hero — several, in fact — in order to fix this. 

“People are moved to action and change by brave and bold people who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power in big ways. We need people who can speak eloquently and passionately into microphones and megaphones and command rooms and bring people to tears and put them off their iPhones and into the streets. 

We need a handful of heroes and an actual revolution of sorts to shut this mess down immediately. It’s that urgent, I believe.”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

What Emily Robinson Hopes Her Plastic Pollution Art Will Leave You With

Ultimately, what Emily impresses on me is that none of us can fix this alone. Community holds power, and community is what will lead us into a more sustainable paradigm. 

“Once I began to understand and have more compassion and forgiveness for my own ignorance and destructive behaviors, I also realized that I am a victim, too, of a system much larger than myself. 

I alone did not do all this, and I alone cannot undo all this. 

It’s important to begin with compassion first before justice will ever be possible. If we have not forgiven ourselves, we will continue to be obstinate and react emotionally or defensively to problems instead of heading into them with logic and determination. 

If we feel shame from within or hatred toward our fellow humans, how can we expect to care enough to make changes toward alleviating suffering? Ultimately, loving the planet and caring about nature and our environment is an act of compassion and love for ourselves. Right now, we all continue to suffer energetically, spiritually and tangibly, during this era of ‘planetary self-harm.’”

Photo: Emily Robinson/ IG @plasticpresents.

Emily Robinson punctuates this interview with the most important thing of all — hope. She hopes we will be able to make enough changes quickly enough to head toward an era of harmony and peacefulness instead. I share her hope, and ideally you do, too.

Share some hope with your friends.

West Ventura Community Rallies for Yes On Measures A And B

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Ventura, CA – More than a hundred community members, climate activists and elected officials filled Kellogg Park to rally in support of the VC-SAFE Yes on Measures A and B campaign. The twin June 7 ballot measures would close a loophole in Ventura County allowing oil and gas companies to drill without environmental review using antiquated permits. In most cases, these permits were granted between 1930 and 1970.

 More than 60 percent of oil wells in Ventura County are next to Latinx homes. In West Ventura, the percentage is even higher. Oil and gas industry giants like Aera Energy spent millions of dollars to fight the loophole closures initially passed by the Board of Supervisors two years ago. The industry has collectively poured more than $8 million into the campaign against Measures A and B. 

“It’s corporate greed in its worst form,” said Tomás Rebecchi, a West Ventura resident and Central Coast Organizing Manager for Food & Water Watch. “They’re using record prices from price gouging us at the pump and they’re using that money to flood our county with $8 million of lies. We have some of the highest levels of pollution here in the Westside out of all of California. Study after study has shown living next to oil wells is bad for cancer, asthma, preterm birth, and we have hundreds of oil wells right next to our homes and schools here on the Westside.”

Ventura County Supervisor Carmen Ramirez said, “We are fighting not just for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren, all the future generations. Some day in the future, our descendants are going to say ‘what did our ancestors do? Did they do something to help us live a better life or did they condemn us to the hell on earth that we’re starting to see in India and other places where the temperatures are so hot that people cannot survive?’”

At a “toxics tour” after the rally, members of the media traveled to three locations that viscerally illustrate West Ventura’s long history as a sacrifice zone for fossil fuel interests: a gas compressor station across the street from an elementary school; an oil derrick on a community member’s property; and a decades-old petrochemical site with a history of explosions.

Across the street from the E.P. Foster Elementary School, community activist and local resident Liz Campos pulled her wheelchair up to the SoCalGas compressor site. Campos has Stage 4 lung cancer, which her doctors attribute to her living within a quarter of a mile from the SoCalGas compressor station. She has no prior history of lung cancer in her family. 

“I won’t be defeated,” said Campos, chair of the Westside Neighborhood Council and member of the Westside Clean Air Coalition.  “I will go to my death fighting for people who need to be able to breathe.”

Jan Dietrick owns a business with her husband, Ron, on a property that has been in her family for generations. Amid the family’s lush greenery and homegrown plants, an oil derrick bobs up and down. The permit originated in the 1940s, long before environmental review was required. Just outside her house, a sign lists the dangerous health impacts of proximity to the oil derrick — including cancer. The smell of oil is thick in the air.

“We don’t know what might be happening in the groundwater right now,” said Dietrick. “And groundwater is precious to this community. I would rather be growing my business than having to be out explaining to everybody in my neighborhood what’s the truth.”

Along Crooked Palm Road in West Ventura the remains of the USA PetroChem oil refinery still scar the landscape. The site was responsible for 23 fires and several explosions, releasing toxic emissions which caused adverse health impacts in the community. In 1978, a 19 year old man was fatally burned at one of the fires. 

“The toxic legacy in this community follows a dangerous pattern,” said John Brooks, an environmental activist who lives in Ojai. “There are spills, accidents, environmental damage and failure to obey regulations. In so many cases the taxpayers are charged for the cleanup. It’s such a pattern of bringing environmental damage and then saying goodbye, we’re leaving. It happens all the time.” 

The oil wells using these antiquated permits have no expiration date and no requirement for environmental review. If the ballot measures do not pass and the loopholes for the oil industry remain open, future oil drilling with these permits would not be subject to any other legislation limiting or regulating drilling (such as a ban on fracking or the institution of 3,200 foot buffer zones between community sites like schools and well operations).

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

LA City Council Passes Hydrogen Hub Motion Amid Environmental Concerns

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Los Angeles, CA – Amid the vocal opposition of community and environmental advocates, the L.A. City Council unanimously voted in favor of a motion that will initiate an application process for federal funding from the Department of Energy that would create a “green” hydrogen hub in L.A. 

“L.A. doesn’t need a hydrogen hub to advance our clean energy goals,” said Food & Water Watch Senior L.A. Organizer Jasmin Vargas. “Cheaper, safer, less water intensive options exist right now and we should be looking to those before hydrogen enters the conversation. This process has been rushed, community voices have been left out, and there are many questions remaining. Even green hydrogen produced by electrolysis has the potential to be misused — particularly if it is blended with fossil gas at a power plant and piped into people’s homes. A hydrogen hub has the potential to be dangerous for our communities and disastrous for our drought. Today’s vote was made in haste, and we will continue to urge the L.A. City Councilmembers to heed the voices of their constituents and turn to safer, more sustainable power other than hydrogen for L.A.’s clean energy future.”

Chief among concerns raised by environmental justice leaders and climate groups: 

  • LADWP is considering plans to burn hydrogen at existing natural gas power plants, which can increase harmful NOx emissions sixfold. This is prompting concerns that even a “green” hydrogen hub could exacerbate issues of environmental injustice in communities already overburdened with pollution. 
  • The Hub will also likely require pipelines and storage facilities, creating concerns this highly volatile element can lead to potentially deadly explosions like those just seen in Bradford County, PA. 

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Big Water Abusers Ignored As California Drought Persists

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California’s crushing drought continues and urban water usage increased 19% in March compared to 2021. Yet, Governor Newsom has only done more of the same. He called for increased voluntary conservation by residents and pledged an ad campaign to encourage conservation. But hoping voluntary measures will avoid the impacts of this climate change-induced drought is just wishful thinking. And it gives a pass to the largest corporate water abusers in the state. 

Most Water Use is by Big Agribusiness

Eighty percent of California water goes to agriculture, with most going to big agribusiness. For example, almonds and other tree nuts use 20% of that agricultural water. Most almonds are exported by large corporate interests overseas for massive profits. The Wonderful Company is one such corporation, and its billionaire owners contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Newsom’s campaigns. The acreage of these thirsty crops have only grown since our last drought. 

Mega-dairies, which help drive climate change and water pollution, are also big water abusers. California mega-dairies suck up 142 million gallons of water every day to operate. That’s the same amount needed to supply every person in San Diego and San Jose with their needed daily water.

During droughts, these big interests draw massive amounts of groundwater, which is still largely unregulated in the state. Over-withdrawal of groundwater causes the land to sink, leading to a litany of problems. For example, people who rely on well water for drinking will find it harder to reach and use, and some of their wells will go dry. 

Meanwhile, over a million Californians lack access to clean water. Tulare County houses the most mega-dairies of any CA county. Half of its water supplies are predicted to go dry this year. Governor Newsom could show leadership by working to fast track ground water regulation and stopping the expansion of these industries. 

The Oil and Gas Industry is Also a Big Water Consumer and Polluter

From January 2018 to March 2021, oil and gas companies used more than 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. This same amount of water could sustain everyone in the city of Ventura, for example, for 16 months. At the same time, oil and gas development pollutes and threatens California’s finite freshwater resources. Some corporations have routinely injected oil wastewater directly into the state’s aquifers.This toxic wastewater contains fracking fluids, contaminants, brines and radioactive materials. Newsom should stop new drilling permits and aggressively accelerate our transition off oil and gas. 

In response to the drought, Governor Newsom has largely ignored these large corporate water sources. Instead, he has taken small measures aimed at the most wasteful of urban water uses, asked for voluntary conservation and championed climate-intensive and destructive desalination projects (thankfully, the Coastal Commission has the good sense to reject this proposal). This is a mistake that will end up costing Californians. It’s up to us to make sure he hears loud and clear that the time for voluntary measures is over. For our water future and current needs, Newsom must take on Big Ag and Big Oil, while mandating reductions for urban water use as well. 

Demand that Newsom hold big water abusers accountable.

Newsom’s Budget Champions Climate Scams

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA — Governor Gavin Newsom released his proposed revisions to his 2022-23 budget in the midst of an unprecedented $97.5 billion surplus. Despite this windfall, the governor allocated no funding for his stated priority of phasing out oil and gas in California. Instead, Newsom dedicated $100 million for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), acknowledging environmental justice concerns but insisting on the necessity of the technology. Newsom also allocated $8 billion for investments in renewable energy, which includes green hydrogen, a notoriously water and energy intensive fuel frequently championed by utilities to maintain natural gas plants amid a renewable energy transition.

In response, Food & Water Watch Central Coast Organizing Manager Tomás Morales Rebecchi issued the following statement:

“Newsom’s budget revisions support some of the worst climate scams available — unabated green hydrogen and carbon capture,” said Food & Water Watch Central Coast Organizing Manager Tomás Morales Rebecchi. “CCS is a fossil fuel industry fantasy that allows business as usual when we can least afford it. And investing in a water-intensive fuel like green hydrogen during the worst drought California has seen in 1,200 years is dangerous and irresponsible. Newsom needs to stop funding these industry smokescreens that distract from real action like ending new permits for oil and gas development and holding corporate water abusers accountable. California has the means to get off fossil fuels and transition to clean energy right now without sacrificing community health or safety.”

Newsom also hailed desalination as a necessary tool to combat the drought, despite the Coastal Commission denying a large proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach in the wake of massive public outcry and environmental concerns. 

“Desalination is an expensive exercise in water inequity, driving up water costs and providing lucrative opportunities for fossil fuel expansion,” continued Rebecchi. “Newsom is touting a scam that will pad the wallets of private companies but won’t solve the drought crisis. It’s time for Newsom to learn what environmental advocates and scientists already know: we must invest in water conservation while cutting back on the corporate water abuses of Big Ag and Big Oil to secure safe and clean water for all Californians.”

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Baltimore Advocates Demand Answers on Shoddy Implementation of Water Accountability & Equity Act

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Baltimore, MD —  Today, advocates and councilmembers showed up in droves to an informational Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee hearing on the implementation of the “Water4All” Affordability Program and the Water Accountability & Equity Act. Today’s hearing marks roughly two months since the landmark “Water4All” affordability program was launched, but advocates and councilmembers warn that the program’s implementation is already flawed with deadlines missed and programmatic concerns.

In accordance with the Water Accountability & Equity Act modifications bill passed in 2020 to extend the implementation of the legislation, the Act should have been fully implemented by July 1st, 2021. The Department of Public Works launched the first half of the legislation, the Water4All affordability program, earlier this year and have yet to make notable progress on the second half of the legislation by establishing the Water Customer Advocate’s office for a more transparent billing dispute resolution process. 

Even the launch of the Water4All program has raised serious concerns, as DPW currently plans for the affordability credit for tenants in multifamily units to count as taxable income, despite available ARPA funds which have been designated non taxable. The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition has repeatedly raised these concerns and others with the Scott Administration and the Department of Public Works and have not been able to get a clear response. 

At the hearing, advocates from the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition and councilmembers demanded answers to critical questions from representatives from the Department of Public Works, the Department of Finance, and the Office of the Baltimore City Administrator. Rianna Eckel, Baltimore Water Organizer with Food & Water Watch said:

“You don’t get brownie points for passing landmark water equity legislation if you never implement it. Baltimoreans are struggling with water access and water affordability right now — any delay in implementation of Water4All and the Water Accountability & Equity Act will spell disaster for the very people it’s designed to help. Mayor Scott must get serious about Baltimore’s water equity crisis and take concrete steps to implement this legislation faithfully.”

“It is incredibly disappointing to see DPW violating the law by denying renters access to their water bills two and a half years after the Water Accountability & Equity Act passed,” said Molly Amster, Maryland Policy Director & Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice. “Renters make up more than 50% of Baltimore residents and shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens.”

“It’s frustrating that so few customers learned about possible back-dated credits after the significant delays launching the credit. Not only that, but because the customer advocate position has yet to be filled, customers often still need lawyers to resolve their water woes,” said Amy Hennen, Director of Advocacy and Financial Stabilization at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “These delays only hurt the citizens of Baltimore.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

As Voluntary Conservation Fails, Advocates Call For Mandates And Action to Address Factory Farm Water Use

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA – Morning headlines in California today announced that domestic water use climbed by 19 percent in March, signaling the clear failure of Governor Gavin Newsom’s repeated pleas for voluntary reductions in household water consumption. Environmental advocates have long urged mandatory action to curb excessive urban water use and the need to rein in some of the biggest corporate water abusers, which Newsom has thus far ignored.

Research from the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch lays out the enormous scale of corporate water abuse among fossil fuel interests and agribusiness in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Tulare County houses the most mega-dairies of any CA county, and half of its water supplies are predicted to go dry this year.

“It’s beyond clear that voluntary cutbacks on household water usage won’t make a dent in impacts of this climate change driven drought across the state,” said Mark Schlosberg, Managing Director of Research and Litigation for Food & Water Watch. “If Governor Newsom is serious about dealing with this water crisis, his laissez-faire attitude towards the drought must stop. It’s time to address water-intensive and polluting industries like out-of-control corporate agriculture and oil extraction, while enforcing mandates to curb excessive water use in households.”

Eighty percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture, including heavy water users like almonds. In 2019, more than 60 percent of almonds produced in California were exported, rerouting 910 billion gallons of water out of the state for corporate profit. It takes 142 millions of gallons of water every day to operate California’s mega-dairies, enough to supply every person in San Diego and San Jose with their needed daily water.

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Ventura County Farmers Urge Passage of Measures A and B to Protect Water Resources

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Fillmore, CA – Amid the sweeping backdrop of the Topatopa Mountains and a field of colorful organic vegetables, members of the Ventura County farming community joined advocates and water experts to urge the passage of Measures A and B. The twin ballot measures would close a loophole in Ventura County allowing oil and gas companies to drill without environmental review using antiquated permits. In most cases, these permits were granted between 1930 and 1970. Cynthia King’s farm, where the press conference took place, is surrounded by a CUP that was approved in 1928. 

“It’s terrifying,” King said. “As a member of the family that has owned and farmed this land for over a hundred years — and a family that is committed to maintaining the health and safety of the land, the water and the crops — it’s terrifying what could happen if our Fillmore aquifer gets contaminated by oil products.”

King and her husband supply avocados and citrus fruit to local markets and restaurants, also renting some of their land to The Abundant Table, a non-profit organic CSA and worker-owned collective. They recently learned that an abandoned oil well sits in the middle of their organic avocado field. 

“Over 654 active and idle oil wells in Ventura County are either located on top of groundwater basins or have been drilled through our groundwater basins,” said Food & Water Watch Central Coast Organizing Manager Tomás Rebecchi, who also leads the VC-SAFE coalition to pass Measures A and B. “If [oil operators] want to drill or frack an oil well next to your home or school, they would have to do as little environmental review as building a gazebo or a deck in your own backyard. And in Ventura County, more than 60 percent of oil wells located next to homes are next to Latino and Latinx communities. This creates a disproportionate burden of pollution shouldered by communities of color. Measures A and B are common sense protections that make oil operators in Ventura County play by the same rules as the rest of California.”

Numerous health studies have linked living within a close proximity to oil wells with asthma, cancer and preterm births among other health issues. 

“The health of our people depends on our water supply,” said Carmen Ramirez, Chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. “This precious source of life is threatened everywhere in the Southwest. Certainly in Ventura County we don’t have enough of it. When you care about people and health, that should win over other people’s profit motives. We have to protect our water. We have to protect our climate. We have to protect our beautiful agriculture.

“I’ll be out there knocking on doors, getting people to vote “yes” on Measures A and B,” Supervisor Ramirez added. Other elected officials who have endorsed Measures A and B include Rep. Julia Brownley, Senator Henry Stern, and Ventura Mayor Sofia Rubalcava.

Pouring oil into a glass of water, geologist and member of Ventura’s Water Commission Nova Clite demonstrated how difficult it is to truly separate the two substances. “Most groundwater contamination is in the dissolved phase. You don’t taste it. You don’t even see it. You can be exposed to toxic chemicals and not even know it. So the best course is prevention.” 

The oil wells using these antiquated permits have no expiration date and no requirement for environmental review. If the ballot measures do not pass and the loopholes for the oil industry remain open, future oil drilling with these permits would not be subject to any other legislation limiting or regulating drilling (such as a ban on fracking or the institution of 3,200 foot buffer zones between community sites like schools and well operations).

“These loopholes risk the very fabric of the community we’ve built together and we can’t let that happen,” said Abundant Table board member Tom Nafziger

Guadalupe Rojas is the farm manager for The Abundant Table. Through a translator, he said, “We’re very close to the Santa Clara River here and it’s very important to keep our subterranean storage very clean for the water. A very tiny amount of oil can contaminate thousands of gallons of water. Another thing that’s very important to keep our soils free of petroleum and other contaminants is to keep oil wells far away from our farms.”

 “We want to make sure that we’re bringing the healthiest, most intact, unpolluted product to people to eat,” continued Cynthia King. “We don’t use herbicides or pesticides. So we’ll be voting yes on Measures A and B. The oil companies may have thousands of dollars, but we have thousands of people.”

See the full press conference here.

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The VC-SAFE (Ventura County Save Agriculture and Drinking Water for Everyone) coalitionis composed of working families, farmers, and environmental justice groups banding together to protect our drinking water and demand safeguards for all future oil drilling.

Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Oil Giant Aera Energy Drops $5 Million To Fight Measures A And B 

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Ventura, CA – Recently released campaign documents reveal oil giant Aera Energy, owned jointly by Exxon and Shell Oil, has spent $5 million to fight Measures A and B, two ballot initiatives that would eliminate loopholes which allow oil companies to drill in Ventura County with no modern environmental review. That could break the record for fossil fuel interest contributions to a referendum campaign in the county. 

In 2020, Aera Energy was among the fossil fuel interests who spent upwards of $1 million three days after the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate the antiquated permit loopholes for new drilling projects. The money bought enough signature gatherers to put the issue back on the ballot in the form of Measures A and B. Voting “yes” on Measures A and B will reinstate the protections against antiquated drill permits initially voted on by the Board of Supervisors. 

“This is just the beginning of a tsunami of money and misinformation Big Oil is going to flood Ventura County with,” said Tomás Morales Rebecchi, Food & Water Watch Central Coast Organizing Manager and a VC-SAFE campaign leader. “But Aera Energy leaders are mistaken if they believe millions in misinformation will fool Ventura County voters into giving up protections for their water, farms and communities. We will not allow fossil fuel interest groups with massive warchests to dictate our future and subvert our democracy. More than 1,000 oil wells sit within half a mile of Ventura County homes, and 60 percent of those homes are located in communities of color. This is a grassroots fight for environmental justice, public health and a livable future. Aera Energy’s fight is for their bottom line and corporate greed.”

The VC-SAFE (Ventura County Save Agriculture and Freshwater for Everyone) coalition comprises environmental, social justice and public health advocates working to pass Measures A and B to protect Ventura’s aquifers, communities and farms from oil drilling using antiquated permits. 

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Rep. Khanna, Senator Warren Introduce Bill to Prevent Corporations From Profiting Off Water Rights

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, D.C. — Today, Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led a bicameral group of colleagues in introducing the Future of Water Act to amend the Commodity Exchange Act to prohibit futures trading of water or water rights and protect our country’s water. Water is a basic human right that must be managed and protected as a public trust resource.

As climate change has increased the severity and frequency of drought in our country, large corporations should not be profiting off of water or water rights. Water should be affordable, easily accessible, and guarded from markets prone to manipulation and speculation that could cause real-world price increases. The announcement of the water futures trading received condemnation from the global water community, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water who stated: “Water is already under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands and grave pollution from agriculture and mining industry in the context of worsening impact of climate change. . . I am very concerned that water is now being treated as gold, oil and other commodities that are traded on Wall Street futures markets.”

Wall Street’s interest in financial derivatives based on water and water rights could lead to severe real-world water price spikes due to market manipulation and/or excessive speculation. Prohibition of water and water rights futures trading stops this dangerous speculation and protects American families and agricultural producers.

“Every American should agree: Clean, drinkable water is one of our most basic human rights,” said Rep. Khanna. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Warren to prioritize human needs over corporate profits. Large companies and investors should not be allowed to use an essential public resource for their own gain. We have to stand together to protect our water.”

“Water is a human right and Wall Street shouldn’t be allowed to use this vital resource to make profits at the expense of hardworking Americans,” said Senator Warren. “My bill with Rep. Ro Khanna would protect water from Wall Street speculation and ensure one of our most essential resources isn’t auctioned off to the highest bidder.”

“With the climate crisis delivering historically devastating droughts across the West, it is clearer than ever that water should be treated as a scarce, essential resource, not a commodity for Wall Street and financial speculators,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “This groundbreaking legislation would put a lid on dangerous water futures trading before it creates a crisis, and it reinforces the fact that water must be managed as a public resource, not a corporate profit center. We thank Senator Warren and Representative Khanna for showing true leadership in the fight to protect access to safe, affordable water for all.”

“IATP welcomes the Future of Water Act’s amendment to the Commodity Exchange Act to exclude water as a tradable derivatives asset class under the regulations of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission,” said Steve Suppan, Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy. “According to one of the CFTC’s core principles, derivatives contracts should not be traded if the underlying cash market for the commodity is susceptible to market manipulation. The CFTC has allowed the water future contract to be traded when the underlying cash market for that contract is price opaque and therefore susceptible to manipulation. The Future of Water Act will help protect water as a public good by preventing its price manipulation in the futures market.”

“No one should be allowed to gamble with the Great Lakes – but that’s exactly what Wall Street is trying to do by trading water futures,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood.“Allowing speculators to bet on water as a commodity like oil is a world-class threat to our world-class Great Lakes.”

Last year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced it had certified the world’s first water futures contracts, which allow investors to purchase and sell futures contracts based on “water rights” prices in California. Market speculators are interested in financial derivatives based on water and water rights. Large contract holders would have a strong incentive to manipulate the water futures market for profit. Too much concentration in water markets by massive passive investors could lead to physical water hoarding and price increases. The Future of Water Act sends a powerful message that access to clean and affordable water is right and not a financial instrument to gouge American families, farmers, and ranchers. 

House cosponsors include: Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), André Carson (D-IN), Chuy García, Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL),Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Senate cosponsors include: Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Over 250 organizations have endorsed the Future of Water Act including Americans for Financial Reform, Center for Biological Diversity, Demos, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth United States, Greenpeace USA, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, Indigenous Environmental Network, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Family Farm Coalition, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Open Markets Institute, People’s Action, PolicyLink, Public Citizen, Inc., and the Sunrise Movement. A full list of organizations supporting the legislation can be found here.

A copy of the House legislation can be found here.

The WATER Act: Restoring Federal Support for Clean Water Systems

REPORT - March 2022

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: Introduction
    • Fifty years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act, communities need a restored federal commitment to improve clean water systems.
  • 2: The Daunting State of Our Wastewater Systems
    • Access to clean water is threatened by aging systems, growing needs, climate chaos and an affordability crisis.
  • 3: Health Threats of Underfunded Water Infrastructure
    • Outdated systems and lack of funding are causing sewage spills, failing septic systems, polluted waters and human illnesses.
  • 4: The Water Solution for The 21st Century
    • It’s time for the WATER Act to restore the federal government’s commitment to protect clean water for every community.

Part 1:

Introduction

Fifty years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act, communities need a restored federal commitment to improve clean water systems.

Across the country, outdated wastewater systems dump hundreds of billions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways each year, polluting water resources, endangering public health, harming aquatic life and damaging our environment.1 It has been 50 years since the passage of the Clean Water Act, and an unprecedented climate emergency is overwhelming our aging wastewater systems.

Climate chaos is driving extreme weather that worsens sewage spills and dumps toxic waste in cash-strapped communities across the country, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast,2 while the Southwest suffers a megadrought, fueling fires and depleting water supplies.3 Without dedicated federal funding, many communities cannot afford to make the necessary repairs to the collection, treatment and septic systems that keep our water clean and safe. This lack of investment in water infrastructure isn’t just shortsighted; it’s dangerous. Aging systems contaminate our natural and built environments and threaten the health and safety of our water and of people everywhere.

It’s time to pass landmark water legislation for the 21st century: the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act. Our nation’s water systems need dedicated federal commitment to keep the promise of clean, safe water for everyone.

Clean Water Act

In 1972, Congress overrode a veto by President Richard Nixon to pass into law the Clean Water Act, a defining environmental victory of the 20th century. The legislation was intended to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” It has been one of our most effective environmental laws.4

To help communities comply with wastewater standards, the law dramatically increased funding for the wastewater system construction grants program, providing nearly $41 billion through 1984. According to the Congressional Research Service, it was “the largest nonmilitary public works program since the Interstate Highway System.”5

“The objective of this [Clean Water] Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

Part 2:

The Daunting State of Our Wastewater Systems

Access to clean water is threatened by aging systems, growing needs, climate chaos and an affordability crisis.

Aging Systems

Many of the nation’s wastewater treatment plants were built or improved with the federal dollars provided by the Clean Water Act.6 By 2021, however, water and sewer pipes were averaging 45 years old, and many were approaching the end of their lifespan.7 These aging wastewater systems need major updates to protect human health and the environment.8 Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s wastewater infrastructure a grade of D+ in 2021.9

American Society of Civil Engineers (2021)

Growing Needs

In total, our drinking water and wastewater systems require at least $744 billion in investment over the next 20 years, or more than $35 billion a year.10 Public wastewater systems alone, as of the latest needs survey in 2012, needed at least an estimated $271 billion over two decades to improve treatment plants, sewer lines, address stormwater and stop overflows.11 But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, the main source of federal support for wastewater projects, provided a mere $1.6 billion in 2021,12 and the infrastructure law of 2021 added only $12.7 billion over five years to this program.13 This falls far short of the total need.

Overall, federal funding for water and wastewater infrastructure has plummeted since its peak in the 1970s, dropping 77 percent from 1977 to 2017 in real terms.14 That’s a per capita decrease in funding of 84 percent.15

A 2020 wastewater industry survey found that two-thirds of spending on capital improvement plans went to update aging systems and to address combined sewer overflows, and that improvement budgets had grown 24 percent over the previous three years.16 Federal support through the State Revolving Fund program, however, accounted for only 15 percent of long-term financing,17 leaving a huge gap between what communities know they need and what the federal government has provided.

Climate Chaos

Climate chaos threatens to strangle the nation’s access to clean water, causing more sewage spills and compounding the costs of urgently needed updates to aging systems.18 In 2022, the megadrought in the southwestern United States was so severe that the last two decades were estimated to be the driest period in 1,200 years, causing water shortages and fueling wildfires.19

Weather disturbances also contribute to water system disruptions, including operational outages, loss of supply or restrictions on water use, and degraded water quality.20 Extreme weather has been catastrophic to water infrastructure. Flooding and sea-level rise further threaten systems and can force infrastructure relocation. Also, heavy rainfall leads to more sewage overflows. The total costs of adapting our water and sewer systems to meet the threats of climate chaos are already high and are projected to near $1 trillion by 2050.21

Affordability Crisis

Many communities struggle to meet the costs of keeping waters clean, maintaining aging systems and grappling with climate emergencies. With meager federal support, water and wastewater systems are forced to hike customer rates.22 From 2008 to 2014, water and sewer rates nationwide increased by about 40 percent on average.23 Over the last 15 years, water bills have increased at three times the rate of inflation, but household incomes have fallen in real terms.24

Households and localities are grappling with water service costs that are increasingly unaffordable.25 This problem has become especially complex in this period of widening income inequality and reliance on regressive water billing practices, which lead low-income households to pay a disproportionate amount of their income for their water service.26

Many communities are stuck with an impossible choice: raise rates on people who cannot afford to pay, or allow aging systems to spill sewage into homes and waterways and endanger public health. Because of structural inequities, this crisis is not felt equally. Black and Brown communities are disparately impacted because of systemic racism, leading to unaffordable water bills,27 service shutoffs,28 failing wastewater and septic systems, greater pollution burdens and human illnesses.29

Part 3:

Health Threats Of Underfunded Water Infrastructure

Outdated systems and lack of funding are causing sewage spills, failing septic systems, polluted waters and human illnesses.

Outdated Systems and Sewage Spills

The EPA estimated in its last national assessment that more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage were being spilled each year across the country.30 That’s enough to fill more than 1 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Sewer overflows can cause raw sewage to back up into basements, flood onto streets and spill into rivers, lakes and streams.31 While improvements have been made, this remains a problem in communities across the country.32

Outdated systems are vulnerable to spills during storms. When there is heavy rainfall or snowfall, outdated wastewater systems overload, and large volumes of sewage spill into local waterways.33 In 2014, nearly 1,500 different spills discharged at least 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes Basin alone.34

Climate change is making things worse.35 The storm surge caused by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy— the largest storm to hit the Northeast to date — resulted in the spillage of 11 billion gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into waterways and city streets.36 In 2021, Hurricane Ida also caused major spills of raw and partially treated sewage, including 350,000 gallons in Panama City, Florida;37 nearly 1 million gallons in Mobile, Alabama;38 more than 130 million gallons in the Merrimack watershed, Massachusetts;39 and hundreds of thousands of gallons in New Orleans.40

Failing Septic Systems

Aging home septic systems add to the problem. Wastewater from failing septic systems is a large source of groundwater pollution in the United States.41 More than one in five U.S. households rely on home septic systems instead of a centralized sewer system. Together, these decentralized systems treat more than 4 billion gallons of sewage every day.42

Many septic tanks are aging, failing, and endangering the environment and human health.43 Households bear the burden of maintaining and updating their septic systems, but the cost is unaffordable for many low-income rural residents.44 Failing household septic systems can contaminate water supplies and endanger human health.45 A 2013 survey in Ohio estimated that 31 percent of household septic systems were failing.46 Many rural residents in central Appalachia do not have a safe way to dispose of wastewater.47

Subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS) — common in areas that are not connected to centralized municipal sewage systems — can fail, contaminating the soil and groundwater around them, and leaving residents with high repair or replacement costs. Photo credit: CC-BY-NC 2.0 / MN Pollution Control Agency, Creative Commons

Failing septic systems have been associated with bacterial contamination of groundwater.48 A 2003 study found that 40 percent of Alabama’s septic systems were failing or in need of repair, while bacteria contaminated 46 percent of household water wells in the state, leaving an estimated 340,000 residents with greater risks of waterborne disease.49 In Alabama’s Black Belt region, because of rural poverty, structural racism, and soil characteristics, not only do many septic systems fail but also many homes use straight pipes that directly pour raw sewage into woods or a ditch. A 2016 survey of Wilcox County, Alabama found that only 7 percent of homes had permitted septic systems, while 60 percent of homes examined had straight pipes, which together released more than half a million gallons of raw sewage every day.50 In Lowndes County, Alabama, a majority-Black county, at least 40 percent of homes lack adequate sanitation, and the cost of installing a system can exceed the average resident’s annual income.51

Climate chaos will continue to amplify these problems. More systems will fail as sea levels rise, precipitation increases and temperatures warm.52

Polluted Waters

Sewage spills harm the environment; they pollute rivers, streams, and other water bodies, and they can contain toxics and dangerous pathogens that endanger human health.53 These toxic overflows have destroyed aquatic life, killed fish and closed shellfish harvesting areas.54

Overall, because of all sources of pollution, two-thirds of estuaries in the United States have elevated risks of eutrophication55 and harmful algal blooms.56 More than a third of the shoreline area of the Great Lakes is in fair or poor biological condition (a third of the area was unable to be studied).57 Less than one-fifth of estuarine and Great Lakes waters have fish in good condition.58 In total, more than half of U.S. rivers and streams, 40 percent of lakes and 21 percent of coastal waters have excess nutrients (which can lead to excessive algal growth and cause fish kills), and 73 percent of U.S. wetlands have lost plant life, which can stress the ecosystem.59

Sewage spills have made water too polluted to swim, boat or fish.60 In 2020, one-third of the recreational beaches in the United States had at least one advisory or closing. Over the last five years, between 28 percent and 33 percent of beaches have had at least one advisory or closing each year. Aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems contribute to many of the beach closures.61 In 2020, wastewater and septic systems were responsible for one-fifth of the beach closings and advisories with known causes (although nearly half of closings have unknown causes, some of which may be related to wastewater events).62 Increased funding to improve wastewater systems and address stormwater can help stop pollution of the nation’s beaches.

Human Illnesses

More than 7 million cases of waterborne diseases are reported in the United States every year.63 As a result of these illnesses, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and over 6,000 people die a year.64 People become sick from drinking contaminated water; swimming in polluted pools, lakes and beaches; and other exposures to contaminated water.65

More than 7 million cases of waterborne diseases are reported in the United States every year.

The EPA estimated that thousands of people become sick each year just from exposure to sewage-contaminated recreation areas.66 Wastewater contains viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that can cause serious illness. Many people are exposed to raw sewage that backs up in their homes or yards from overloaded municipal sewer systems or failing septic systems.67 People exposed to sewage-polluted waters can become sick with hepatitis, gastroenteritis, and infections of the skin, lungs and ears, among other illnesses.68

Failing septic systems can also expose people to high nitrate levels in household well water, which can lead to the potentially deadly blue baby syndrome in infants.69 In Wilcox County, Alabama, researchers estimated that the raw sewage dumped from straight pipes from homes into the environment releases 10 billion viruses and 19 billion parasites every day.70 In Lowndes County, Alabama, one study found that more than 40 percent of households were exposed to raw sewage, and more than a third of adults tested positive for gastrointestinal parasites, including hookworm.71

Part 4:

The Water Solution for The 21st Century

It’s time for the WATER Act to restore the federal government’s commitment to protect clean water for every community.

The WATER Act is the landmark 21st-century legislation that we need to restore federal support and help protect clean water. The WATER Act is the only permanent solution to our nation’s water funding woes, providing $35 billion each year to restore our public water infrastructure.

In addition to funding drinking water improvements, the WATER Act will provide $18.1 billion each year to address the nation’s wastewater problems:
  • $15.7 billion a year to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to fund publicly owned wastewater system upgrades, with at least half of the funding prioritized as grants or additional subsidization to disadvantaged communities;
  • $871 million a year to help update and install household septic systems and other on-site sewage disposal systems;
  • $871 million a year for non-point-source management programs;
  • $523 million a year for pollution control programs; and
  • $174 million a year for technical assistance to rural, small or indigenous wastewater providers.72

Now is the time to fully fund our wastewater infrastructure to help clean up our waterways and protect our communities.

Tell Congressmembers to support the WATER Act now!

Endnotes
  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Office of Water. “Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows.” (EPA 833-R-04-001). August 2004 at ES-2, ES-3 and ES-5.
  2. Bagenstose, Kyle and Kevin Crowe. “US sewer systems weren’t built for climate change; heavier rainfall can overwhelm systems, causing toxic spills in communities that can least afford it.” USA Today. December 7, 2021.
  3. Fountain, Henry. “How bad is the western drought? Worst in 12 centuries, study finds.” New York Times. February 14, 2022.
  4. Hines, N. William. “History of the 1972 Clean Water Act: The story behind how the 1972 Act became the capstone of a decade of environmental reform.” Journal of Energy & Environmental Law. Summer 2013 at 80, 81 and 98.
  5. Ramseur, Jonathan L. and Mary Tiemann. Congressional Research Service. “Water Infrastructure Financing: History of EPA Appropriations.” Updated April 10, 2019 at 1.
  6. Ibid. at 1; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). “2021 Infrastructure Report Card.” 2021 at 153.
  7. ASCE (2021) at 153.
  8. EPA. “Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2012: Report to Congress.” (EPA 830-R-15005).January 2016 at 1; ASCE (2021) at 152.
  9. ASCE (2021) at 151.
  10. EPA (January 2016) at 1; EPA. “Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: 6th Report to Congress.” (EPA 816-K-17-002). March 2018 at 9.
  11. EPA (January 2016) at 1, 2 and 6.
  12. EPA. “FY 2021 CWSRF Allotments: $1,638,826,000.” Available at https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf/clean-water-state-revolving-fund-cwsrf-allotments-federal-funds-states. Accessed December 22, 2021.
  13. Regan, Michael. EPA. Letter to Governors. December 2, 2021 at 6.
  14. Congressional Budget Office. “Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure, 1956 to 2017.” October 15, 2018 at Supplemental Tables. Table W-8.
  15. Food & Water Watch (FWW) calculation based on Ibid.; U.S. Census, Population Estimates Program. “Historical National Population Estimates: July 1, 1900 to July 1, 1999.” June 28, 2000; U.S. Census. “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019.” (NST-EST2019-01). Last revised October 21, 2021.
  16. National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). “NACWA Financial Survey: Executive Highlights.” August 2021 at 7.
  17. Ibid. at 18.
  18. Bagenstose and Crowe (2021).
  19. Fountain (2022).
  20. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Water Infrastructure. Technical Assistance and Climate Resilience Planning Could Help Utilities Prepare for Potential Climate Change Impacts.” (GAO-20-24). January 2020 at 2, 17 and 61.
  21. NACWA and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. “Confronting Climate Change: An Early Analysis of Water and Wastewater Adaptation Costs.” October 2009 at ES-1 and ES-8.
  22. National Academy of Public Administration. “Developing a New Framework for Community Affordability of Clean Water Services.” October 2017 at 25.
  23. Ibid. at 21.
  24. Ibid. at 22.
  25. National Consumer Law Center. “Review and recommendations for implementing water and wastewater affordability programs in the United States.” March 2014 at 1 and 5.
  26. Economic Policy Institute. “Income Inequality in the U.S. by State, Metropolitan Area, and County.” June 16, 2016 at 1 to 4; Mirosa, Oriol. “Water affordability in the United States: An initial exploration and an agenda for research.” Sociological Imagination. Vol. 51, Iss. 2. December 2015 at 52.
  27. Butts, Rachel and Stephen Gasteyer. “More cost per drop: Water rates, structural inequality, and race in the United States — The case of Michigan.” Environmental Reviews & Case Studies, Vol. 13, No. 4. December 2011 at 386 and 392 to 393.
  28. Foltz-Diaz, Kimberly et al. Massachusetts Global Action. “The Color of Water: A Report on the Human Right to Water in the City of Boston.” July 2014 at 1 and 5; GAO. “Water Infrastructure: Information on Selected Midsize and Large Cities With Declining Populations.” (GAO-16-785). September 2016 at 57 to 58 and 72 to 73.
  29. Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. “Flushed and Forgotten: Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the United States.” May 2019 at 12, 19 to 24 and 30; Flowers, Catherine Coleman. “A county where the sewer is your lawn.” New York Times. May 22, 2018; Okeowo, Alexis. “The heavy toll of the Black Belt’s wastewater crisis.” The New Yorker. November 23, 2020; Smith, Catherine. “‘If white people were still here, this wouldn’t happen’: The majority-Black town flooded with sewage.” The Guardian. February 11, 2021.
  30. EPA (2004) at ES-5 to ES-7.
  31. EPA. “NPDES Compliance Inspection Manual. Chapter 13.” (305-K-17-001). January 2017 at 297.
  32. EPA (2004) at ES-5 to ES-7; ASCE (2021) at 153; Bagenstose and Crowe (2021).
  33. EPA. Office of Wastewater Management. “Report to Congress: Combined Sewer Overflows to the Great Lakes Basin.” (EPA 833-R-16-006). April 2016 at 1 to 2.
  34. Ibid. at ES-2.
  35. Kenward, Alyson et al. Climate Central. “Sewage Overflows From Hurricane Sandy.” April 2014 at 3.
  36. Ibid. at 1.
  37. “Hurricane Ida — 350K gallons in raw sewage spill in area; Rains from hurricane overflowed 10 separate wastewater systems.” The News Herald (FL). September 8, 2021.
  38. Specker, Lawrence. “Hurricane Ida’s silver lining: Mobile sewer improvements are working.” Press-Register (AL). September 8, 2021.
  39. Wade, Christian M. “Lawmakers hear more pitches for relief money.” The Eagle-Tribune. September 13, 2021.
  40. Natter, Ari. “Ida leaves toxic chemicals, sewage swirling in its wake.” Bloomberg. September 3, 2021.
  41. EPA. Office of Water. “Managing Septic Systems to Prevent Contamination of Drinking Water.” (EPA 816-F-01-021). July 2001 at 2; Mihaly, Elena. “Avoiding septic shock: How climate change can cause septic system failure and whether New England states are prepared.” Ocean and Coastal Law Journal. Vol. 23, Iss. 1. January 2018 at 7.
  42. EPA. “Decentralized Wastewater Program Annual Report 2013.” (EPA-832-R-140006). August 2014 at 1.
  43. Hoghooghi, Nahal et al. “Frontiers in assessing septic systems vulnerability in coastal Georgia, USA: Modeling approach and management implications.” PLOS One. Vol. 16, Iss. 8. August 2021 at 2 to 3; Mihaly (2018) at 7.
  44. United Nations. Human Rights Council. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation on her mission to the United States of America (22 February — 4 March 2011).” August 2, 2011 at 7 to 8.
  45. Mohamed, R. “Why households in the United States do not maintain their septic systems and why state-led regulations are necessary: Explanations from public goods theory.” International Journal of Sustainable Development Planning. Vol. 4, No. 2. 2009 at 41.
  46. Ohio Department of Health. “Household Sewage Treatment System Failures in Ohio.” January 2013 at 1.
  47. United Nations (2011) at 7.
  48. Wedgworth, Jessica Cook and Joe Brown. “Limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Alabama’s Black Belt: A cross-sectional case study.” Water Quality, Exposure and Health, Vol. 5, Iss. 2. June 2013 at 70.
  49. Ibid. at 69 to 70.
  50. Elliott, Mark. University of Alabama. “Innovative Technologies and Approaches to Address Decentralized Wastewater Infrastructure Challenges in the Alabama Black Belt.” Presented at EPA Decentralized Wastewater Webinar Series. May 26, 2021 at 22; Elliot, Mark and Kevin White. Alabama Water Resources Research Institute. “Onsite Wastewater Management in Hale and Wilcox Counties: Failing Septic Systems, Direct Discharge by ‘Straight Pipes’ and Microbial Source Tracking.” Annual Technical Report. FY 2016 at 1 to 2; Flowers (2018).
  51. Flowers (2018); Okeowo (2020).
  52. Mihaly (2018) at 2 and 4 to 6.
  53. EPA (2004) at ES-2, ES-3, ES-7 and ES-8.
  54. Ibid. at ES-7 to ES-8; EPA. “Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of the Public’s Water.” 2011 at 4.
  55. Eutrophication: A process that occurs when an estuary or another body of water has an excess of nutrients that causes too many plants and algae to grow. This can lead to toxic algal blooms and low-oxygen waters that kill aquatic life. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service. “What is eutrophication?” Available at https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication.html. Last updated February 26, 2021.
  56. EPA. “National Coastal Condition Assessment.” (EPA 841-R-21-0001). August 2021 at 25.
  57. Ibid. at 37.
  58. Ibid. at 29 and 43.
  59. EPA. “How’s My Waterway?” Available at https://mywaterway.epa.gov/national. Accessed November 9, 2021.
  60. EPA (2004) at ES-7 to ES-8.
  61. Note: the recreational beaches that are monitored are program beaches under the BEACH Act. EPA, Office of Water. “EPA’s Beach Report: 2020 Swimming Season.” (EPA-820-R-21-004). August 2021 at 2.
  62. FWW calculation based on Ibid. at 3.
  63. Collier, Sarah A. et al. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Estimate of burden and direct healthcare cost of infectious waterborne disease in the United States.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 27, No. 1. January 2021 at 140 and 145.
  64. Ibid. at 140 and 145.
  65. Ibid. at 140 and 145.
  66. EPA (2004) at ES-9; EPA (2011) at 4.
  67. EPA. Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA enforcement: Preventing backup of municipal sewage into basements.” Enforcement Alert. Vol. 8, No. 1. (EPA 325-N-06-001). September 2006 at 1; Mihaly (2018) at 7.
  68. EPA (2011) at 4.
  69. EPA (2001) at 2; Hoghooghi et al. (2021) at 2 to 3.
  70. Elliot and White (FY 2016) at 1 to 2.
  71. McKenna, Megan L. et al. “Human intestinal parasite burden and poor sanitation in rural Alabama.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Vol. 97, Iss. 5. September 2017 at 1 and 2.
  72. S. 916. 117th Congress. §2 (2021); H.R. 1352. 117th Congress. (2021).

Newsom’s “California Way” Fails on Climate and Drought

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA – While Governor Gavin Newsom’s fourth State of the State address coincided with the worst drought California has seen in 1,200 years, he offered no concrete steps to tackle the drought or the primary driving force behind California’s warming climate: fossil fuel extraction. Newsom signaled a priority in “fighting polluters, not bolstering them,” but offered no plan or intentions to halt new oil and gas permits, something environmental advocates have urged as the most immediate way to fight climate change and preserve California’s scarce water resources.

The oil and gas industry swallows millions of gallons of freshwater annually that could otherwise go to households, but Newsom has delayed a phaseout of oil drilling in California until 2045, a date environmental and frontline community advocates decry as far too late to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The latest polling indicates fewer than a quarter of Californians believe Newsom is on track in dealing with the drought. The subject was not featured in the governor’s address. Meanwhile, the same poll shows a six point drop in his support among progressives over six months. 

“Governor Newsom’s climate and drought policies are deeply flawed and his State of the State address reflects that,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Every new oil and gas permit that Newsom’s administration grants is a step backward for California’s climate and communities and a missed opportunity to protect scarce freshwater resources.  If Newsom truly wants to take up the mantle of climate leadership, he needs to issue an immediate moratorium on oil and gas development. Without concrete steps to protect our climate and water, Newsom’s grand plans for California’s climate leadership are only empty words.”

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

These Industries Are Sucking Up California’s Water And Worsening Drought

Categories

Clean Water

Sandy Wool Lake, Milipatas CA (2014) CC-BY © Don DeBold / Flickr.com
by Mark Schlosberg

It’s the middle of the California rainy season, but the last 50 days have been bone dry. San Francisco, which usually gets at least 4 inches of rain by now has seen less than a quarter-inch. Los Angeles has followed suit and the Sierra snowpack — providing much of California’s water — is 66% of its normal volume. Our main reservoirs hover between 50-80% of historic averages. These challenges come in the midst of a historic 20-year climate change-driven drought — the worst in the last 1200 years.

It’s not just California — most of the western United States is experiencing this historic megadrought. States like Oregon, New Mexico, and Montana are having conditions even worse than California. It’s a good reason to reexamine water use regionally and take on some of the most water-intensive and climate-polluting industries. That means taking on big agribusiness, factory farms, and the fossil fuel industry. 

Big Agribusiness Consumes Huge Amounts Of Water And Profits At The Expense Of The Environment

Government attention and media coverage about drought focuses on things individuals can do to save water. It ignores the fact that agriculture uses the most water. And the vast majority goes towards big agribusiness including growing water intensive crops like almonds and alfalfa. In California 80% of our water goes toward agriculture and 20% of that goes to tree nuts. Around two-thirds of these nuts are exported overseas, leaving massive profits for corporate titans but less water in California. Another 15% is used for alfalfa, a water-intensive crop used to feed cows on factory farms or for export. 

These crops have increased through the 20 year drought and have no business being grown to this scale in our arid climate. This is especially true as salmon die and over a million Californians lack access to clean water, in part due to sinking groundwater tables. 

Saudi Arabia has a law that prohibits the growth of alfalfa because of the lack of water. That’s no problem for a Saudi company that gained access to water rights in California. It exports alfalfa grown here back to Saudi Arabia to support its mega-dairies. Saudi Arabia also imports hay from drought-stricken New Mexico for the same purpose. This should not be possible, but no action has been taken to stop it. 

Factory Farms Use And Pollute Water While Driving The Climate Crisis

Factory farms are a huge driver of climate change. Out of all the things humans do, livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of total greenhouse emissions. At the same time, factory farms consume tremendous amounts of water — especially big dairy operations. California is home to nearly 1.7 million dairy cows, which are largely part of mega-dairy operations. In addition to the water used for alfalfa, mega-dairies use 142 million gallons of water a day. That’s more than the daily recommended water usage for San Jose and San Diego combined. This is in addition to all the water polluted through runoff and waste. 

New Mexico, Oregon, and other western states have similar mega-dairy operations even as drought persists and water resources run low. 

The Fossil Fuel Industry Continues To Use And Pollute Water While Driving Climate Chaos

The largest driver of climate chaos is the fossil fuel industry. Maddeningly, the industry continues to operate extensively in California — using and polluting vast amounts of water. Between January 2018 and March 2021, the industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent of 120 million showers for California housholds. At the same time, fossil fuel operations have polluted California’s aquifers with dirty wastewater. 

Governor Newsom Could Take Action To Rein In These Industries. He’s Yet To Do So.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Governor Newsom is promoting a tunnel to bring more water from Northern California to support industrial agriculture in the Central Valley. Instead he should rein in polluters making massive profits while the environment suffers and over a million Californians can’t access clean water. He should exercise his authority to stop new factory farms, almonds and alfalfa, and oil drilling. He can use his power to roll back these industries. We should all do our part to save water, but the real focus should be on the biggest water abusers. 

We know Governor Newsom is responsive to public pressure. He has shown this with his recent moves to ban fracking and stop new drilling near homes and schools. It’s up to us to move him and other state leaders. They must take our water situation seriously, and boldly rein in these water abusers who are driving the climate crisis.

Tell Governor Newsom to act now to save California’s water!

Grassroots Movement to Vote “Yes” on Measures A and B Kicks Off Campaign With Press Conference

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Ventura, CA – A group of grassroots and community activists launched a campaign in favor of Measures A and B, two ballot measures that would close a loophole in Ventura County allowing oil and gas companies to drill without environmental review using antiquated permits. In some cases, these permits were granted as far back as the 1930s. As of July 2021, 75 percent of the 4,037 active and idle wells in Ventura County were using these antiquated permits that never expire. 

Community members have opposed these antiquated permits for years. In 2020, they won the protections they sought when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance closing the antiquated permit loophole and holding all new oil and gas drill operations to the same modern environmental standards as other industries. Three days after the vote, oil and gas interests — including Aera Energy — spent upwards of $1 million to undo the protections at the ballot. By January 2021, the committee had secured enough signatures to place the issue back on the ballot in the form of Measures A and B. 

Food & Water Watch Central Coast Organizing Manager Tomás Rebecchi was one of the environmental advocates and Ventura residents leading the initial fight against the permit loophole. 

“In Ventura County, there are more than 1,000 wells that are within a half mile of residents’ homes,” said Rebecchi. “And 60 percent of those oil wells are in Latino communities like ours. This creates a disproportionate burden of pollution shouldered by low income communities and communities of color.  With these old permits, an oil company could drill or frack a well next to our homes with as little environmental review as building a gazebo or a shed.”

Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-37) served on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors from 2000 to 2020 and voted in favor of ending the use of antiquated permits.

“When I was elected to the Board of Supervisors back in 2000,” Bennett remembered. “I discovered a startling fact and that was the fact that back in the mid-century the oil companies used their tremendous influence…to win something that no other businesses were granted in Ventura County. And that was getting conditional use permits that were granted in perpetuity forever.”

Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie has worked in cultural resource management for 40 years and seen sacred sites subsumed by oil development. According to CEQA, developers are supposed to avoid sacred sites. 

“But you can’t avoid them if you don’t know where they are,” Tumamait-Stenslie said, referencing the antiquated permits and lack of regulations. “We have for our Chumash people a lot of knowledge that just has gone away from us, lost through that mission period. And so there are sacred mountains that have gone unrecognized…sacred sites, burials that have probably all been impacted and will be impacted because there is no oversight.”

With a price tag of approximately $6 per signature and hundreds of thousands of signatures required to land a measure on the ballot, corporate interests have secured a foothold on direct democracy in California. 

“The idea was to wrest power from the hands of the special interest groups that were dominating state politics in places like Sacramento,” said University of California at San Diego professor and Political Science Department Chair Thad Kousser. “Unfortunately, 100 years later we’ve all seen that direct democracy, like our representative government, is also vulnerable.  We have unequal access to the ballot right now. It’s no longer the people’s process.” 

“The idea of projects moving forward without rigorous requirements to explore, understand and avoid the worst consequences to the environment and communities ahead of time is simply not acceptable for any industry or company in this day and age,” said Hans Cole, Patagonia’s Director of Campaigns and Advocacy. “The state of California is a leader in enacting public policy that’s better for people, for water, for climate, for the planet. But we have a glaring loophole…in our ability to protect our environment right here in Ventura County.”

Ojai organic farmer Steve Sprinkel irrigates his crops from an aquifer maintained by surface water that percolates downward. “In the arid west, a drought should focus our attention on what is our primary need,” said Sprinkel. “Water is much more essential than oil. We can’t risk ruining our underground water resources for a short-term economic benefit. 

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

SoCalGas Jumpstarts “Green” Hydrogen Plan Despite Massive Water Use

Categories

Climate and EnergyClean Water

For Immediate Release

Los Angeles, CA – Today SoCalGas applied to the California Public Utilities Commission for a memo account to track expenses for the “Angeles Link Project,” an initiative building out “green” hydrogen to power the Los Angeles Basin. “Green” hydrogen utilizes electrolysis to break water molecules apart. However, environmental advocates have identified the key flaws of any hydrogen development, including the possible perpetuation of fossil fuel infrastructure and the enormous amount of water required for such a process. 

“Green” hydrogen requires 9 kg of water per every 1 kg of hydrogen produced. California is already a home for water-heavy industries, including factory farms, industrial agriculture and fossil fuel extraction, yet the state’s water supply is dwindling. Recent studies place the Western drought of the last two decades as the worst in 1,200 years.

Meanwhile, SoCalGas faces criticism for misuse of ratepayer funds as well as hiking the price of gas by more than 50 percent even as its revenue rose significantly during the pandemic. 

“Californians are not blind to SoCalGas’ profiteering,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Time and again SoCalGas has shown a willingness to destroy our climate and health while jacking up rates to make profit by any means necessary. We would be foolish to let SoCalGas sell us on schemes like green hydrogen that divert us from real energy solutions and hijack our water resources. We need to break up monopoly utilities like SoCalGas and put real clean energy solutions in the hands of communities and workers that will lead us to the future, not down a darker path that fattens SoCalGas profits while doing nothing to address the real problems.” 

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

New Research: Mega-Dairies Contribute to New Mexico’s Drought and Contaminate Groundwater

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

For Immediate Release

Santa Fe, NM – In a new paper, Food & Water Watch researchers found that New Mexico’s large dairies are fueling  the state’s widespread drought crisis through excessive water usage and contamination of drinking water sources. The paper estimates that every day, the mega-dairy industry uses a colossal 32 million gallons of water to operate, and generates over 8 million gallons of wastewater that jeopardizes underground aquifers, even as the state struggles with limited groundwater supply.  Read the full report here.

“Not only do New Mexico’s mega-dairies deplete the scarce water supplies on which New Mexicans rely, they also contaminate the water adjacent to their facilities,” said Food & Water Watch’s Southern Organizing Director Jorge Aguilar. “New Mexico’s water resources should benefit its people, not corporate interests. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham must protect her constituents’ right to water and direct the Office of the State Engineer and the New Mexico Environment Department to hold this industry accountable for its destructive impact on the water supply.. ”

New Mexico currently has the worst drought outlook of any state in the U.S., and the recent resignation of State Engineer and top water official John D’Antonio has focused attention on the state’s ability to address the drought crisis. D’Antonio cited frustration with a chronic lack of funding to protect water resources as the reason for his departure. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has since called for an overhaul of New Mexico’s water policy and stressed the need “to rewrite what the state engineer’s office looks like.” 

The paper’s findings also underscore the heightened risk of nitrate contamination mega-dairies pose to New Mexico’s freshwater drinking supplies.  

A few key findings of the paper:

  • 80 percent of New Mexico’s mega-dairies have only half the land needed to properly absorb the manure produced by the cows. The excess nutrients can contaminate drinking water sources in New Mexico.
  • According to the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) map of mega-dairies, most if not all are situated on “high sensitivity” aquifers. NMED has acknowledged that leaching from mega-dairies could contaminate groundwater sources. 

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Baltimore Water Advocates Applaud Water for All Program Launch

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Today, Mayor Brandon Scott and the Department of Public Works (DPW) announced the launch of the Water for All program, the comprehensive water affordability program established in the Water Accountability and Equity Act (WAEA) that was passed in November 2019. 

With this launch, Baltimore has become the second city in the country after Philadelphia to establish a percentage-of-income water affordability program. Baltimore’s program will cap water and sewer bills for low-income households at three percent of household income – the international standard for water affordability. The program will be available to all households with an annual income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Rianna Eckel, Baltimore water organizer with Food & Water Watch and convener of the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, which has been organizing for affordable and accountable water billing since 2016 said:

“The launch of the Water for All program is a major step toward water justice for our city and will help many Baltimoreans achieve truly affordable water service. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, and we applaud the work of Mayor Brandon Scott and the Department of Public works to get us here.”

In a critical change, the Water for All program is the first water affordability program in the city that is accessible to renters, who make up 53% of Baltimore residents. The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition hopes to work with Mayor Scott’s administration to address a lingering issue involving the tax treatment of assistance for tenants in multifamily, master-metered units. One potential solution involves use of federal aid dollars. The City has $641 million in ARPA funding and advocates estimate that 0.5 percent of this funding could seed a fund to provide affordability assistance for these tenants for several years, without taxing the benefit as the current program could.

“For years, Baltimore renters have largely been denied affordability assistance, account access, and the ability to appeal water bills, despite the fact that many were responsible for paying them,” said Molly Amster, Maryland Policy Director & Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice (JUFJ). “That lack of support and due process led some renters to be evicted for non-payment of water bills. The implementation of the Water for All program will put an end to that injustice.”

Research from utility affordability expert Roger Colton has shown that percentage-of-income affordability programs work for both people and the utility. These programs have been used in the gas and electricity sectors for decades. Based on research from these sectors and Philadelphia, the program will support the fiscal health of DPW. With affordable bills, a higher percentage of people will consistently pay their bills, overall covering the cost of the program and potentially generating more revenue for the utility.

“This program is a win-win for residents of Baltimore City and the Department. Affordable bills means more people can pay their bills when they are struggling,” said Amy P. Hennen, Director of Advocacy and Financial Stabilization at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). “MVLS works with clients everyday who face hard choices about what bills to pay and this program is an important step to ensuring the health and stability of our communities.”.

As Council President, Mayor Scott led the City Council to unanimously pass the WAEA, and the legislation was signed into law in January 2020. The program was slated to go into effect originally in July 2020, but it has suffered several delays. In a major setback, former Mayor Jack Young issued an executive order in July 2020 to delay the legislation’s implementation during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Residents have been unable to enroll in any water assistance since July 2021, when BH2O Assists stopped accepting new applicants. The coalition hopes that the Department will provide backdated assistance to households who expressed interest in the Water for All program over the past seven months.

The Water for All affordability program is one half of the WAEA law, and the other half is a new independent Office of the Customer Advocate. The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition eagerly awaits the hiring of the Customer Advocate, whose job is to promote fairness for water customers, to improve the dispute resolution process, and to provide greater accountability to the public.

“An independent Customer Advocate is a crucial piece of the puzzle,” said Jaime Alison Lee, Associate Professor and Director of the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.  “Achieving water justice in Baltimore continues to be a journey, and we are hopeful that with every next step of the rollout of this law, we will get a little bit closer.”  

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

EPA’s Next Move Decides The Fate Of Factory Farm Polluters In New Mexico

Categories

Clean Water

by Emily Miller

In New Mexico, there’s a big opportunity to strengthen water pollution standards for factory farms on the horizon. A Clean Water Act permit for the state’s concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) is up for renewal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It’s known as a general permit, which safeguards the state’s scarce water resources by dictating what standards factory farms must follow to control their pollution. We’re advocating long-term for a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies. But this is an important opportunity to protect New Mexico’s waterways from factory farm pollution in the short term. 

We want EPA to issue the most protective permit possible, and are ready to fight it if they don’t. 

What Is a General Permit And Why Does It Matter?

The Clean Water Act is a federal law that requires EPA or state permitting agencies to regulate water pollution sources through National Pollutant Elimination Discharge (NPDES) permits. The goal of this system is to reduce — and ultimately eliminate — dangerous pollution discharges into our rivers, lakes, and streams. Permits accomplish this goal by capping the amount of pollution a facility can discharge, and then requiring specific pollution controls. They also require discharge monitoring, to ensure polluters meet those limits. This permit program is responsible for dramatic improvements in water quality across the U.S. over the past 50 years.

Most states issue their own NPDES permits. But New Mexico is one of the few places where EPA still administers the permit program. 

Under the federal law, EPA can issue permits in two different ways: 

  • On a polluter-by-polluter basis, known as an “individual permit,” 
  • Or a “general permit,” which applies the same pollution standards and requirements across an entire category of pollution sources. 

A general permit has a broader impact. Instead of applying to one factory farm, it should apply to all New Mexico factory farms discharging pollution into waterways. 

The General Permit Process Can Score Statewide And Even National Victories For Clean Water

When a General Permit is issued, the public is entitled to comment on the permit. They also get to fight it when it fails to adequately protect waterways or otherwise violates the Clean Water Act. Since it’s broadly applicable to many polluters, successfully strengthening a general permit through public participation can have broad, positive impacts. This is especially true in states where EPA issues the permit. When EPA issues a general permit, rather than the state, citizens can challenge it in the federal court of appeals. In that setting, the case has the potential to set a national precedent.  

Food & Water Watch recently challenged just such a general CAFO permit in Idaho. We contested its failure to require CAFOs to monitor their pollution discharges. Discharge monitoring requirements are crucial for ensuring compliance with pollution limits, and their absence clearly violated federal law. We brought our case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and won! The court found that a general permit without monitoring requirements violated the Clean Water Act, and struck down the permit. But even more importantly, the court’s ruling is relevant everywhere factory farm permits take the same illegal approach. 

Why We Have Our Eye On New Mexico’s Permitting Process

The New Mexico general permit process is a prime opportunity to win stronger regulation of the industry’s polluting impacts. Factory Farms in New Mexico, particularly mega-dairies, pose a constant threat to the state’s precious water resources. These factory farms use immense amounts of water in their daily practices. Additionally, the colossal amounts of manure they generate can run off into nearby waterways, and leach into groundwater. This waste can and does contaminate drinking water supplies for nearby communities with toxic nitrates. Especially given New Mexico’s historic climate-change-fueled drought, it can’t afford further degradation of this limited resource. Our long-term focus is on winning a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies in New Mexico. But a stronger general permit could result in significant improvements in the short term.

That’s why it’s vitally important that we make sure the upcoming general permit is strong. It should apply to as many factory farms as possible and impose stringent requirements to protect New Mexico waterways. It’s EPA’s job to update this permit every five years, and New Mexico’s general permit was up for renewal in August. However, we haven’t heard a peep out of EPA for the past four months. 

We submitted a FOIA request to find out why, and hold the agency accountable to its Clean Water Act obligations. We’ll be tracking EPA’s actions, and engaging citizens to participate in the process when the time comes.

Tell New Mexico’s leaders it’s time for a moratorium on factory farms! 

More than 100 Groups Call on CFTC To Shut Down Dangerous ‘Water Futures’ Market

Categories

Clean Water

A national advocacy organization, along with 138 other organizations, petitioned the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today to suspend the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s water futures market, which is based on the availability of water rights in California. 

The letter from Food & Water Watch details a range of serious problems with Nasdaq Veles California Water Index Futures, which were self-certified by the CME before their launch one year ago. It is the world’s first market for water futures contracts. The comment was co-signed by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Southern California Watershed Alliance, FLOW (For Love of Water), Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, National Family Farm Coalition, Public Citizen, and more than 130 other organizations.

It argues that the ‘commodity’ in question — water rights in a state grappling with a serious drought — and the price index for such rights are not commodities at all, and their trade in a futures market undermines state law and does not conform to CFTC regulations.

It also points out that the agency’s regulations strictly prohibit CME from allowing trades of futures that are “readily susceptible to manipulation of the price of such contracts.” The fact that the market was self-certified means that the commission has not appropriately evaluated whether the futures contracts violate this standard.

“Water is necessary and essential for life and is simply not a commodity,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Attorney for Food & Water Watch.  “The Commission should reject this shoe-horn attempt to drive investor profit under a federal law never meant to apply to a common public resource managed by the state for the public welfare.”

“The radically deregulatory Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 allows exchanges to self-certify that new futures contracts comply with CFTC rules and core regulatory principles,” said Dr. Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “Self-certification has been applied to minor changes to contracts. The CME water futures contract, however, is a novel contract and a new asset class for which the CFTC must not allow self-certification. CFTC staff should heed and further the analysis in this letter of the California water sales that underlie this futures contract towards determining whether the contract is susceptible to market manipulation, a violation of a key CFTC core principle.”

“In this time of global-warming-induced drought in California, the last thing we need is to gamble on our precious water resources,” said Conner Everts, Executive Director, Southern California Watershed Alliance.

As the letter lays out, water entitlements in California involve rights allocated for different types of waters (e.g., ground, surface) and in different areas that cannot be exchanged under state law. But futures contracts can be freely traded on CME’s market, thus allowing investors to profit. This undermines state law including California’s “beneficial use” doctrine, which prohibits water entitlements to be used for speculation. It also violates the Commission’s regulations, which bar futures trading that “involves, relates to, or references . . . an activity. . . that is unlawful under any State or Federal law;” or that is “similar to” such an activity.”

“FLOW unequivocally supports Food & Water Watch’s efforts to stop the commodification of water,” said Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, For Love of Water (FLOW). “Water is a fundamental human right held in trust by the states for the public, not something to be speculated on by profiteers.” 

“The CFTC needs to strongly re-consider the listing of water futures,” said Andrew Park, Senior Policy Analyst at Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund. “There is no reason why speculators and other financial market participants should be able to have any impact on the prices of Earth’s most important resource.”

The letter also argues that, even if all of the other deficiencies did not exist, the water futures market is contrary to the public interest. The petition warns that large institutional speculators — which tend to dominate key commodities markets — could pursue investment strategies that would result in actual water hoarding and raise water rates,  which would be particularly devastating to small farmers.

The petition closes by reminding the CFTC that it has the authority to review any self-certified products and suspend trading activities during any such review. The commission can also hold a hearing on the Nasdaq Veles Water Futures, which would prompt the CFTC to ultimately decide whether or not the product violates its normal policies.

Food & Water Watch v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long history of failing to adequately regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. That’s why Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper filed suit against the EPA in the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for issuing a permit for Idaho factory farms that contained essentially no pollution monitoring, as required by the Clean Water Act. And we won, with the Court sending the permit back to EPA to add monitoring because there was no way to know whether a factory farm was violating the Clean Water Act without monitoring in place.

This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit is meant to ensure that factory farms comply with pollution restrictions that protect waterways for recreation, fishing, wildlife, and other uses. In Idaho alone, there are several hundred factory farms that produce vast quantities of pollutants like E.coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. This industry, which has largely avoided any regulation by federal environmental laws, has contributed to the 2,000 miles of streams and rivers that are now considered impaired by pollutants commonly associated with factory farm waste. The Clean Water Act is meant to control this kind of pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) and other “point source” dischargers, and that system relies on the monitoring that factory farm permits habitually lack across the country.

The lack of monitoring problem is pervasive across Clean Water Act permits for factory farms, and this case dispels the myth that it’s okay for regulators to just assume compliance with our bedrock water protection laws.

While this is an Idaho-specific permit and an important win on the path to accountability in the state, the Court’s ruling should also have national impact. The lack of monitoring problem is pervasive across Clean Water Act permits for factory farms, and this case dispels the myth that it’s okay for regulators to just assume compliance with our bedrock water protection laws.

Following this critical win, we will continue fighting for stronger regulation and enforcement across the country to protect our rivers, lakes, and streams from factory farm pollution.

We don’t shy away from the right fights. Make a donation today to fund work like this in the future!

The Water Futures Market: Gambling With Our Water

Categories

PDFClean Water

Unprecedented Water Restrictions Point to Urgency of Ending Corporate Water Abuse

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA — Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration announced a 0% water allocation from the State Water Project for California districts in 2022 – the only exceptions being select health and safety allocations. The announcement comes after Food & Water Watch along with dozens of other environmental, public health and justice advocacy organizations sent a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to end corporate abuse of water from industrial factory farms, fossil fuels and bottled water companies. 

“The Newsom administration’s announcement serves as a potent reminder of how dire this drought is and the need for immediate action to preserve the water we have for the people who need it most,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy in response to the announcement. “Conservation measures are necessary, but so is a reevaluation of our water allocation system. Instead of mining our already scarce groundwater, we must accelerate groundwater sustainability plans and cut off water supplies to chronic corporate abusers like fossil fuel interests, industrial agriculture and bottled water companies. The freshwater used by the oil and gas industry alone could provide billions of gallons of water to homes in need. Water is a human right. It’s time California acted like it.”

New research compiled by Food & Water Watch around the state’s biggest water abusers reveals the oil and gas industry used more than 3 billion gallons of freshwater between January 2018 and March 2021 that could otherwise have supplied domestic systems. Likewise, 80 percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture, including heavy water users like almonds. In 2019, more than 60 percent of almonds produced in California were exported, rerouting 910 billion gallons of water out of the state for corporate profit. Additionally, alfalfa uses a huge share of California’s agricultural water at 16 percent and occupies 1 million irrigated acres in the state. More than 1.5 trillion gallons of water are needed for alfalfa irrigation or more than enough water to provide the daily recommended water needs (55 gallons per person per day) for every Californian for over a year. 

Groundwater accounts for 30 percent of water used by California agriculture in wet years, and in dry years groundwater accounts for a staggering 80 percent.

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Backed By New Research, Environmental Groups Demand End to Corporate Water Abuse

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA – 48 organizations have signed on to a letter demanding Governor Newsom address California’s water crisis with specific actions targeted at the corporate abuse of public water resources. While drought ravages the state and freshwater supplies dwindle, more than 1 million Californians lack access to clean drinking water. Wells in dry and under-resourced areas like the Central Valley are predicted to go dry at astonishing rates. Yet unsustainable amounts of California’s water are being allocated to multibillion dollar industries like fossil fuel production, industrial dairy operation and almond crop cultivation. Read the letter HERE.

“California’s antiquated water policies favor the corporations that contribute to the climate crisis and drain our water supplies,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “We can no longer afford to distribute water based on wealth and prioritize corporations over people. It is unthinkable that serial water abusers like Big Ag and Big Oil can reap billions of dollars in profits while thousands of wells around California go dry and our environment deteriorates. Already one million Californians lack access to safe, clean drinking water. Governor Newsom has taken steps to guard frontline communities against the predatory incursion of oil and gas drilling. Now he must begin prioritizing the water security of those same communities.”

The letter draws on its demands from new research by Food & Water Watch that highlights a water system designed to favor corporations over people. Among the paper’s findings are:

  • 80 percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture, including heavy water users like almonds. In 2019, more than 60 percent of almonds produced in California were exported, rerouting 910 billion gallons of water out of the state for corporate profit.
  • It takes 142 millions of gallons of water every day to operate California’s mega-dairies. That’s more than enough to supply every resident in San Diego and San Jose with the daily recommended amount of water. 
  • Between January 2018 and March 2021, the oil and gas industry used more than 3 billion gallons of freshwater — enough water to fill 4,570 Olympic-sized swimming pools — that could otherwise have supplied domestic systems. 

Among the letter’s chief demands for Governor Newsom:

  • Declare using groundwater to grow almonds and alfalfa in the southwest San Joaquin Valley not a beneficial use. 
  • Ban new and expanding mega-dairies in the state. 
  • End new oil and gas permitting immediately.

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

California’s Water Can’t Be Squandered On Wasteful Abuses Anymore

Categories

Clean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California remains mired in an awful drought in spite of the recent atmospheric river — a narrow band of concentrated, copious moisture — that brought a deluge of rain and snow to the state. This winter is projected to be a dry one and as climate change accelerates, California’s long-term water situation will continue to deteriorate. Governor Newsom recently issued a state of emergency and implored Californians to conserve water.

Newsom is right to declare a state of emergency. However, there is much more to be done than asking California’s residents to voluntarily conserve. Vast amounts of water are consumed by large corporations that benefit from water rights and allocations developed in wetter times. It’s time for Newsom to use his executive authority, given the state of emergency, to rein in these big corporate water abusers.

California Water Gets Wasted Egregiously By Non-Essential Industries

On October 12, Food & Water Watch released a detailed analysis outlining some of the biggest corporate water abuses in California. The abuses run the gamut from vast almond operations to factory farms, oil and gas to exported alfalfa. Together they account for more than enough to provide for many Californians without access to clean water and for the environment. Here are some of the findings.

California Water Goes Overwhelmingly To Non-Essential Agriculture
  • Almonds: Tree nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts are incredibly water-intensive. They accounted for over 20% of California’s 2013 agricultural water use (agriculture accounts for 80% of all California water). While some almonds are grown on sustainable family farms, a few megacorporations control large amounts of production in the dry west San Joaquin valley. Most of these almonds are exported and profit more large corporate interests overseas, essentially exporting water out of our state. While California has experienced severe droughts over the years, almond production continues to increase. Between 2010 and 2021, almond acreage exploded by nearly 73%. 
  • Alfalfa: Accounting for over 15% of California’s annual agricultural water use, much of the state’s alfalfa feeds factory farm cows or is exported. In one bizarre example, Fondomonte Farms, a Saudi-owned subsidiary, grows and exports alfalfa back to Saudi Arabia to feed dairy cows. Why? Because the Saudi government has rightly deemed it irresponsible to grow alfalfa in an arid climate, yet the company has access to ample California water. 
California Water Gets Sapped Up By Destructive Industries
  • Factory Farms: The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture reported nearly 1.7 million cows on factory dairy farms in California. Mega-dairies push out smaller family-scale dairies, generate large amounts of waste, and also consume a lot of water. Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 142 million gallons of water daily to maintain the cows on California’s mega-dairies. That more than covers the daily recommended water usage for every resident of San Jose and San Diego combined. 
  • Fossil Fuel Industry: Fossil fuels drive the climate crisis — leading to drier conditions — but the industry also uses huge amounts of water. Between January 2018 and March 2021, the oil and gas industry used over 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. That water could otherwise have supplied domestic systems. That is the equivalent of around 4,570 Olympic-sized pools or more than 120 million showers for California households. 

In normal times, these water abuses wouldn’t make any sense. But in the drier, warmer future ahead of us due to climate change, they are unacceptable. While Californians can and should conserve more, bold action is needed to go after the largest water users and abusers. 

Newsom Must Use The State Of Emergency To Stop Corporate Water Waste

To ensure enough water for all Californians and the environment, Newsom should use the state of emergency to take executive action. He should stop the expansion of almonds, alfalfa, factory farms and oil and gas. He should declare that these massive water abuses are not a beneficial use of our precious water resources. And he should work to rebalance water allocations in the state. 

It’s important that Governor Newsom hear from Californians that his leadership is needed. He must address the current drought as well as our long-term water future. Tell Governor Newsom the time to act is now — rein in the big water abusers to protect our water future.

[email protected] CA needs your leadership. Water-hogging industries that hurt our long-term resources must be shown the door. We’ve let them take too much for too long. #stateofemergency #waterforall

Contact Governor Newsom on Twitter.

Your voice makes a difference.

NY Gov. Hochul Signs Legislation Enabling Public Water in Nassau County

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Yesterday, Governor Hochul signed legislation establishing two new public water authorities in Nassau County. The bills were passed by the New York legislature in June, and have been awaiting the Governor’s signature to enable the process of taking public control of the water systems currently owned and operated by American Water on Long Island. The move comes two days after New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to approve a Constitutional right to water in the state.

Advocates hailed the move as a powerful blow to the corporate control of water in New York and an essential step towards better service and more affordable, cleaner water. In New York, private water systems like American Water were found to charge almost twice the amount of their public counterparts, making this a critical victory for public ownership of essential water services. Joseph M. Varon, a West Hempstead resident and volunteer with Food & Water Watch said:

“Since becoming governor, Kathy Hochul has demonstrated tremendous leadership in opposing corporate control and abuse of our most vital resources — the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the climate we rely on. Water is a human right — one now enshrined in New York’s constitution — and Governor Hochul’s actions are a major step towards honoring that right on Long Island.”

“We are so thankful and grateful to Governor Hochul for recognizing this injustice and signing the North Shore Water Authority Legislation into law,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens. “We are also so thankful and grateful to Senator Gaughran and Assemblymen Lavine, Montesano and Ra for their leadership and support in getting this legislation unanimously passed. We have suffered under this private water debacle of astronomical rates, never ending surcharges/taxes, water quality issues and lame customer service for way too long. Water is a necessity of life and should always be in the public’s trust — not by private companies who profit from this resource and are accountable to their shareholders. Our time has arrived to cross over the finish line to affordable public water.”

“Glad to see the governor has done the right thing. For the 113,000 NYAW customers in Hempstead, it is now up to the town and the county legislature to do the right thing and appoint independent, non-partisan, non-political commissioners to this new authority with the financial, environmental, civic and legal expertise to implement the public takeover authorized by this legislation,” said Dave Denenberg, Co-Director of LI Clean Air Water & Soil.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

NY Votes to Enshrine Right to Water and Healthful Environment in State Constitution

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release


Last night, New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted to enshrine the right to water and a healthful environment in the state constitution. As communities across the state struggle with PFAS contamination, lead pipes and unaffordable service, the new amendment paves the way for greater state efforts to ensure the safety of drinking water and access to essential water services. With the vote Tuesday, New York joins states like Virginia and Pennsylvania in formally recognizing the human right to water.

In response, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp issued the following statement:

“Water is a human right, but New York’s policies don’t ensure access to this essential resource. Statewide, communities are moving to take over public control of their water utilities, removing them from corporate control and abuse. Communities are pushing back on PFAS and lead contamination in drinking water, demanding stricter regulations, testing and cleanup. And households statewide are grappling with unaffordable water service and water debt.

With the right to water codified in our state constitution, it’s time to get to work putting control of this most critical resource into the hands of the people, it’s time to clean up New York’s drinking water and it’s time to cancel water debt and make water service affordable for every person.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

National Organization Backs Appeal of Chester Water Authority “Hostile Takeover”

Categories

Clean Water

The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch has filed an amicus brief in support of Chester Water Authority’s appeal to the state Supreme Court to stop Aqua Pennsylvania’s attempt to take over the authority’s water system. 

The brief urges the court to consider the appeal, arguing that the action taken by Aqua constitutes a “hostile takeover” that was effectively and incorrectly sanctioned by a Commonwealth Court decision. 

Food & Water Watch argues that the court failed to treat the water system as a public trust, and nullified the legal requirement that the Chester Water Authority must consent to an acquisition. 

In its brief, Food & Water Watch points out that the most immediate effect of the takeover is likely to be a dramatic increase in water rates — the most predictable consequence of corporate water privatization in Pennsylvania and across the country. The water bill burden in Chester would go from about 1.2 percent of median household income to 3.3 percent of median household income, a level generally deemed unaffordable by the Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations.   

“This whole scheme amounts to a hostile takeover of the Chester Water Authority by Aqua Pennsylvania,” said Food & Water Watch staff attorney Zach Corrigan. “The State Supreme Court should hear the appeal and affirm the public trust purposes of the water system to protect the people served by the water authority.”

“I’m a senior living on a fixed income, as are all my neighbors in my community. We can’t afford the huge water rate increases that always come with selling of a water system to a private, for-profit company,” said Margo Woodacre, a resident of New Garden Township. “My township recently sold our sewer system to Aqua, and my bill went up 44% this year! My neighbors and I are working so this won’t happen with our water too.”

Carol Kazeem of Chester City added: “I truly and strongly believe that we must save Chester Water Authority and to keep our water public. Most of the residents that are in our communities are on fixed income or a low income. And changing Chester Water Authority now to be given over to Aqua will cause more of a financial distress to many residents in the City of Chester and also the surrounding areas of Delaware County.” 

New PFAS Roadmap from EPA Is Overdue First Step Toward Real Drinking Water Safety

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, D.C. – Today the Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to better monitor and regulate perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” thousands of which are found in industrial and consumer goods and pervasively contaminate drinking water sources.

In response, Food & Water Watch’s Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant issued the following statement:

“The Biden administration’s new PFAS roadmap includes a number of long-overdue steps that could make significant strides in dealing with the rampant toxic contamination of our country’s drinking water. If implemented quickly and aggressively, the plan will set new enforceable limits on the two most studied forms of these ‘forever chemicals’ and help hold polluters themselves accountable for cleanup – potentially making meaningful improvements in water quality and public health. 

“But in order to fully address the many existing threats to drinking water safety we are facing, EPA must go farther by regulating PFAS as a class. And Congress must act to ensure that adequate funding exists to allow public water providers, many of which are also struggling with lead contamination and failing infrastructure, to fully implement these critical new PFAS standards.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – s[email protected]

New Analysis Details Immense Scale of Corporate Water Abuses in California

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA – Today the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch released “Big Ag, Big Oil and California’s Big Water Problem,” a report detailing for the first time California’s most egregious corporate water misuses. The piece pinpoints industrial agriculture as among the worst offenders, swallowing large portions of California’s water resources and exporting billions of gallons of water overseas through heavily irrigated crops like almond and alfalfa as well as dairy. 

Among the report’s detailed findings is the fact that all the water used to maintain California’s mega-dairies could provide enough water for all the residents of San Diego and San Jose combined. Foreign and domestic corporations also use California’s limited water to irrigate crops that are then exported to feed dairy cows overseas. Saudi dairy company Almarai owns 15,000 acres in Blythe, CA for just such a purpose, purchased after Saudi Arabia deemed water-intensive crops like alfalfa were not a beneficial use of the country’s limited water resources. 

Extreme drought conditions exacerbated by climate change currently envelop 88 percent of California and fuel wildfires of ever-increasing intensity. The report’s analysis highlights the trillions of gallons of water currently headed to corporate coffers and not Californians’ faucets, potentially leading to thousands of wells across the state going dry by the end of next year.  

“What this research reveals is an astonishing precedent of water mismanagement and preferential treatment given to corporate entities in our state,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy upon the report’s release. “Fossil fuels and industrial agriculture like mega-dairies not only pollute our climate, they drain California of valuable water resources that should belong to the people. One million Californians are without clean drinking water. Climate disasters like drought and wildfires are increasing in frequency and intensity. Without action from Governor Newsom to end the parasitic hold Big Ag and Big Oil have on our water resources, California’s inequities will sharpen and its communities will suffer.”

Among the recommendations laid out by the white paper for Governor Newsom are an immediate statewide declaration of drought, end to new oil and gas drilling permits, and the designation of groundwater used for almonds and alfalfa in the southwest San Joaquin Valley as wasteful. 

Read the full report here.

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Water Shutoff Protections Prevented Covid Infections and Deaths

Categories

Clean Water

As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that water shutoff moratoria are an important public health tool to prevent the spread of disease. 

Since March 2020, 34 states took action to limit water shutoffs during the pandemic, and 20 of these states imposed comprehensive moratoria that apply to all water systems. The research found that these statewide protections prevented Covid infections and deaths. 

Despite the Delta wave increasing cases and hospitalizations across the country, nearly all of these shutoff protections have expired. Only California, New Jersey and Washington have comprehensive moratoria still in place, and both California’s and Washington’s moratoria expire at the end of the month. The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs had significantly lower growth rates for COVID infections and deaths.

“This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by COVID pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families,“ said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: Debt forgiveness with a moratorium on shutoffs through the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Long-term, Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

“Our model uses more than 12 thousand data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of COVID-19 infection and deaths,” said Dr. Xue Zhang, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell. “Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates. We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future.”

“Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic,” said Dr. Mildred E. Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell University. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. At the peak of protection, in June 2020, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of 2020, just 12 states had a moratorium in place, and 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered. This total included 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile, which are the households most at risk of having their service shut off.

Congress has provided limited support for water access in the infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. Although the House Energy & Commerce Committee seeks an additional $500 million in the federal budget to the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, there are no shutoff protections attached to the funding. Advocates continue to call for the passage of the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, from Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to eliminate utility debt accrued during the moratoria and extend shutoff protections through the recovery period. 

In Response to Lawsuit, EPA Pledges to Strengthen Slaughterhouse Water Pollution Standards

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, D.C. — In a victory for clean water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it will update water pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry following a December 2019 lawsuit from community and conservation organizations.

“It’s a great first step that EPA has decided to finally modernize the standards for meat and poultry plants across the country, which had not been updated since at least 2004,” said Sylvia Lam, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We now expect EPA to let us know when they plan to propose updated standards to protect our waterways and communities, since the current limits are allowing an excessive amount of pollution.”

Earthjustice attorney Alexis Andiman added: “Slaughterhouses are leading sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and their pollution disproportionately harms under-resourced communities, low-income communities, and communities of color.  We applaud EPA for recognizing that it’s time to update the outdated standards governing pollution from slaughterhouses.  Together with our partners, we look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the new standards adequately protect people and the environment.”

“We are glad that the EPA will finally strengthen its outdated, unprotective water pollution standards for the slaughterhouse industry. These facilities are a major source of pollution in communities across the country,” said Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen. “But our work is far from over – we will participate in EPA’s rulemaking and are prepared to hold the agency accountable if its new standards again fall short of protecting communities directly impacted by water pollution.” 

In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, EPA announced that it will initiate a rulemaking process to reduce pollution from three industries: Meat and poultry processing plants, which include slaughterhouses; metal finishing businesses; and manufacturers of organic chemicals that discharge polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Along with its announcement, EPA reported that 74 percent of slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into rivers and streams are within one mile of under-resourced communities, low-income communities, or communities of color.

“This finding makes it even more imperative for EPA to issue standards that protect the public as soon as possible,” said Lam.

In December 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit against EPA on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States, and Waterkeeper Alliance. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s prior refusal to modernize pollution standards for slaughterhouses, in light of evidence demonstrating that revision is necessary.

More than 8 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle are processed each year in more than 7,000 slaughterhouses across the country. An estimated 4,700 of these slaughterhouses discharge polluted water to waterways, including the iconic Chesapeake Bay, either directly or indirectly through municipal sewage treatment plants.

The federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to set industry-wide water pollution standards for slaughterhouses and other industries and to review those standards each year to decide whether updates are appropriate to keep pace with advances in pollution-control technology.

During the Trump Administration, EPA announced that it would not revise the federal water pollution standards for slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into waterways, and it would not create standards for slaughterhouses that send their pollution to sewage plants before discharging into rivers or streams. This is despite the fact that EPA identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of nitrogen water pollution without updated standards.

An October 2018 report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” reviewed the records of 98 meat and poultry processing plants across the U.S. and found that the median facility released an average of 331 pounds of total nitrogen per day into local rivers and streams, about as much as the amount contained in in raw sewage from a town of 14,000 people.

Many slaughterhouses released far more, with the JBS USA pork processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, for example, releasing 1,849 pounds of nitrogen a day in 2017 to an Illinois River tributary—equivalent to the load in raw sewage from a city of 79,000 people. This showed that the national standards were no longer driving the industry to reduce its water pollution, as intended by the Clean Water Act.

In its September 8 announcement, EPA also identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of phosphorus water pollution in the nation. Moreover, EPA expressed a need to develop pretreatment standards for slaughterhouses—finding that 73 percent of local sewage plants that receive wastewater from slaughterhouses have violated pollution limits in their Clean Water Act permits for pollutants found in slaughterhouse effluent.

Long-Term Cumberland Sewer Deal Would Violate State Laws

Categories

Clean Water

A national clean water advocacy organization sent a letter to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners today warning them that their efforts to monetize the county sewer system appears on its face to violate several state laws.

The letter, sent by Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan on August 12, outlines several deficiencies with the county’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Specifically, the letter cautions that any long-term financing plan for the utility would have to allow for public bidding unless it was for less than ten years and received approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Longer contracts would also require the utility to follow the legal requirements of providing public notice of a contract, public meetings, and the solicitation of additional proposals. The law requires the passing of a resolution approving a contract, as well as a review by the state’s Division of Local Government Services (DLGS)

The county issued a revised RFQ in June, but the same legal problems are evident.

Once the county’s plan came to light, local residents voiced strong opposition to what many see as nothing more than a rapid bid to privatize a public asset. 

“This rushed process is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We know what comes next under these kinds of privatization deals: Higher rates and a lower quality of service. Cumberland County should heed these warnings and listen to residents who are alarmed by this speedy privatization scheme.”

The Food & Water Watch letter notes in closing that “the Revised RFQ skirts statutory requirements applicable to the private financing of wastewater services. CCUA should not rush to approve an unlawful contract, and it should instead follow the procedures set forth under state law to ensure meaningful community input and public involvement.”

EPA Should Rewrite Trump’s Awful Rule And Help States Protect Their Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Adam Carlesco

In the fight to protect our waters from reckless permitting by the federal government, the drafters of the Clean Water Act (CWA) ensured that state governments had the authority to deny federal permits for infrastructure projects that violate state laws. This authority comes from Section 401 of the CWA and has allowed states to block a number of oil and gas pipelines, like the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, due to the harm they’d cause to state water. This authority is a vital tool in stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in states with strong climate goals and the preservation of this power is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Trump’s Administration Wrote A Bad Clean Water Act Rule, And Biden’s EPA Must Fix It

For the past four decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has understood that states have broad discretion in how they review whether a project will significantly impact a waterbody within its borders. But in July 2020 the Trump administration finalized a major regulatory change that hastened state and tribal authorities’ timelines for reviewing such projects. Making things worse, it also severely limited the factors that state agencies could consider when deciding whether to certify a project. It’s clear that this rule was enacted to stop states like New York from protecting water people depend on for life. If this rule isn’t rewritten, it will lead to more oil and gas pipelines being approved without critical state review.

Understanding this, the Biden Administration has directed EPA to review the 2020 CWA §401 Certification Rule for legal deficiencies and amend the rule as needed so it aligns with the principles of state sovereignty and protects water bodies and the climate. Currently, EPA is considering how it can improve the state certification process and will likely be proposing a new rule in late 2021 or early 2022. To guide that proposal, Food & Water Watch has submitted comments advising the agency on how best to address the dual challenge of climate change and water contamination.

The 2020 Trump Rule Wholly Undermines The Spirit And Intent Of The Clean Water Act

Under the 2020 Trump Rule, EPA shortened timelines for states to review a project’s compliance with state law, requiring the timeframe for review to begin immediately when a developer submits an application – even if lacking vital information. Going forward, the EPA must amend this so the clock starts only once a state certifying authority deems an application administratively complete. Also, EPA must allow applicants to voluntarily withdraw their request and resubmit it at a later date when there is inadequate information for a state authority to make an informed final decision. Without that flexibility, this practice will result in more states denying certification to avoid inadvertently waiving their review authority. It is also incredibly important for states to be able to delay certification until the completion of an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The 2020 Rule has also severely narrowed the scope of what review criteria a state can consider when determining whether a project complies with state law. EPA must reiterate that state certification must consider the impacts of any “discharge” as the Clean Water Act requires, not just a “discharge of pollutants” which is a wholly different legal term not present in Section 401 of the statute. Despite the Trump administration’s insistence that Section 401 applies only to “point sources of pollution” (e.g., wastewater coming directly out of a pipe into a river), in actuality, the CWA requires a review of any activity that may result in a discharge, including from non-point sources (e.g., pesticide run-off from golf courses). EPA must correct this gross misreading of the statute if states are to meaningfully assess the full scope of a project’s potential harm.

The damage caused by such shortened timelines and a narrowed scope of review is heightened by the 2020 Rule’s requirements that force states to waive their certification authority if a final decision is not made within EPA’s definition of a “reasonable” period of time or if it contains conditions that EPA objects to. It is of the utmost importance that EPA allows flexibility in its determination of a “reasonable time” for review that allows states to request additional data necessary for informed decision-making, without the looming threat of waiving state certifying authority. 

Moreover, EPA must respect state conditions when approving a project. Conditional approval of a project is meant to allow a project — that would otherwise not be certified — to move forward with strict conditions on approval. Stripping conditions from a conditional certification allows projects to proceed which, without those state-issued conditions, would be in violation of state law. As such, EPA must respect state sovereignty in determining when a project would violate state law without a condition and in determining what a reasonable amount of time is for reviewing a project within the statutory one-year limit.

EPA is anticipated to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within a few months which the public can comment on. Food & Water Watch will be involved in submitting comments to EPA that call on a robust review process that protects our waters and will be sure to alert our supporters on how they can get involved when a proposed rule is announced.

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A Note About What’s Next To Protect Waterways:

Protecting the waterways of this nation must be an all-of-government effort. As such, it is important that EPA coordinate their regulatory plans with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as these agencies oversee dredging of waterways and gas pipeline permitting respectively.  Without a coordinated regulatory reform for all three agencies, priorities and legislative interpretations may become conflicted or incompatible, which would result in weakened waterbody protections and uncertainty in permitting for water-crossings of public utility lines, like much-needed water infrastructure.

Rep. Tlaib Introduces Utility Debt Cancellation Bill

Categories

Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC  – Today, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, which would provide nearly $40 billion to help wipe away household water, power and broadband debt across the country.

With the Delta variant prompting a new COVID surge, this relief is more urgent than ever to stop mounting utility debt and the shutoffs crisis. Studies have found that moratoria on utility shutoffs reduced the spread of COVID and deaths linked to the virus. One study found that a water shutoff moratorium would have prevented 500,000 COVID infections. Unfortunately, those policies have expired in most states, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework in the Senate lacks these vital protections. 

This debt relief and accompanying shutoffs moratorium will go hand-in-hand with CDC’s new eviction moratorium to protect struggling households and help protect against the spread of disease.

“Utility shutoffs – from water to electricity to broadband Internet – leave our most vulnerable communities without essential life sustaining services and are especially unacceptable during a deadly pandemic,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “So many of us have eviction protection on our minds right now. A study showing that low-income Michigan families pay more than 30% of their household income on utility bills alone, creating a direct path to debt and eviction, makes the issue that much more pertinent. We have to break the cycle and ensure folks can keep their lights on, their water running, and the roofs over their head. I’m so grateful for the continued partnership of the Utility Justice coalition who has fought alongside us every step of the way to end the injustice of utility shutoffs in this country.”

 The legislation provides $13.5 billion for water debt, $13 billion for electricity debt and another $13 billion for broadband internet debt. It also establishes reporting requirements about disconnections and arrears. 

More than 275,000 people have petitioned for a utility shutoff moratorium since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“Families across the country have accrued billions of dollars in water debt during this pandemic, and now, as we are in the midst of another COVID surge, they are suffering water shutoffs, a life-threatening injustice that must be stopped,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “Communities urgently need the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act to keep the water, power, and broadband on and forgive crushing household utility debt. We applaud Rep. Tlaib for her leadership on this legislation.”

​​”Congresswoman Tlaib’s Utility Debt Relief bill is a great example of legislation that centers economic and racial justice to support local recovery and prosperity,” said Juan Jhong-Chung of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. “Low-income communities and communities of color in Detroit continue to be impacted by systemic racism, pollution, and the COVID pandemic. How can investor-owned utilities make record profits while our families struggle to pay monthly bills? We cannot build back better if we leave the most vulnerable behind.” 

“Not just as an organizer with Soulardarity, but as a consumer and a resident of Highland Park, I know how important it is that our communities get some kind of debt relief for energy, because when you’re without power, or you’re worried about being shut off because you don’t have the finances, you are constantly in stress,” said Michelle Jones, Energy Democracy Fellowship Coordinator with Soulardarity in Highland Park, Michigan. “I’ve been there. It’s not that I didn’t want to pay the bill, it’s that I couldn’t pay the bill. And it was the worst when I was raising my children. Parents need to know that when they need that gas, lights, heat to take care of their families, that it’s there. And to know that our elected leaders have the power to make that available — we need them to take the stress off.” 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it is more essential than ever that people have access to water, electricity, and broadband service. This bill is a critical first step to support low-wealth families and communities of color that have borne the brunt of compounding threats of utility shut-offs and poverty,” said Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability. “This bill would direct sorely needed federal funds towards our water systems. Sustained, long-term federal investments in our infrastructure are necessary to ensure that everyone has access to clean and affordable water.” 

“Congresswoman Tlaib’s debt relief bill will bring economic recovery to vulnerable Kansans who have been taking on the energy burden for too long,” said Climate + Energy Project Program Director Beth Pauley. “The Climate + Energy Project knows we cannot pursue a just transition while so many Kansans are struggling. We need to continue to address the energy poverty crisis by implementing equitable energy efficiency and community solar programs, with impacted communities leading the policies and program implementation. Kansans need to have their basic needs met in order to organize for long term climate solutions.”

“As the pandemic raged, the media and government rallied Americans by proclaiming that we were all in this together. But the reality was harsher. While we were encouraged to move our personal and professional lives online for the sake of public health, millions of us struggled to access our schools, jobs, and government and nonprofit programs because of the lack of affordable broadband access,” said Amy Sample War, the CEO of NTEN. “Broadband is vital to our lives in 21st century America. To turn off someone’s access is to say their participation in society isn’t needed or wanted. That’s not just un-American. It’s unconscionable.”

“Low-income New Yorkers average $1000 in utility debt, even as they are struggling under the effects of the pandemic,” said Adam Flint, Director of Clean Energy Programs at the Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow (NEST). “This legislation will help thousands of our neighbors who already suffered from a crushing energy burden prior to the current crisis. Rep. Tlaib’s debt relief bill is an important step, which should be followed by a Green New Deal to address the housing, employment and climate crises our communities face.”

“With the rapid spread of the new COVID variant, we have to prevent another utility shutoffs tsunami that disproportionately harms communities of color,” said Jean Su, Energy Justice Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress should include Rep. Tlaib’s bill in the reconciliation package to ensure that no family is cut off from access to the basic human rights of power, water and broadband. It’s outrageous that private fossil fuel utilities control access to these public goods. We need to invest massively in public community and rooftop-solar solutions to stop the systemic shutoffs crisis. It’s time to empower communities of color, who for too long have borne the brunt of our racist and dirty energy system.”

“Adequate, affordable housing is a human rig