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

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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

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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.

The Water Futures Market: Gambling With Our Water

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PDFClean Water

Unprecedented Water Restrictions Point to Urgency of Ending Corporate Water Abuse

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 right, and affordable utilities are an essential part of that. Energy infrastructure doesn’t just mean the power lines above us and pipes below us, but the ability for every American to get those utilities into their homes reliably and sustainably,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director, National Homelessness Law Center. “We need Rep. Tlaib’s Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act to ensure the health of our families in their homes, and prevent the evictions and homelessness that could spike further the already exploding Delta variant of the COVID pandemic in our most vulnerable communities. Without this bill, any larger infrastructure action that Congress takes will be incomplete.” 

“We are experiencing two global pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. Rep. Tlaib’s debt relief bill will bring necessary relief to the many Georgians facing economic hardships and mounting utility debt,” said Codi Norred, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light (GIPL). “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over four million Georgians are facing unemployment. As people of faith, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light believes this bill is both the moral and equitable action to take for all Americans. We cannot truly combat the climate crisis and COVID-19 when people are concerned about having air conditioning, heat, water, or gas.”

“Internet service is an essential utility not only in emergencies but all of the time. With COVID cases on the rise again, we don’t know what the coming months hold; but even if kids can go back to school and people can go back to work, an affordable internet connection is still a must,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy for Free Press Action. “Even if the health crisis were further behind us, the economic crises brought on by the pandemic only compounded the crushing debt and discriminatory impacts already faced by millions of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people across the country. Free Press Action thanks Rep. Tlaib for introducing the House version of this important bill, to keep people who are unable to pay for internet service from getting disconnected today or drowned in debt down the line.”

NY Applauds Sen. Schumer as Water Privatization Appears Absent in Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

This week, the Senate and White House released additional details about the bipartisan infrastructure deal moving forward in Congress. As the bipartisan group of senators initially proposed a range of privatization options to fund critical water infrastructure spending, New Yorkers rallied to urge Senator Schumer to reject these scams. The recently released framework suggests that water privatization has been stripped from the infrastructure package, with the remaining privatization incentives limited to transportation projects.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“The absence of water privatization from the most recent bipartisan infrastructure framework  shows that Senator Schumer has listened to New Yorkers. From Long Island to Rockland County, New Yorkers know what it looks like for communities to pay the price of corporate water. We’ve been clear that Senator Schumer must stand up for our families and businesses and keep water privatization off the table. We thank him for his leadership on this issue, and urge him to hold the line and reject water privatization scams as the bill is written.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

We Must Hold Iowa Accountable For Failing To Protect Public Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Emma Schmit

Iowa is in the midst of a water crisis. People across the state are suffering as another year of drought — intensified by climate change — impacts water usage, crop growth, and the development of toxic blue-green algae blooms in our rivers and lakes. Climate change is worsening the already dangerous conditions from upstream factory farms polluting Iowa’s waterways — it’s more critical than ever for the state to take bold, meaningful action to mitigate the risks facing our water.

Iowa Can’t Fix Its Water Problems By Asking Residents To Reduce Consumption

Reduced water consumption — currently recommended by Des Moines Water Works for the capital region — is a simplistic, short-term answer to a complex, long-term problem. Drought is far from the only challenge facing Iowa’s waters. Nearly 60% of the state’s assessed waters are impaired, attesting to issues far greater than a lack of precipitation affecting our waterways. The Raccoon River, which is used to supply over half a million central Iowans with clean drinking water, was named by American Rivers as one of the nation’s ten Most Endangered Rivers

It’s a direct result of the state’s continued failure to address the grave threats confronting the river — namely pollution from factory farms and industrial agriculture. Rather than protecting the water Iowans rely on for drinking and outdoor recreation, our elected officials have allowed massive agribusinesses to run roughshod over our precious — and finite — water resources. The only thing most of our elected officials have offered is industry-dictated false solutions to improve our water quality — and they aren’t working. Voluntary mechanisms, like the industry-backed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, only benefit corporate agribusiness, and Iowa’s water crisis has only worsened since these voluntary measures have been enacted. 

The industry has exerted its outsized influence over our elected officials for too long. That’s why Food & Water Watch & Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement sued the state of Iowa for failing to protect our right to clean water.

The Iowa Supreme Court Makes A Mind Boggling Decision In Our Case Against Iowa

On June 18, the Iowa Supreme Court released its decision in our case, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa. By a slim 4-3 majority, the Court dismissed the case. Former director of the Drake Agriculture Law Center, Neil Hamilton, published a thorough breakdown of the ruling. Like Mr. Hamilton, we found the Court’s decision to dismiss misguided, as it was based on claims that it is not their responsibility to “hold the State accountable to the public.” 

“If it is not the role of the Iowa Supreme Court to hold the State accountable to the public, then who does have that role?”

— Neil Hamilton, Agricultural Law Expert

Great question.

We have 18,400 members in Iowa. We are committed on their behalf to exhausting all options to protect Iowa’s people, communities, and environment. On July 1st, we filed a petition for reconsideration with the Iowa Supreme Court requesting that the four-justice majority re-examine their ruling. While it is uncommon for such petitions to be granted, in a Court decision as divided as this, we believe we have an obligation to our members and the people of Iowa to do everything we can to fight for our right to clean water. 

A Moratorium On New Factory Farms Is The Only Fix For Iowa’s Water Issues 

Through the lawsuit, we hoped to establish a clear, actionable path forward to ensure the water we use for drinking, cooking, swimming, fishing, and recreating is reliable, safe, and clean. A win in the lawsuit would have replaced failed, voluntary half-measures for waterway cleanup with a demand that the state institute mandatory practices to reduce the harmful levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa’s waterways. To effectively cut back on these polluting nutrients, the state would need to implement a moratorium on new factory farms in the Raccoon River watershed to limit the already exorbitant amount of manure runoff occurring as a result of more than 750 factory farms producing billions of gallons of waste each year. 

We know the future of our state’s water will be bleak if we continue down the current path. We cannot continue to allow the unabated growth of unsustainable, polluting factory farms fed by industrial monoculture crop production if we hope to see thriving communities, economies, and environments in Iowa’s future. We must build a new path that puts the needs of our communities, our drinking water, and our people before the bank accounts of massive agribusinesses. 

It’s time we get real. Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going away. The dismissal of our case is certainly a setback, but we’re going to keep fighting to hold our elected officials accountable to us — their constituents. We will keep up the pressure on the legislature to take real, meaningful steps to protect us. We’ll keep advocating for bold solutions to this crisis. And we’ll keep working to break the stranglehold corporate agriculture has on our political system.

Help us guarantee we all have access to clean water for generations to come. Send a message to Iowa’s leadership!

House Passes Sweeping PFAS “Forever Chemical” Regulation

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Clean Water

Washington D.C. – Today the House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act of 2021, jumpstarting regulations for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the toxic lab-made chemicals that have been posing major health risks to communities across the country for decades. Among its provisions, the legislation would require the EPA to set drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, the two most studied PFAS chemicals, and would designate these as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund program to facilitate the cleanup of toxic sites. The legislation, H.R. 2467, passed in a vote of 241-183.

Studies have found that long-term exposure to PFAS is associated with many health problems, including liver malfunction, birth defects, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and certain cancers. PFAS has been found in the blood of 97 percent of people in the United States and in human breast milk, and more than 200 million people in the country could be drinking PFAS-contaminated water. 

In response to today’s vote,  Food & Water Action Public Water For All Campaign Director Mary Grant said:

“We applaud the House of Representatives for passing this critical legislation to finally begin regulating toxic PFAS chemicals and prevent drinking water contamination. There is no more time for delay when it comes to enacting a thorough plan to remove these chemicals from our drinking water with enforceable regulations, and ensure the biggest polluters are held accountable for cleaning up their rampant contamination. 

“The Senate must not compromise when it comes to protecting people from toxic chemicals in their water. The Senate must pass the PFAS Action Act of 2021, and reject any attempt to weaken the legislation. Communities have waited too long already. It is past time for the Senate to pass this critical legislation. Our country deserves clean water – nothing less.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Cumberland County Privatization Scheme Could Lead to Decades of Trouble

Categories

Clean Water

A national advocacy organization is warning that a highly flawed proposal to enter into a 30-year concession or asset sale of the Cumberland County sewer system would leave local families paying higher rates for decades.

Food & Water Watch — which is based in Washington, DC and has a New Jersey office — raised a host of concerns with the proposal in a recent memo to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners.

The proposed deal has sparked an intense controversy in the community over the past two months, leading CCUA executive director G. Steve Errickson to announce his resignation last  month, saying that the frenzied push to secure a deal has “made it impossible for me to continue to do my job.”

The CCUA issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to study monetization of the authority, shortly after receiving an unsolicited proposal from the private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners. The rushed proposal would represent a major change in the financial structure of the CCUA — and one that could cost ratepayers millions of dollars over decades.

“Local residents have been shocked by this proposal, and rightly so. This is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We already 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 the residents who are alarmed by a rushed privatization scheme.” 

As Food & Water Watch warned in its memo, the CCUA’s solicitation is heavily tilted in favor of privatization: “The first task under the scope of work explicitly requests responders to ‘design a program to allow the CCUA to leverage private sector expertise to plan, engineer, finance, construct, and operate water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.’” 

In another highly unusual move, the solicitation essentially invites conflicts of interest from corporate interests that would be seeking the privatization contract itself, which “dangerously opens the door to allow a corporation or private equity firm to evaluate its own proposal for a 30-year concession deal or asset sale.”

A privatization scheme of the sort under consideration in Cumberland County is essentially an incredibly expensive loan. A company would offer upfront fees in exchange for decades of operating income — meaning that the homeowners and small businesses will be the ones to pay off the deal for decades to come in the form of rate hikes necessary to ensure the private equity firm’s profits. 

Other communities have learned these lessons the hard way. Residents of the city of Bayonne have experienced diminished service and 50 percent rate hikes since a 2012 concession deal, with more years of pain to come. Middletown, Pennsylvania has tried without success to exit a lopsided concession deal that has even seen residents paying penalties for conserving their water usage. 

“Considering this rushed proposal is moving forward without any justification of a needs assessment, we’re concerned that our community will be saddled with the same rate increases that other communities have suffered,” said Sandy Acevedo, a county resident and member of Cumberland County Sewer Rate Watch. “We’re urging our elected officials to act by recognizing the financial burden this will place on the entire CCUA residential and business communities, stop the RFQ.”

60 New York Organizations Call on Sen. Schumer to Champion Public Water Funding, Pass WATER Act

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Clean Water

New York, NY — More than 60 New York organizations from across the state sent a letter to Senator Schumer today urging him to include the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act (WATER Act) of 2021 in any Congressional infrastructure legislation. The letter comes as a group of senators have floated a bipartisan proposal that would jeopardize water infrastructure investment in favor of costly privatization schemes. The letter was facilitated by the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, and signed by groups including NAACP New York State Conference, Riverkeeper, New York Communities for Change, PUSH Buffalo, the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the New York State Parent Teacher Association.

From PFAS and lead contamination to leaky pipes, New York’s aging water systems highlight the urgent need for investment in water infrastructure at levels only the federal government can provide. Recent victories in New York, including the community-led movement to institute  a public takeover of American Water’s private water system on Long Island, highlight the importance of rejecting privatization schemes.

In the letter, community, environmental, faith-based and student groups from across New York urged Senator Schumer to champion the WATER Act, which ensures permanent federal funding to promote safe, affordable public water for New York and the nation. The letter states that in New York alone, the WATER Act would provide roughly $2.4 billion towards our water needs each year, create nearly 40,000 jobs, and generate over $7 billion in economic output.

“This is not a moment for watered-down compromises and privatization schemes. We are fast approaching a water crisis of epic proportions, should we fail to use this infrastructure investment opportunity to double down on investment in our water systems,” said Eric Weltman, Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer. “Senator Schumer must listen to the New Yorkers who have been mobilizing for years, raising the alarm on PFAS contamination in our drinking water, and coordinating community-led movements to municipalize water systems. It’s time to reject privatization schemes, and embrace real solutions to rebuild our nation’s water infrastructure. Senator Schumer must prioritize the passage of the WATER Act.”

“Investing in safer, cleaner water infrastructure that puts people first is a no-brainer. The WATER Act would do just that, helping communities across the country, including the creation of 40,000 jobs right here in New York for Senator Schumer’s own constituents,” said Patrick Houston, Climate & Inequality Campaigns Associate for New York Communities for Change.

“The government has no more basic responsibility to its taxpayers than providing clean, affordable water that is publicly owned and publicly managed for the public’s good.  There is NO place for private monopolies controlling our water infrastructure. ‘Private’ means the shareholders will benefit and not the people. Unfortunately, money for water infrastructure has been declining for decades and this must be stopped now. It appears there is money for every other issue and the life sustaining resource — water — MUST be made a top priority,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens, a Long Island civic group.


“The public has the basic right,and expectation that when they go to turn on the tap their water will be safe and healthy for them to drink. But aging water infrastructure that is worsening due to climate change, dangerous unregulated contaminants like PFAS, and a toxic industrial legacy jeopardize that basic right. There is nothing more essential to life than water, which is why the federal infrastructure package should include bold policies like the WATER Act,” said Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Schumer and Pelosi Must Reject Privatization in Infrastructure Proposals

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Clean Water

Over 200 organizations released a letter to key Senate and House leaders urging them to oppose any provisions in the pending infrastructure proposals that would pave the way for the privatization of water. 

The letter, organized by the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, warns that the bipartisan Senate framework championed by the White House “would promote a slew of privatization activities,” including public-private partnerships, private activity bonds and ‘asset recycling.’ This approach amounts to a “Wall Street takeover of essential services like public water.”

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sanders, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth. It was signed by national organizations like AFSCME AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Center for Biological Diversity, Family Farm Defenders, Friends of the Earth, and local groups from nearly 40 states.

“This White House-approved infrastructure deal would lead to communities handing over public infrastructure to Wall Street profiteers,” said Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant. “Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and leave the rest of us to pick up the tab. Communities need real support, like the WATER Act, not sneaky privatization scams.”

The letter points out that as federal funding has fallen dramatically over the past several decades, communities have been forced to depend on either regressive rate hikes or privatization to finance necessary infrastructure improvements. But privatization amounts to an extremely costly form of borrowing — one that requires families and small businesses to pay much more in the long run in the form of higher rates. 

“Our water systems are struggling because the federal government has chosen to divest from water infrastructure,” said Nayyirah Shariff, the Executive Director of Flint Rising. “We have a funding issue. Privatization is not the answer because it will contribute to unaffordable drinking and wastewater bills. We need bold investment that includes grants for our water utilities, like the WATER Act.”

“Privatization, especially asset recycling, isn’t true investment,” said Donald Cohen, the Executive Director of In the Public Interest. “Every public dollar that ends up in the pockets of water corporations and investors is one less dollar we can use to fix America’s crumbling water infrastructure.”

“The U.S. is long overdue for bold federal investment in our public water systems — but the proposal on the table will not get us there. Instead, it promotes privatization schemes dressed up as ‘public-private partnerships’ and ‘asset recycling,’ which create dangerous, avoidable problems and ignore people’s needs,” said Neil Gupta, Associate Research Director at Corporate Accountability. “Water privatization has failed communities across the country and must be rejected in all its forms. We need an infrastructure plan that directly invests federal dollars in communities, keeps water systems in public hands, and equitably addresses our nation’s infrastructure crisis for the long haul — not more corporate handouts.”

The country already faces a water affordability crisis, as the letter notes: “Nearly one in three US households struggles to afford their water and sewer bills, and households nationally have accrued billions of dollars of water debt during the pandemic. They cannot afford the price of privatization.”

Instead of privatization deals that trap communities in costly deals for decades, the letter points to the need to dedicate federal funding to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund our water infrastructure at the level that is needed to address our urgent needs. 

Another Water Rate Hike, Advocates Call for Relief

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Baltimore, MD — Today, Baltimore’s water rates will rise nearly 10%, again. This is the third and final installment of the three-year, 30% water rate increase approved by the Board of Estimates in January 2019. With this rate increase, the typical residential water bill will be more than triple the cost of the same bill in 2010.

According to the United Nations, water is affordable when it is no more than 3% of a family’s income. This rate increase will deepen the burden for low income Baltimoreans. For households living at the federal poverty line, residential water burden will be 4% or higher in 196 of the city’s 198 census tracts. In 74 of these census tracts (37%), families living at the federal poverty level will experience bill burdens of up to 10% of their income — nearly five times higher than the affordable level. 

July 1st is also the deadline for implementation of the Water Accountability & Equity Act (WAEA), a bill passed in 2019 to ensure water affordability in Baltimore. The bill creates a percentage-of-income water affordability program, to keep water bills permanently affordable for low income Baltimoreans. The bill also establishes a new customer-oriented water billing dispute resolution process to prioritize accountability. Championed by Mayor Scott during his tenure as City Council President, the Department of Public Works is currently working to implement the Water Accountability & Equity Act, and expects to begin taking applications in late October. The Department has promised to apply credits retroactively to the July 1 deadline. Baltimore-based Food & Water Action Senior Organizer Rianna Eckel said:

“With each rate increase, Baltimore is compounding our water affordability crisis. As the city prices more Baltimoreans out of water service, we urge the administration to do their utmost to enact the Water Accountability & Equity Act’s Water for All program immediately, with water justice in mind. With WAEA, Baltimore can set a standard for equitable, affordable access to water.”

Philadelphia was the first city in the country to implement a percentage-of-income water affordability program — with the Water Accountability & Equity Act, Baltimore would be the second. A recent analysis of Philadelphia’s program found that it dramatically increased collectability rates from 47 percent to 88 percent, and improved timeliness of payments among enrolled households.

Philadelphia’s program was also efficient for the utility operators. Due to improved payment patterns, despite providing an estimated $10 million in discounts, it collected only $2 million less in actual revenue than it would have without the program in 2019. That means that the net cost of the program providing affordable water service to more than 36,000 Philadelphians was $2 million in 2019. Baltimore can expect similar results.

“DPW continues to raise water rates to generate income to cover critical infrastructure improvements, but every time the rate goes up, revenue goes down,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director of Jews United for Justice. “Philadelphia’s program proves what we already knew — when people can afford their bills, they pay them.” 

The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition will continue to work with DPW to see the Water Accountability and Equity Act implemented swiftly to provide the financial relief so many need.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

House Invests in Water, More Support Needed

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Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House of Representatives passed the INVEST Act (HR 3684), which provides funding authorizations for drinking water and wastewater improvements, including $45 billion to eliminate lead service lines and $4 billion in household water debt relief tied to a five-year water shutoff moratorium. 

Among the provisions, the act will provide the largest reauthorizations of the State Revolving Fund programs: $12 billion for fiscal year 2022, which is 2.5 times the amount passed in the Senate. It will also support water access and affordability by increasing the amount of grants and other additional subsidization for disadvantaged communities to up to 50 percent of wastewater and 40 percent of drinking water State Revolving Loan funds; requiring a study water affordability, discrimination and civil rights violations; and authorizing low-income water and wastewater assistance programs.

In addition to authorizing $45 billion to remove lead service lines with a ban on partial lead service line replacements, it will authorize $1 billion over 10 years to filter lead from school water, require the EPA to establish enforceable regulations to limit PFAS (in particular PFOA and PFOS) in drinking water, and require the EPA to limit plastic pellet pollution. 

In response to the vote, Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch, issued the following statement: 

“We applaud the House for its commitment to eliminate lead service lines and provide significant household water debt relief with a five-year shutoff moratorium. Households are being crushed by billions of dollars of water debt and need this relief urgently. And while this legislation offers a bolder response than the Senate’s water bill, the funding levels for water improvements are still not enough. We must seize the opportunity provided by ongoing infrastructure negotiations and ensure the critical, transformative water funding the country really needs. Inclusion of the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act in any infrastructure package would provide a permanent water solution and ensure stronger, more resilient and more accessible water systems. 

“Congress must reject the White House’s ill-conceived bipartisan framework that would privatize water systems through public-private partnerships and asset recycling. Our communities cannot afford that compromise on water.”

‘Bipartisan’ Infrastructure Plan is a Privatization-Promoting Disaster

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Clean Water

Today the White House announced that it had reached a bipartisan infrastructure ‘compromise’ with a group of Senators. 

The plan would rely on privatization schemes that will undermine public control and prove to be  costly. The proposed financing mechanisms include “public-private partnerships,” “private activity bonds,” and “asset recycling.” Public private partnerships are privatization deals in which a private company takes control over the operation, and sometimes financing, of a public project. Private activity bonds give tax subsidies to debt issued by corporations to finance privatized projects. Asset recycling refers to schemes where a government sells off one public asset to finance the construction of another infrastructure project; for example, Cumberland County, NJ, is exploring leasing its sewers to a private equity firm to fund a broadband project.

On the whole, the package is much smaller than the initial White House proposal — and a far cry from the level of investment needed to rebuild the economy, deliver clean drinking water and combat climate change.  

In response, Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant released the following statement: 

“This White House-approved infrastructure deal is a disaster in the making. It promotes privatization and so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ instead of making public investments in publicly-owned infrastructure. Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors and leave the rest of us to pick up the tab. 

“Privatization is nothing more than an outrageously expensive way to borrow funds, with the ultimate bill paid back by households and local businesses in the form of higher rates. The White House identifies privatization as a means to finance infrastructure investment is disappointing and outrageous. Communities need real support, not privatization scams.

“The most sensible infrastructure solution is to provide robust public funding for publicly-owned projects, which would discourage price-gouging by corporate interests, protect public control over these precious assets, and save everyone money. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund the state revolving funds and other programs at the level that is needed.

“This package does not provide adequate funding to rebuild and repair our country’s infrastructure, nor does it do nearly enough to combat the climate crisis. Lawmakers can and must press for a better deal.”

Sweeney’s RICH Act is a Sneaky Privatization Scheme

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Clean Water

This afternoon, the Senate Committee on Budget and Appropriations is scheduled to vote on S. 3637, the Retirement Infrastructure Collateralized Holdings Act (RICH Act). While RICH Act supporters like Senate President Steve Sweeney portray this measure as a move that will benefit public worker pensions, the RICH Act is a sneaky privatization scheme aimed at wresting control of public water and wastewater systems.

Proponents of the legislation point to the creation of a fund managed by the state’s infrastructure bank to claim this makes any transfers of water systems ‘public to public.’ But this is extremely misleading; the bank can hire an investment fund to carry out the work, and the legislation is crafted to encourage privatization by allowing the bank to sell or lease the assets transferred to the fund with the “duty to maximize the long-term value of assets in the fund.” It can also force privatization and valuation studies of water and wastewater systems, even in communities that are not looking to sell their systems. 

Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith released the following statement: 

“Steve Sweeney’s new pro-privatization push is being cloaked in misleading rhetoric about protecting workers’ pensions. Don’t be fooled: This is just a crafty scheme to encourage corporate takeovers of our state’s public water and wastewater systems. The RICH Act would push privatization and valuation studies on community systems, forcing them to either come up with the funds to make capital improvements themselves or lose control of their systems, either directly through a sale or by handing them over to a state fund that will be geared towards promoting privatization.

“What’s worse, this bill actually reduces the public’s ability to reject a sale of their publicly-owned assets. The end result of all of this will be a tax at the tap; communities will pay more for their water, enriching the private corporations that have carried out hostile takeovers of assets that should rightly belong to the public. New Jersey lawmakers must say no to this privatization scheme; and if they do not, Governor Murphy should veto this measure.” 

New ‘Bipartisan’ Infrastructure Plan is a Privatization-Promoting Disaster

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Clean Water

Media reports indicate that a group of Senators is pushing a bipartisan infrastructure ‘compromise’ that is much smaller than the initial White House proposal. The plan would rely heavily on privatization schemes that will undermine public control and prove to be costly for households and small businesses. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant released the following statement: 

“This Senate compromise package would pile further burdens on communities struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic. It promotes privatization and so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ instead of making public investments in publicly-owned infrastructure. This package does not provide adequate funding to rebuild and repair our country’s infrastructure; it is nothing more than an outrageously expensive way to borrow funds, with the ultimate bill paid back by households and local businesses in the form of higher rates. 

“Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors. The most sensible infrastructure solution is to provide robust public funding for publicly-owned projects, which would discourage price-gouging by corporate interests, protect public control over these precious assets, and save everyone money. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund the state revolving funds and other programs at the level that is needed.

“This deal is a disaster in the making, and it must be rejected.”

New York Legislature Votes to Establish Public Water in Nassau County

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Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Albany, NY — Last night, the New York state legislature voted to establish two new public water authorities on Long Island. The bills now head to Governor Cuomo’s desk for signature. In the face of massive rate hikes by American Water, communities on Long Island demanded a public water system, opposing the sale of the company’s assets to another corporation, Canada-based Liberty Utilities.

The establishment of the new public water authorities on Long Island will mean lower water bills for residents, and a more accountable, locally-controlled system. In New York, private water systems like American Water were found to charge almost twice the amount of their public counterparts. The passage of this legislation signals a major victory for water affordability on Long Island and for the grassroots activists who fought for years for public control of their water systems. This is a necessary first step in the process for Long Island residents to secure public ownership of this essential service.

“Long Islanders saw their opportunity to establish a better, more affordable and more responsive water utility system. With this vote, we have won a victory for public water,” said Food & Water Watch volunteer Margaret Maher, a Merrick resident. 

“This is a start. Obviously, there is a long way to go. I promise that none of us are going to stop until we cross the finish line: clean, affordable public water for all,” said Dave Denenberg, Co-Director of Long Island Clean Air Water & Soil.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the passage of the North Shore Water Authority! We are so very thankful and grateful to our State Legislators, Senator Gaughran, Assemblymen Lavine, Montesano, and Ra, for using their leadership and power to accomplish this for the community. It sends a very strong message that water privatization has no place on Long Island,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

As COVID Emergency Powers End, Murphy Must Maintain Utility Shutoff Moratorium

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Clean Water

Governor Murphy is expected to sign a bill that effectively ends many of the COVID-19 public health emergency powers that have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The legislation allows the governor to keep in place certain policies, including the moratoria that blocks utilities from shutting off service for non-payment. 

This policy has maintained water and other essential utility services for thousands of families struggling to pay their bills amidst the economically devastating public health crisis. 

Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith issued the following statement: 

“Water debt has grown to unmanageable levels during the pandemic. This moratorium saved tens of thousands of New Jersey households from losing their service during the COVID crisis — a policy that most likely saved lives too. It is imperative that Governor Murphy extend this policy for as long as possible.  

“Moving forward, New Jersey should make fundamental changes to ensure that no families are at risk of losing water service. We need better data collection on water shutoffs and water debt, as well as new arrearage debt relief and income-based affordability programs for those struggling with costs. The BPU must prohibit utilities from profiteering off of emergency costs associated with COVID recovery, and it should craft permanent policies to prevent water shutoffs in the future.”

NY Residents Demand Legislative Action on Public Water for Long Island

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Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Today, community  and environmental groups issued a letter to the Long Island legislative delegation demanding action to establish a public water authority for Nassau County. With one week remaining in New York State’s legislative session, signatories urged the Senate and Assembly to unify behind a bill to enable the transfer of water utility ownership from American Water to the public.

“It’s time to return Long Island’s water system to the people,” said Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman. “Water is a human right, not a commodity to be traded for private profit. With one week left in the New York state legislative session, residents are clear that the Long Island legislative delegation must get serious about creating a public water utility for Nassau County.”

“Failure to act to provide public water for all Nassau residents is legislative malpractice,” said Dave Denenberg, Co-Director of Long Island Clean Air Water & Soil. “Water is our most precious resource that should be a clean, affordable, tax free public service for all.”

“This private water mess has gone on for way too long! The proposed sale to Liberty must be stopped,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens. “We must be on a path to affordable public water this Legislative session. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

New Bill Would Protect Americans From Utility Shutoffs and Mounting Debt Crisis

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Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act today, which aims to place a moratorium on the disconnection of electric, water and broadband utility service due to uncollected payments. An increasing number of people in the country are at-risk of losing access to vital utilities, including electricity, water, and broadband, as utility debt increases nationwide.

The bill would provide low-interest loans to electric, water, and broadband utilities to cover the cost of uncollected household payments in exchange for a moratorium on shutoffs. The loans would be forgiven if the utility forgives the household utility debt. For publicly-owned, nonprofit and cooperative utilities, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the household debt forgiveness; for investor-owned utilities, the federal government will split the cost with the utility. 

Estimates show that people across the country are facing utility debt in the tens of billions as a direct result of the pandemic-driven unemployment crisis. Families of color have been disproportionately impacted. A recent University of California, Los Angeles study found that up to one-third of households in Los Angeles have utility debt and that 64% of people severely affected are Latino and Black communities. 

“This bill is vital to address the reality that millions of families have been plunged into poverty because of COVID. Mounting utility debt digs that hole deeper and threatens their access to basic human rights of power, water, and broadband access,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Any notion of building back better must include this bill which stops the immediate bleeding of utility shutoffs and greater infrastructure investment in community and rooftop solar solutions to stop the energy shutoffs crisis in the long-term.”  

A national study showed that a moratorium on utility shutoffs could have reduced COVID-19 deaths by 14.8% because Americans could have had access to water and avoided congregating for heat and power. A study from Cornell University and Food & Water Watch similarly found that water shutoff protections were associated with significantly lower rates of COVID cases and deaths, and estimated that a nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have prevented nearly 500,000 COVID cases and more than 9,000 deaths. 

“Too many people are going into debt just to keep the lights on, keep the tap running, and keep the Wi-Fi from going dark,” said Dana Floberg, policy manager at Free Press Action. “When it comes to broadband, we know prices are too high for this essential service that families rely on for school, work, and organizing. Stopping utility shutoffs and easing the debt burden makes this crucial connectivity more accessible for the communities that need it most.”

“While we may be moving towards the light at the end of the Covid tunnel in this country, political leaders must understand that the economic impact of this pandemic still weighs heavily on many of our neighbors,” said Rianna Eckel, Senior Organizer, Food & Water Watch. “Access to water is a necessity for families trying to recover from the pandemic, but ever-growing utility debt and shutoffs loom ahead. Congress must urgently pass Senator Merkley’s proposal to alleviate this debt, and fully fund our water systems now.” 

Only 10 states currently collect data on the number of power shutoffs – since the onset of the pandemic — but the numbers  are alarming. A Center for Biological Diversity report shows that over half a million households in 10 states have experienced power shutoffs, and that the numbers are as high as 6% in states like Georgia.

“No one should be left in the dark, offline, or without water because of debt from unaffordable bills,” said Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability. “Everyone should have access to vital utilities — especially during a pandemic and economic crisis. And eliminating utility debt is an important step toward realizing that future. What’s more, this bill would direct sorely needed federal funds toward our water infrastructure. Direct, federal investment into our water systems helps ensure they stay in the hands of the public, not corporations.” 

This bill aims to include a moratorium on all utility shutoffs in the oncoming infrastructure package. 

“The introduction of this bill is an essential step in tackling the dual crises of the COVID-19 and the wave of utility debt threatening people’s right to water, broadband, and electricity,” said  Leslie Saul-Gershenz, PhD  Researcher and Conservation biologist. “We’re thankful for Senator Merkley’s commitment to ensuring people have access to these critical utilities and are not at risk of having their access shut off due to a mountain of past-due, unaffordable bills ” 

“Seniors can’t afford to be without their utilities,” said Karen Reside, Secretary of Long Beach Gray Panthers. “Climate change is impacting seniors the most with increases in extreme temperatures. Utility shut offs must be prevented. It is really a matter of life or death for our nation’s seniors.” 

“The Internet is not just an amenity. Today, it is a bridge to employment, education, services and information,” said Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director of Media Alliance. “When we cut people off for economic shifts they can’t control, we are risking their health, safety and ability to recover. Our resiliency, during and after this catastrophic pandemic, is linked to each other. All Americans need these vital services to put themselves, and our economy back together again.” 

Spring Newsletter 2021

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Clean Water

This June during Food & Water Watch Member Month, we are celebrating the people who make our fight for a livable future possible. That’s you! Each of our members brings something special to our fight. We want to share with you some of their stories. It’s one of the ways we say Thank You for making our work possible.

In this video, you’ll hear from Marilyn, our dedicated volunteer and Monthly Partner, and Brooke, our Senior Florida Organizer, about what inspires them to make a difference.

For 15 years and counting, Food & Water Watch has been mobilizing people to stand up and “fight like we live here”. Our philosophy? We can beat special interests when we stand together; each member grows our collective power. Together, we can – and will – win clean water, safe food, and a livable climate.

At Food & Water Watch, our work mirrors the character of our members:

  • Our members are dreamers who envision a brighter future.
  • Our members believe in the power of community.
  • Our members are compassionate and intelligent: critical thinkers and feelers.
  • Our members are brave in the face of our world’s toughest environmental challenges, and are dedicated to making a difference.

Community organizing brings people together. That’s why Food & Water Watch Leaders Circle member, Daniel Tahara, dove into local organizing this past year. It’s a path Daniel started down after he began donating to Food & Water Watch and discovered our theory of change.

As a San Francisco software engineer, Daniel internalized the Silicon Valley ethos: work on the biggest problem at the biggest scale. Daniel applied that ethos to fighting climate change, as he looked to national organizations focused on federal legislation. He learned that every Food & Water Watch staff member is trained through the book Organizing for Social Change: Midwest Academy Manual for Activists. He read it cover-to-cover and implemented it in his local climate group.

Daniel says Food & Water Watch and this manual transformed his activism: “I didn’t know what to do. I thought, let me read this book and try something. I tried to take the group through it, and it helped. [The San Francisco Climate Emergency Coalition] went from an informal rag-tag band to a slightly larger group with a real goal. It shaped my 2020 approach to organizing.”

By applying what he learned from Food & Water Watch, Daniel used the joy of community – forged virtually – to endure months of quarantine.

“I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction and knew my life would never be the same. I threw myself into the environmental movement figuring out as I went along what my role would be in the fight. I’m a photographer by trade and an animal lover at heart. So, I first tried to rally other artists to the cause, and then realized I needed to align with an organization that had the vision and tools necessary to take on the biggest fight of our lives. I’ve found that group in Food & Water Watch. Food & Water Watch sees that to stop the burning of fossil fuels, you have to also transition from factory farms, because the two are interlinked. It’s that kind of vision that I want to support with my dollars and my time.”

“I am a proud supporter of Food & Water Watch, an effective organization that safeguards basic, life sustaining elements, food and water.  I especially admire Food & Water Watch’s research and work on banning fracking. As a climate activist, I appreciate Food & Water Watch’s leadership, whether it is from Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter, or my local Virginia Organizer, Jolene Mafnas. I’ve worked together with Jolene, from volunteering to organize meetings with legislators in support of Virginia’s Green New Deal legislation, to celebrating the successful stop of the Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) Interconnect Pipeline in Virginia! All in all, Food & Water Watch organizers on the ground do outstanding work, and are extremely strategic and effective. 

Food & Water Watch gives citizens concerned about climate change opportunities to act.  I am very hopeful for more progress locally in Virginia, and nationally to make the transition off fossil fuels to clean renewable sources of energy.”

“Writing a check is easy. The scope and focus of your work are why I support Food & Water Watch. I hope I live long enough to see the end of factory farms and mistreatment of animals across the board. The thanks belong to the dedicated members and staff of Food & Water Watch who give so much in pursuit of a healthy, sustainable environment. I am grateful to all of you in your efforts to make a better world for my grandchildren!”

June is Member Month! Join or upgrade your membership with a gift today!

Blue Communities Water Page Card

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Clean Water

Make your city a Blue Community

Protecting water everywhere starts with us. Learn how you can take back control of your public water.

You can make a difference where you live.

New York’s Utility Shut-Off Moratorium Extended

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Clean Water

Albany, NY — Last night, Governor Cuomo signed S.1453-B/A.6225-A into law, extending New York’s statewide life-saving utility shut-off moratorium, which had expired on March 31. The law extends the statewide moratorium on utility shut-offs, including water, heat, electric, telephone, cable and broadband services until the conclusion of the COVID-19 state of emergency or until December 31, 2021, whichever comes first. For New Yorkers who suffer financial harm due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the law enshrines a further moratorium extension of 180 days.

Research from Food & Water Watch demonstrated the life-saving effect of water shut-off moratoria during the COVID-19 pandemic, and further studies have shown that the negative impacts of utility shut-offs disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color in New York. Environmental, legal aid, consumer protection and social justice organizations applauded Senator Kevin Parker and Assembly Member Diana Richardson for their leadership on the bill, and commended Cuomo for his signature.

Advocates lauded new strengthened provisions to the moratorium, including:

  • Establishes a moratorium on water liens, which can lead to home foreclosure
  • Gives state agencies authority to enforce the law against public water utilities
  • Increases the frequency of public notification
  • Provides new protections for tenants

“New York’s utility shut-off moratorium has proven to be a critical component of fighting the spread of COVID-19,” said Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman. “While vaccination rates rise, many New Yorkers are still subject to the perils of the enduring pandemic, and all are in need of continual access to water and other essential services to remain healthy. We are proud to see the life-saving moratorium extended, and look ahead to securing the right to water and essential services for all New Yorkers, regardless of personal situation or state of emergency.”

“All New Yorkers need access to clean water, even as many continue to struggle economically due to the lasting impacts of the pandemic. The Governor and Legislature have taken an essential protective step by extending and strengthening the state’s ban on utility shut offs,” said Larry Levine, Director of Urban Water Infrastructure & Senior Attorney at NRDC. “The state’s most vulnerable are helped greatly by new protections against lien sales and foreclosures for overdue water bills, and the state can build on these protections by creating a permanent water affordability program that ensures safe water is always accessible to everyone, regardless of income.”

Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG, said, “Every New Yorker, regardless of where they live, race, or class, should have access to clean and safe water — this basic need has been strongly highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should fear that their water will be shut off at any time, but especially during a time when hand-washing and practicing proper hygiene is critical to prevent the spread of a deadly illness. NYPIRG thanks the Governor and the Legislature for taking this crucial action to protect public health.”

“Access to water during Year One of the COVID-19 pandemic was vital to stopping the spread and limiting the loss of human life,” said Richard Berkley, Executive Director of the Public Utility Law Project of New York. “PULP thanks the Governor, Senator Parker and Assembly Member Richardson for extending the moratorium for Year Two of the pandemic and making sure that vulnerable New Yorkers have water, telecommunications and energy so they can attend school from home, work from home and get medical care from the safe shelter of their homes. Hand washing fought the pandemic, but water is a human necessity at all times.”

“The Western New York Law Center congratulates the Legislature and Governor for enacting crucial legislation extending and expanding protections to New Yorkers facing water shut offs and debt attributable to the economic deprivations caused by COVID. Untold thousands of New Yorkers across the State will benefit from this law. In the past, Buffalo’s most vulnerable residents have suffered greatly from water shut offs and onerous water debt. The consumer protections in this new law will relieve them of a burden and worry in the immediate future. We look forward to further, long-term remedial legislation dealing with water affordability and rearrange forgiveness,” said Joe Kelemen, executive director of the Western New York Law Center.

Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water at Environmental Advocates NY, said “This pandemic has brought to light a water affordability crisis not only in New York, but across the country. We are grateful that state lawmakers have both extended and strengthened New York’s moratorium, establishing some of the strongest consumer protections in the country. We are glad that New Yorkers will continue to be protected from harmful shut-offs if they cannot currently afford their utility bills, and we look forward to continuing working to ensure that every New Yorker has affordable drinking water.”

“Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have taken monumental steps to ensure the health and safety of New Yorkers by extending the statewide moratorium on utility shut-offs,” said Kevin M. Quinn, Esq., Supervising Attorney of the Center for Elder Law & Justice in Buffalo, N.Y. “While more and more New Yorkers are being vaccinated, we must remain vigilant in taking necessary precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. An extension of the moratorium will be instrumental in accomplishing this vital goal. We are thankful for the moratorium extension and we look forward to continued efforts to maintain water affordability for all New Yorkers going forward.”

“Freshwater Future applauds Senator Parker, Assembly Member Richardson and Governor Cuomo for their leadership in ensuring all New Yorkers have access to tap water in their homes to fight this pandemic,” said Kristy Meyer, Associate Director at Freshwater Future. “Now we must work together to ensure all New Yorkers have access to safe, clean and affordable water even after the moratorium has expired.”

Newsom Expands California Drought Emergency, Commits $5.1 Billion to Water Infrastructure and Debt Relief

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Clean Water

Sacramento, CA — Governor Gavin Newsom announced an expansion of the drought emergency to 41 of the state’s 58 counties, dedicating $5.1 billion to boost water infrastructure and an additional $1 billion to paying off nearly the entirety of Californian household water debt. Yet, while the governor’s plan includes $150 million for groundwater cleanup and water recycling measures, it does nothing to speed up the process to bring overdrafted water basins into full and sustainable operation. The deadline is currently 2040 for critically overdrafted basins and 2042 for remaining high and medium priority basins.

“It’s gratifying to see Governor Newsom addressing the critical water supply issues in our state and providing much-needed water debt relief, but ultimately his drought relief plan mirrors his approach to oil and gas drilling,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy. “The current Sustainable Groundwater Management Act sets a deadline of 2040 to bring our most overdrafted and stressed water basins into sustainable operation. The people relying on that groundwater need it now, not 19 years from now. And just as obviously, the governor could divert the massive amount of water needed for fracking to help Californians going thirsty if he banned the practice now. We need Gov. Newsom to step up his timeline. Our frontline communities shouldn’t have to wait on his political will.”

The dry vast majority of critically overdrafted water basins are in the Central Valley, one of the poorest regions in the country and home to water-intensive extractive practices like fracking and factory farming. Gov. Newsom has committed to banning new fracking permits by 2024, allowing continued fossil fuel extraction and water usage until that time. He has taken no action to ban factory farms or curb their water intake. 

Contact: Jessica Gable – [email protected]

Water Problems Add To Widespread Environmental Injustice. Two Major Bills Could Change That.

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Clean Water

by Rianna Eckel

Two landmark pieces of legislation could change our future. The Biden administration’s next big move is passing the American Jobs Plan, his proposal to repair our crumbling infrastructure — from bridges, roads, and public transportation to our underground water pipes and treatment systems. It is an actual plan to put real federal dollars — not fake privatization schemes — into the systems critical to society. This is a chance to stop our growing water crisis, and to finally treat water as what it is: a basic necessity and human right. 

Additionally, we’ve been pushing to fully fund our water systems for nearly a decade by working to pass the WATER Act (S916 / HR 1352), sponsored this Congress by Representatives Brenda Lawrence and Ro Khanna, and Senator Bernie Sanders. The WATER Act has been cosponsored by over 80 Members of Congress, and endorsed by more than 550 organizations who share the same vision: universal access to safe, affordable, public drinking water. 

Congress will be considering the President’s plan over the coming months, and it’s crucial that we win big for water justice. These negotiations are a huge opportunity to create a real change in our dysfunctional water system. 

Here’s what’s in the preliminary outline of the American Jobs Plan and the WATER Act.

How The Funding Compares For The American Jobs Plan And the WATER Act

American Jobs Plan — $13.9 billion annually

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes $111 billion for our water systems over 8 years, which breaks down to roughly $13.9 billion each year. This is a big increase over the roughly $2 billion a year our water and wastewater systems currently receive — and a huge boost over the $6 billion from the Obama administration’s stimulus after the Great Recession — but it’s just not enough by itself. 

The WATER Act — $35 billion annually

The EPA has said that to comply with existing federal water standards, we must invest more than $35 billion annually in our water and wastewater systems. That’s why the WATER Act would appropriate $35 billion/year in permanent, self-sustaining funding through a water trust fund. We’ll need Congress to increase the total funding to meet the country’s needs, and dedicate permanent funding to a trust fund so that our water isn’t a bargaining chip during annual funding battles. 

Both the American Jobs Plan and the WATER Act recognize that our water systems need real federal money. Both plans would make big corporations pay their fair share to improve public infrastructure. 

Funding Priorities For Minority And Disadvantaged Communities

Black, brown and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately harmed by our water crisis. The money must first go to the communities that need it most. 

The American Jobs Plan would provide $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities across the country. President Biden has also promised at least 40 percent of the benefits of the investments will reach disadvantaged communities. 

The WATER Act would require that at least half of funding would be dedicated to disadvantaged communities, dedicates 3 percent of funding as grants to Indigenous Nations, and provides funding for technical assistance to help rural small municipalities and Indigenous communities improve their water and wastewater systems. It would also dramatically expand funding to upgrade and install rural household drinking water wells. 

The WATER Act would also require the EPA to produce guidance on water affordability programs, and to coordinate a study about water affordability, civil rights violations by water and sewer providers, water shutoffs, and more.

Both proposals get much needed money to impacted communities, but the WATER Act would provide a bigger pool of funding. We cannot allow our water and wastewater systems to perpetuate environmental racism, and must have enough funding to go around. Congress must require the federal government to act so no communities face an undue burden in the future. 

Dedicating Funding Specifically For Lead and PFAS Contamination

Too many people don’t have tap water they can actually drink. Pollutants like lead or PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are extremely harmful to our health. This infrastructure package must remediate them now. 

President Biden’s plan makes a bold environmental justice commitment to eliminate all lead service lines going into homes, investing $45 billion in grants for impacted communities. This comes close to what the American Water Works Association estimates it will cost to eradicate these toxic pipes — the main source of lead-in-water poisoning. 

The American Jobs Plan would also provide $10 billion in funding to monitor and address PFAS in drinking water, and invest in rural small water systems and household wells. 

The WATER Act would guarantee that money from the total funding level could be used to provide grants to utilities and private properties to replace homeowners’ at-risk service lines. It also expands a grant program to replace all lead piping and plumbing in public schools, dedicating $1.1 billion a year to schools. 

The WATER Act would also provide safe alternatives when community water systems or household water wells are contaminated with PFAS.

Both the WATER Act and American Jobs Plan have funding for expansive lead remediation and address PFAS — a non-negotiable priority.

Keeping Water Corporations From Raiding Federal Funding

Private corporations should not be able to profiteer off of a basic necessity. Water privatization generally leaves customers with higher bills (59% higher on average), declining water quality, and worse service — in the name of profit. 

The WATER Act is the only explicitly pro-public water funding proposal. It would limit funding eligibility to publicly owned water systems and small, locally owned private systems. It allows communities to use funds to buy their water systems and exit water privatization contracts.

It’s critical for Congress to keep water under community control by blocking water companies’ access to federal funds. 

American Jobs Plan And WATER Act Are Great For Workers’ Rights And Jobs

Investing in our infrastructure will create jobs. According to the Clean Water Council, every $1 billion in water infrastructure investment creates an estimated 20,003 to 26,669 jobs and can have far-reaching benefits, tripling in size with total demand for goods and services estimated at $2.87 to $3.46 billion.

Biden’s proposal has incredibly strong provisions to support workers. Importantly, it includes the PRO Act, which would require that employers follow strong labor standards and remain neutral when their employees seek to form a union. It also includes provisions to promote local hiring, create more apprenticeship and training opportunities, and provide $10 billion for workplace safety enforcement. 

The WATER Act will create up to 1 million good, reliable jobs across the country. The WATER Act’s worker protections are tied specifically to projects funded by the legislation, encourage the use of union labor, require that the prevailing wage law be applied, and mandate the use of U.S.-made iron and steel on water system projects. 

Congress should protect the labor provisions in the final infrastructure bill, and include the passage of the PRO Act. We must create good union jobs while fixing our water crisis. 

Our Leaders Must Protect Our Water Access While Planning For Infrastructure 

Over the next few months we’ll be organizing to pressure Congress to pass a strong infrastructure plan that prioritizes water at the level our communities need. In this moment of crisis, we cannot just return to the way things were, but truly create the future we want — where every person has access to safe, affordable public water. 

The convergence of the pandemic and climate change has only deepened the harm that communities face. We can’t wait any longer. Water is not a luxury; it is something that we all need to live. 

Sign on to show your support for the WATER Act!

After 100 Days, Biden and Congress Must Do More to Address Water Crises in America

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. Senate is poised to pass the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, which would authorize $35 billion in funding over the next five years for drinking water and wastewater systems. The expected passage comes a day after President Biden gave his first address to Congress to outline progress and promote his infrastructure plan including his commitment to eliminate all lead water pipes and deliver clean water to all. The president’s American Jobs Plan would provide $111 billion over eight years to drinking water and wastewater services.

“Our communities cannot afford a compromise on safe water. This Senate legislation authorizes critical programs and higher funding levels, but it simply isn’t enough,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “We need bold and transformative support for water infrastructure through the WATER Act and in the administration’s American Jobs Plan to ensure that we build stronger, more resilient and more accessible water systems. No one should be denied access to safe water.”

Meanwhile, upon Biden’s 100th day in office, he has yet to take action to protect all people in the United States from the threat of losing utility service due to unaffordable bills and water debt. By May 1, two-thirds of the country will not be protected under a local or state water shutoff moratoria, leaving 216 million people vulnerable to possible disconnection. This includes the lapse of a statewide moratorium in New York State, where the state legislature has passed an extension but has yet to send the bill to the Governor for his signature. Only California, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and Washington State still have comprehensive statewide water shutoff protections in place. 

Ms. Hauter continued: “President Biden must deliver on his promise of providing clean water to every person in the country. Among the many lessons learned during this ongoing pandemic is that universal access to safe water is critical for public health and the functioning of our society. Water is a basic human right, and every person deserves access to safe water regardless of their ability to pay unaffordable utility bills. President Biden must affirm this human right by acting now and ordering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use their public health authority to institute a nationwide water shutoff moratorium now.”

Although Congress has approved $1.1 billion in low-income water bill assistance, the funding has not been released yet to aid local households and it falls far short of the more than $8 billion in estimated household arrears. Hundreds of thousands of people face the threat of water shutoff because of water debts accrued during the economic hardship of the pandemic.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected], 917.363.6615

The Blue Communities Movement

April 2021

The Movement At A Glance

  • 1: OVERVIEW
    • Learn how Blue Communities started and see sample resolutions.
  • 2: THE BACKGROUND
    • Find out why it’s crucial to become a Blue Community.
  • 3: STEPS TO BECOME A BLUE COMMUNITY
    • Learn about launching your own Blue Community campaign and
      register for a free toolkit!

Part 1:

Overview

Learn how Blue Communities started and see sample resolutions.

Protecting Our Water Locally & Nationally

We can transform our country to ensure that every person has access to safe, clean, affordable, public tap water.

On a national level on our Food & Water Action side, we’re working to pass the WATER Act in Congress to support this vision and provide a comprehensive solution to support public water for all.

You can take action in your own community by passing a local resolution to turn your city or town into a Blue Community.

A Blue Community:

Recognizes water and sanitation as human rights;

Rejects water privatization in all its forms; and

Bans or phases out bottled water in government buildings and at municipal events.

Here’s a sample resolution for any municipality in the United States to protect residents’ water.

The First Blue Community

In 2011, Burnaby in British Columbia, Canada, became the first Blue Community. Since then, 80 communities around the world have joined the effort — check out this map by the Council of Canadians:

Almost 25 million people now live in official Blue Communities that have pledged to promote water as a human right, protect water as a public trust and public service, and phase out bottled water in government buildings and events. These cities include Montreal, Vancouver, Paris, Berlin and Brussels. 

Here’s a sample resolution for any municipality in the United States to protect residents’ water including factory farming and fracking side effects.

In the United States, Northampton, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California, have become Blue Communities, but we have a lot more work to turn our country blue.

Part 2:

The Background

Find out why it’s crucial to become a Blue Community.

What Are the Issues?

1 Water as a basic human right is under attack.

Across the United States, toxic water and unaffordable water bills are infringing on the basic human rights of millions of people, hurting poor people and Black and Indigenous communities of color the most. In a typical year, an estimated 15 million people in the country experience a water shutoff, losing basic water service simply because they cannot afford to pay their water bills. Water is intrinsic to living a life with dignity, and to life itself. We need water to drink, cook food, bathe, clean, wash our hands and flush our toilets. In the midst of a global pandemic, this basic essential need for water has never been clearer.

2 Water privatization undermines the basic human right.

At its core, turning water over to a for-profit company abdicates a basic government responsibility to protect and promote the human right to water. Water privatization gives a water corporation control over an essential service, typically leading to higher rates and worse service. On average, private water companies charge 59% more than local government charge households, while customer service declines. Outsourcing typically leads to a loss of one in three water jobs, slowing maintenance and customer service requests. 

3 Bottled water undermines the human right to water.

Bottled water companies like Nestlē extract local water supplies to put in plastic bottles and ship around the world to generate profit. Bottled water costs thousands of times more than local tap water – it’s more expensive than gasoline. Bottled water uses upwards of 82 million barrels of oil to generate 4 billion of pounds of plastic – enough to fill the Empire State building more than 1.3 times each year – and most of these bottles end up in landfills. People and the environment lose.

Part 3:

Steps To Become A Blue Community

Learn about launching your own Blue Community campaign and register for a free toolkit!

Step 1: Launch A Campaign

Initial Planning Meeting

An initial planning meeting is a good way to bring together others interested in becoming the core group that can work to get the Blue Communities resolution passed.

You can recruit people to an initial planning meeting by talking with others who care about the human right to water and representatives of organizations who might have an interest in working to pass a local resolution — including community-based environmental organizations, housing groups, labor unions, religious organizations and other groups in your community. 

You can also do general outreach by inviting people on email lists, posting to social media, hanging up flyers in high-traffic areas and asking others to spread the word.

Step 2: Develop A Strategy

The next step is doing your homework and planning a strategy. You’ll need to clearly identify your goal, understand how your city council or local decision-making body works, and map out a strategy for moving the resolution forward.

a. Have a clear goal: The goal is to pass a Blue Communities resolution. Food & Water Watch has two different templates that you can use: one resolution is focused on the principles of a Blue Community, and the other one encompasses Food & Water Watch’s long-term goals including banning fracking and factory farms. Choose the one that makes the most sense for your community. 

b. Identify decision makers: To pass the resolution, you will need the support of your city or town council to vote in favor of it, so take a look at the council and identify who will likely support it, who will likely oppose it, and who may be undecided. Questions to ask: How many votes do you need to pass it? Are there key members whom others listen to and have the power to move something like this? Does the mayor have a vote on the council just like any other member, or do they have the power to veto a resolution if it is passed?

c. Take stock of your resources: Questions to ask: Who is in your core group and what resources do they bring? Who has relationships with members of the council? Are there representatives of other organizations, and if so, how many members do they have? Could they help with things like getting people to key meetings? Who has time — and how much time — to put into the campaign?

d. Identify allies and opponents, if any, and their power: Your initial meeting is just a starting place. You’ll want to think about other individuals and organizations that might help you. Think particularly about who might have some power or influence with council members. Consider what these potential allies’ interests are — why they would care about your campaign and what they might bring to the campaign, as well as who from your group will contact them. Also think about any potential opponents. Who might oppose the resolution, what power do they have over the city council members and what might they do to fight the resolution? Think about what arguments they might make to council members and how you would respond to them. Food & Water Watch can help with this.

e. Map out an initial timeline: Your campaign will evolve over time, but you should map out an initial timeline that your core group is accountable for and make sure your plans are realistic and achievable. Make sure to not take everything on yourself. A campaign will be much more fun and successful if work is spread among several people, with each taking the lead on different aspects of the campaign.

Step 3: Get Public Support

You’ll need to do outreach to demonstrate widespread support for the Blue Community resolution in your community. This outreach can take two forms: organizations and individuals.

a. Organizations: You can talk with representatives of local organizations and businesses you think will support your Blue Community campaign. Food & Water Watch will provide you with a sample sign-on letter and you can ask them to sign on to it. This will give you a document listing influential supporters that you can share with city council members to demonstrate widespread support for becoming a Blue Community. It will also give you a list of groups you can invite into your campaign and who can help publicize council hearings to their members and generate attendance.

b. Individuals: You will also want to get large numbers of individuals to support your campaign by signing a petition in support of becoming a Blue Community. Food & Water Watch will provide a petition tool to collect names, addresses, emails and phone numbers of supporters. Food & Water Watch can help you set up your online petition. During the pandemic, we urge you to use digital tools to collect petitions online, by email and by text. We can send you a number for a text opt-in that you can put on flyers around town to allow you to collect signatures easily. Set goals for yourselves and remember to reach out to people who are constituents of the council members you are asking to support the resolution. Gathering more signatures from the district of a hesitant council member is a great tactic. After collecting signatures, call or email the people who signed it and invite them to get involved in the campaign itself. Calling is always better, but if you only have an email address, of course use that.

Step 4: Meet With Council Members

You need to engage with the council members who can pass the resolution after you’ve built strong support for it. Once you have that, you will be able to make a bolder ask and your elected representatives will be more likely to give you what you want. If you have a strong enough group and enough individuals and organizations supporting the resolution, it will be much harder for them to say no.

a. Identify a sponsor and make a strong ask: Who you want to sponsor your resolution depends on a lot of factors. The best sponsor will be someone who is strongly supportive of the Blue Communities resolution and has good relationships with other members of the council. It’s difficult to pass something when the lead sponsor is someone who has alienated their peers. You also want a sponsor who will stay strong with you and not compromise on the values of the resolution. 

Once you identify this member, make a strong ask. Meet with the council member in a small group. Bring a couple of lead organizational supporters who have some power in the council member’s district — people who might have helped deliver votes in the member’s last election or have significant membership in the district. Also, make sure to bring your coalition letter and copies of the petitions you’ve gathered. An elected official will take you seriously when you can demonstrate you represent a significant number of people.

When you make your ask, be direct and polite. If you’ve done your homework and identified a member who is supportive, this should be an easy ask. Give them a copy of the resolution you want introduced, get their commitment to introduce it, and talk with the member about when the resolution will be brought for a hearing and vote. You should also ask their opinion about other council members — where they might stand and whether the sponsor can talk with them about supporting your resolution.

b. Meeting with other council members: After you have a council member to introduce the resolution, set up meetings with the other council members to determine how they will vote. Set up meetings in advance by emailing or calling their offices (this will depend on the size of your city/town and you and your allies’ relationship with the members). Make sure that when you meet with them, representatives of other organizations join you that have members in the appropriate districts and/or constituents from their districts. Bring the coalition letter and petition copies. If your council members are elected by district, be prepared to tell them the number of people in their districts that signed the petition, because that will be most important to them.

Make a direct ask for each council member to support the resolution and get a clear answer. If they ask for more information, provide it for them. If you do not know the answer to a question, tell them you will get back with them. If they do not commit to supporting the resolution at the initial meeting, set a follow-up meeting to get their position.

If you do not get a commitment from any of the members, and especially if there is opposition, you will want to implement additional tactics to pressure those members. Get people from their districts to call and ask for their support, organize people in their districts or organize people

to write letters to local newspapers calling on the council members who are undecided to support the resolution. Do more petition gathering and organizational outreach to increase the pressure on your target. You don’t want the council to take a vote unless you think you have a good chance of the resolution passing.

Step 5: Pressure The Council Members

Before the council votes, demonstrate public support for the resolution through public comments at hearings or council meetings, traditional news media and social media, and calls and petitions into offices. 

a. Public comments or testimony. There will be opportunity for the public to weigh in during a council meeting or public hearing. Every hearing or public comment period is a chance to educate and mobilize people to support Blue Communities. You’ll want to pack the meetings. That is critical to getting it passed. There are several ways to do this: Call all the groups that signed your letter in support of the resolution and ask them to come to the hearing and invite their members. Call everyone that has signed the petition supporting the resolution, tell them about the meeting and ask them to come. Send notices about the hearing on community email lists and through social media like Facebook and Twitter. Line up good speakers who can explain all the reasons your community should become a Blue Community and why council members need to support the resolution.

Though it varies by state, cities or towns will usually allow members of the public to speak on issues that are on the agenda, pursuant to the state’s open meeting laws. You may have to sign up just before or at the beginning of the hearing. Make sure to get there early for that reason — also important for getting good seats! Encourage everyone to fill out speaker cards, as there may be a limit to the number of speakers. Have your top speakers lined up. If one of them doesn’t get called, someone else may be able to give them his or her time slot. Prepare in advance and make a strong argument why the council should pass the resolution. 

Whoever speaks first should ask everyone who is there supporting the resolution to stand up or hold up their signs or identify themselves in some public way so the council can see how broad the support is. People who represent groups should identify those groups and who they represent. Someone should also read off a list of all the organizations and businesses that signed the group letter supporting the resolution.

If your town allows people to bring signs into the council meetings, make and bring signs that clearly call for supporting Blue Communities. If not, make sure everyone on your side is clearly identified by wearing a Blue shirt or outfit. Give everyone who comes to the hearing an 81⁄2” x 11” piece of paper that says in large letters “Turn our Community Blue!” When members of the council look out at the audience, they should see their constituents support becoming a Blue Community.

b. Media outreach: Media coverage serves a few important purposes. It can put pressure on members of the council to support the resolution, help educate other members of the community about the issue, and energize your supporters about your campaign. So, getting your issue in the media will be important.

Letters to the editor: A letter to the editor is a 150-to-250-word letter that anyone can submit to the editorial page of a newspaper. Food & Water Watch can send you a letter template, but it is important that your letter is different and comes directly from the person submitting it. In large cities, it is unlikely that a newspaper will print a letter unless it responds to some article that the paper has written. In that case, keep an out for water-related news that you could tie your letter to as a response. Then get several people to submit letters that use that article to call for support of becoming a Blue Community. 

Reach out to reporters: The main way to alert reporters about an upcoming hearing or vote on a resolution is a media advisory. This is a short statement that has the “who, what, when, where and why” of the hearing. Food & Water Watch will send you a sample media advisory that you can edit with the right information and email to the key reporters at least a day in advance of the hearing. Call the reporters and talk with them about the resolution and why your community needs it. Be brief and clear — reporters are busy and probably won’t want to chitchat, but a good pitch explaining why the issue is significant to your community and why a reporter should cover the issue might result in some coverage in advance of a hearing or vote.

Social media: before the vote, ask all the organizational and petition signers to post on their social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) in support of the resolution and tag your council member, if they are on that platform. Food & Water Watch will send you a sample social media toolkit to use with sample posts and images.

c. Calls into the council members: Before the vote, council members need to hear from their constituents personally about why they should support the Blue Communities resolution. Reach out to all the organizations on the sign on letter and all the petition signers to ask them to call the council members. Food & Water Watch will send you a sample call script. A call should take about two minutes. Calls are the best simple way for elected officials to know that an issue is important to their constituents.

Step 6: Celebrate Victory

If the resolution does not pass the first time, don’t give up! It just means you need to do more organizing and generate more public pressure on your council. Go back to step one and hold a meeting to consider next steps. You can still build a larger, more powerful group to show that more people support the resolution. Remember, officials are ultimately elected by the voters and are accountable to the people. You’ll need to organize more to demonstrate a majority of their constituents support becoming a Blue Community.

When the resolution passes, congratulations! 

You’ve done some great work! Celebrate that victory with all the supporters! This is something we don’t do often enough. Celebrating victories is important because we deserve to feel great when we win and also because it builds community and will energize everyone for the next fight.

Once you’ve gotten a resolution passed supporting the Blue Communities, don’t forget to send the resolution to Food & Water Watch — we are tracking all the resolutions passed. When yours is passed, send a copy to us and we’ll share it on our Facebook page where activists across the country can see it. We want to publicize your win! 

Then leverage your newly powerful group to build your next campaign! Beyond the local resolution, there is much more to do. Take some time and work with your group to pick a new goal and identify a new target to take action in support of Blue Communities (maybe you can move on to the County Commission), or to gather federal support for your local community water system by asking your Congress members to cosponsor the WATER Act. By continuing to build and mobilize in communities across the country we can make amazing changes. So keep organizing!

Sign up to get everything you need to get started.

National Consumer Organization Urges Binghamton Elected Officials to Reject Veolia Contract

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Binghamton, NY — Today, Food & Water Watch issued a letter to Mayor Richard David and members of the Binghamton City Council, amplifying the chorus of residents opposed to a proposed contract with Veolia to audit municipal wastewater services in Binghamton. The letter comes in advance of the next City Council meeting on April 21, where a vote on the contract is expected to take place.

In the letter, advocates warn that the proposed audit contract is a foot in the door on a larger sewer privatization deal, with significant potential negative outcomes for the city, including:

  • Sewer privatization can lead to degraded services;
  • Sewer privatization can result in higher costs for the public; and
  • Sewer privatization can leave communities without local control of essential services.

Veolia’s bad track record is also highlighted, noting multiple instances where cities had to foot the bill or take Veolia to court over improper water and wastewater management. For more information on Veolia, see their corporate profile here.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“When a controversial international corporation with a scandalous track record of lawsuits and poor service comes to town and offers a ‘win-win’ contract, the red flag must go up. From Idaho to Massachusetts, Veolia has entered communities and disrupted essential services for the benefit of outsourced corporate profit — Binghamton must not suffer the same fate. Mayor David and the Binghamton City Council must reject Veolia and commit to full public provision of water and wastewater operations.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]

Massive Water Merger Would Create Dangerous Corporate Monopoly

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Washington D.C. – Today, Veolia announced an agreement in principle to acquire Suez through a $15 billion deal that would merge the two largest water corporations in the world.

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

“Veolia’s plan to dominate public water services all across the globe is becoming a terrifying reality. The merger of the world’s largest water corporations will erode any semblance of competition for water privatization deals. This lack of competition will worsen our water affordability crisis, eliminate good union jobs, and open the door to cronyism and corruption. 

“Water privatization has been a disaster for communities across the United States and around the world. Municipalities struggling with budget crises linked to the COVID pandemic may consider selling off their valuable water systems as a short-term response to plug budget gaps. This would create long-term harm. Communities must revert all privatized water and sewer systems to public control to ensure safety and affordability for all.”

Contact: Peter Hart, [email protected]

Rockland Residents Demand Greater State Action on County Water Crisis

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

New City, NY — This morning, Rockland County residents called on Governor Cuomo and his administration to take concrete steps to protect public health from chemical contamination in the county’s water supply, presenting a petition signed by over one thousand residents to the governor. The Rockland Water Coalition, along with allies and elected officials, urged Governor Cuomo to undertake measures to monitor, publicly disclose, and cleanup PFAS or “forever chemicals” in the County’s water supply. The Rockland Water Coalition, along with allies including Food & Water Watch, Riverkeeper, NYPIRG and Environmental Advocates of New York has been mobilizing for months.

In a press conference today (video link), local residents, including health care professionals, parents, middle school students, members of the clergy, educators and non-profit organizers, spoke out against the dangers of PFAS contamination. PFAS pose serious risks to human health including high cholesterol, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, and impacts on fertility. Speakers emphasized the particular dangers for pregnant women and children, which include decreased fertility, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and correlations with low birth weight. Exposure to PFAS has also been shown to cause adverse impacts on the liver and immune system, with a link to decreased vaccine response and neurobehavioral effects, including ADHD.

Inadequate action by the Cuomo administration on this issue has put the County’s public health supply at risk for months since the chemicals were initially discovered last year.

“It is genuinely frightening to think that my children have been and are being exposed to toxic chemicals in their drinking water,” said Molly Findlay, a mother and Rockland resident. “These are chemicals for which there are no known safe limits.”

“When we speak for the youth, we say that there are NO acceptable levels of toxic PFAS in drinking water anywhere,” said 13-year-old Blue Rock School Student Anna Palitti. “We demand action from local and government officials to treat this as an emergency.”

“Here in the U.S. we presume water from our faucet is clean and safe,” said Sr. Dorothy Maxwell. “It’s a terrible thing that in the U.S., one of the richest countries on earth, we are being exposed to toxic chemicals in our drinking water.” 

“Public health is at serious risk in Rockland County, and the Cuomo administration must step up their monitoring efforts and intervene on the public’s behalf,” said Eric Weltman, Senior New York Organizer with Food & Water Watch, a member of the Rockland Water Coalition. “New Yorkers deserve clean, affordable and safe drinking water, every time they turn on the tap. Governor Cuomo must take action on this issue immediately, before any more residents are put at risk.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch [email protected]   
Cliff Weathers, Riverkeeper, [email protected]

Advocates Call on Governor Northam to Join General Assembly Resolution In Declaring Water as a Human Right

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Richmond, VA — One month after the Virginia legislature voted to enshrine the human right to water for all in the Commonwealth, advocates are calling on Governor Northam to publicly support the resolution. The resolution, championed by Delegate Lashrecse Aird in tandem with Food & Water Watch and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light affirms the right to clean, potable and affordable water for all. The resolution passed both chambers at a time when water access continues to be challenging for many during the pandemic.

Just last week, new research from Cornell University and Food & Water Watch found that almost half a million COVID infections could have been prevented last year if there had been a national moratorium on water service shutoffs. In Virginia alone, the researchers estimate that almost 15,000 COVID infections could have been prevented if a statewide moratorium had been in place.

“We applaud state legislators for passing Virginia’s Water as a Human Right resolution and  believe that a similarly emphatic declaration from Governor Northam would establish critical safeguards within state agencies to ensure clean, potable and affordable water for all,” said Food & Water Watch Southern Regional Director Jorge Aguilar. “Governor Northam has been committed to ensuring water access during the pandemic and supporting this resolution now is critical to meeting the challenges our state will face in ensuring water justice in the future. 

“We are thrilled that Del. Aird carried the Water Access: Human Right Resolution and that the 2021 General Assembly passed it,” said Rev. Dr. Faith Harris, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light Co-Director. “We encourage Governor Northam, who has previously expressed the importance of water access for human health, to declare water access and affordability a priority among state agencies, especially those tasked with water management or protection assuring quality and access for all Virginia’s residents.” 

Contact: Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch [email protected]

Almost 500,000 COVID Infections May Have Been Prevented with a National Water Shutoff Moratorium

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Almost half a million COVID infections could have been prevented last year if there had been a national moratorium on water service shutoffs, according to new research from Cornell University and the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch. 

The findings also show that during the same period, from mid-April through the end of 2020,   9,000 COVID deaths could have been prevented with a robust moratorium on water shutoffs. 

The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs reduced the growth rates for COVID infections and deaths. If similar policies had been adopted across the country, the study model shows that COVID cases might have been reduced by 4 percent, and deaths by 5.5 percent, in the states without a moratorium.

“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: A full moratorium on shutoffs and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies — many of which expired over the course of the year —  left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. By June, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of the year, just 12 states had a moratorium in place. By December, 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.

“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.”

While there is no comprehensive water shutoff data source, it is clear that the existing shutoff moratoria protected hundreds of thousands of people from disconnection. In California alone, the state estimated that one in eight households were behind on their water bills, owing a collective $1 billion as of January 2021. 

Protected: The Relationship Between Water Shutoffs and COVID Infections and Deaths

REPORT - March 2021

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The Relationship Between Water Shutoffs and COVID-19

REPORT - March 2021

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: Report findings
    • A nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have saved more than 9,000 lives and prevented nearly half a million people from being infected with COVID-19 through the end of 2020.
  • 2: A national water affordability crisis
    • The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the pre-existing water affordability crisis in the United States.
  • 3: Water shutoff moratoria during the pandemic
    • A wave of protections and a wave of endangerment provide an opportunity to study outcomes of each approach.
  • 4: Our study
    • A small change in infection growth rate yields a significant impact.
  • 5: Conclusions and recommendations
    • 5 specific steps could save countless lives and slow the spread of contagion during public health emergencies.

Part 1:

Report Findings

A nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have saved more than 9,000 lives and prevented nearly half a million people from being infected with COVID-19 through the end of 2020.

This study finds that in states with moratoria, the growth rates for COVID-19 infections and deaths were significantly lower. Had these shutoff protections been in place nationally, it might have reduced total COVID cases by 4.0 percent and COVID deaths by 5.5 percent in the 41 states without a full coverage of a moratorium over the period from April 17, 2020 to December 31, 2020. Existing water shutoff protections have protected human health and helped slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

Since March 2020, when the outbreak of the COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, hundreds of localities and states took strong action to suspend water shutoffs to ensure households had water for handwashing and sanitation. Unfortunately, this patchwork of protections was never uniformly applied nationwide and left millions of people vulnerable to service disruptions due to an inability to pay water bills during the pandemic.

With emerging variants of the virus that causes COVID- 19, it is critical to ensure access to water services to continue to help slow the spread of the virus and prevent worsening infection rates. Food & Water Watch urges President Joe Biden to halt water shutoffs nationally for the remainder of the COVID-19 national emergency, and his administration should champion legislative solutions to cancel the water debt accrued during the pandemic and fully fund our public water infrastructure to provide long-term relief into the future.

Key Findings

From April 17, 2020 to December 31, 2020, states with moratoria on water shutoffs significantly reduced their growth rates of COVID infections and deaths, compared to states without moratoria, with the biggest reduction seen in states with comprehensive water shutoff moratoria covering all water systems in the state. A moratorium on water shutoffs was associated with a reduced daily infection growth rate by 0.235 percent, and daily death growth rate by 0.135 percent. These small reductions in the daily growth rates were significant and had a sizeable impact on the cumulative case and death numbers. Comprehensive water shutoff moratoria that apply to all water systems in a given state are associated with even lower infection and death growth rates. A nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have reduced COVID cases by 3.97 percent and COVID-related deaths by 5.51 percent in the 41 states without full coverage of a moratorium over this period. Extrapolating from model results, we estimated a nationwide water shutoff moratorium during the study period might have protected 480,715 people from COVID-19 infection and 9,052 people from death.

Report by Xue Zhang and Mildred E. Warner from Cornell University in collaboration with Food & Water Watch

Part 2:

A National Water Affordabilty Crisis

The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the pre-existing water affordability crisis in the United States.

Since March 2020, one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s top recommendations to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus has been thorough and frequent handwashing,1 but tens of thousands of people have been unable to follow this simple but crucial advice because their water service was shut off over water debt.2

For years, unaffordable water bills have been a growing problem in communities across the country.3 A 2017 study found that water bills were already unaffordable for 12 percent of households, and if water charges increased at projected rates, nearly 36 percent of U.S. households would be unable to afford their water bills within five years.4 This crisis disproportionately affects low-income households and communities of color.5 A study of Michigan found that communities of color pay higher average household water bills than communities with lower percentages of racial minorities.6

Austerity underlies this crisis. The federal government has cut back support for water systems, shifting the burden onto local ratepayers. Federal funding for water and sewer systems fell by 77 percent in real dollars from its peak in 1977 to 2017.7 At the same time, water pipes are aging and need to be replaced, while treatment plants need updates to comply with stronger water quality regulations, and climate chaos creates unprecedented challenges in many parts of the country.8 With weak federal support, water systems rely on rate increases to meet these daunting challenges.9 But many people just can’t keep up with bills that outpace their wages.

Hardships and Water Shutoffs

One of the main collection practices of utilities for unaffordable water bills is service shutoffs.10 In a more typical year, 2016, an estimated 15 million people experienced a water shutoff for nonpayment.11 A 2015 national survey found only 8 percent of municipalities had programs to protect low-income consumers from water shutoffs, and publicly owned water operators were more likely to protect residents from water shutoffs.12

Water shutoffs pose a real threat to human health.13 Without water service, people cannot flush their toilets, wash their hands or bathe. Lack of adequate sanitation can cause diseases to spread and allow people to become sick. The elderly, pregnant women, children and people with diabetes and other illnesses would be especially vulnerable.14 Black and Indigenous people of color, Latinx communities and low-income populations face higher disconnection rates and are more likely to lack access to basic water services.15 Water shutoffs can be traumatic. There is a substantial, statistically significant effect of water insecurity on psychological distress.16

A January 2021 working paper from Duke University researchers, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that policies that promote housing stability through moratoria on evictions and utility shutoffs can have profound impacts on COVID death and infection rates.17

Part 3:

Water Shutoff Moratoria During the Pandemic

A wave of protections and a wave of endangerment provide an opportunity to study outcomes of each approach.

Before the pandemic, protections from water shutoffs were rare in the United States,18 but on March 9, 2020, Detroit became among the first U.S. cities to pause water shutoffs and temporarily reconnect water services for all residents.19 Advocates had fought water shutoffs in Detroit for nearly two decades before this historic decision,20 which sparked a wave of moratoria nationally. Over the next several months, more than 800 localities and states followed Detroit’s lead.21

A Wave of Protections

By June 2020, 34 states had imposed moratoria on water shutoffs, protecting the 247 million people living in those states. Twenty states imposed comprehensive water shutoff moratoria that apply to all water systems in the state, and an additional 14 states imposed partial moratoria that covered only water systems, typically investor-owned utilities, that are regulated by state public utility commissions (see Figure 1 and Appendix A).

States that regulate private water utilities through their public utility commission and states that had higher COVID-19 case rates were more likely to impose a moratorium on water shutoffs in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.22 Cities with higher per capita income, a higher percent of people of color, and higher income inequality and Democratic-led states were also more likely to impose moratoria on water shutoffs.23

It is clear that moratoria on water shutoffs have protected hundreds of thousands of people from disconnection. Based on limited data from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, 37,386 households — about 100,000 people — in New Jersey alone were protected from losing their water at the end of 2020 because of the state-issued moratoria.24 California found that 1.6 million households (one in eight households) were behind on their water bills, owing more than $1 billion as of January 2021.25

FIGURE 1. State Water Shutoff Moratoria as of May 2020

Source Data: See Appendix 1

A Wave of Endangerment

Many of these protections were short-lived and expired months before COVID cases peaked in January 2021. By the end of 2020, 22 states had allowed their moratoria to expire, leading to 134 million people losing protections from water shutoffs. Only 12 states still had moratoria in place by the end of 2020 (see Figure 2 and Appendix A). As of December 2020, 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered under a state- issued moratorium. This includes 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile. These households are most at risk of water disconnection.

The length of state-imposed moratoria varied greatly across the country (see Figure 3 for the number of days that states went without a moratorium during the study period). During the study period, only nine states had a moratorium in place the entire time. Twenty-five states had a moratorium in place part of the time, and 16 states had no moratorium for the entire period.

FIGURE 2. State Water Shutoff Moratoria as of December 31, 2020

Source data: See Appendix 1

FIGURE 3. Days without a state moratorium on water shutoffs during the study period (April 17 -December 31, 2020)

Source data: See Appendix 1

In Michigan, for example, Governor Whitmer issued a comprehensive statewide water restoration order and moratorium on March 28, 2020.26 The order, as extended, was set to remain in effect until at least the end of the year, but in October, the state Supreme Court struck down many of the Governor’s COVID protections, including the shutoff moratorium.27 Figure 4 shows that cases were peaking, due to the second wave, in the days when the moratorium was not in effect. Michigan water advocates successfully passed state legislation to reimpose a moratorium, which went into effect in December 2020.28

FIGURE 4. COVID-19 cases and water shutoff moratoria over time in Michigan (February – December 2020)

Source Data: See Appendix 1 and New York Times COVID tracker (2020).

Part 4:

Our Study

A small change in infection growth rate yields a significant impact.

Study Design

We ran a multilevel mixed effects linear regression to examine the relation between water shutoff moratoria and COVID-19 daily infection growth rate and daily death growth rate between April 17 and December 31, 2020.29 This method has been used in other studies of COVID-19 health policies.30 Both the COVID-19 infection growth rate and death rate had a large fluctuation at the beginning of the pandemic in March due to the low initial denominator of cases, so we excluded these outliers.

We calculate growth rate in confirmed cases and deaths using the prior seven-day rolling average. This smooths spikes and reporting fluctuations (e.g., weekends) to more accurately estimate the trend. Our model controls for the effect of time to get an overall effect of the moratoria.

Because the infection rate is related to testing capacity which varies across states, we controlled for the daily test growth rate in the infection growth rate model. We also controlled for comprehensive coverage of the moratoria (applied to all water systems), and other confounding factors that might affect COVID case rates, including other state policies, such as mask mandates, the level of health insurance coverage and state demographic characteristics, such as minorities and essential workers.31

Results: Significant Decrease in COVID Infections and Deaths with Moratoria

Model results show that for the days when states had
a moratorium on water shutoff in place, daily infection growth had a 0.235 percent decrease and the death growth rate had a 0.135 percent decrease (see Appendix 2). In addition, comprehensive coverage of the moratorium was significantly associated with an even lower infection and death growth rate. This small change in the growth rate had a significant impact.

Protecting 9,000 Lives and Preventing Nearly Half A Million Infections

Had a national shutoff moratorium been in place during the study period, it might have protected 480,715 people from COVID-19 infection and 9,052 people from death. This accounts for 4.0 percent of the increase in confirmed cases and 5.5 percent of the increase in total deaths for the 41 states which had days without a moratorium during the study period. Using model results, we calculate the potential impacts as shown in Table 1 (see Appendix 3 for calculation). These estimates exclude the 9 states which had a moratorium in place (whether partial or comprehensive) during the entire study period. Partial moratoriums cover less of the population; but in the analysis below, we do not distinguish partial and comprehensive, we only measure days when a moratorium was not in place.

TABLE 1. Potential reduction in COVID-19 cases and deaths if water shutoff moratoria in place across all U.S. States (April 17 – Dec 30, 2020)

Source Data: Calculations based on model results (see Appendices 2 and 3) for the 41 states which did not have a moratorium in place during the entire study period

Figure 5 illustrates the number of people in each state that might have avoided contracting COVID had a moratorium been in place. Figure 6 shows the number of lives in each state that might have been saved with a nationwide water shutoff moratorium. The biggest benefits are in states with short or no moratoria, and also reflect the state’s relative population size.

FIGURE 5. Number of people who might have been protected from COVID-19 infection by a shutoff moratorium (April 17 -December 31, 2020)

Source Data: Calculations based on model results (see Appendices 2 and 3)

FIGURE 6. Number of people who might have been protected from COVID-19 death by a shutoff moratorium (April 17 -December 31, 2020)

Source Data: Calculations based on model results (see Appendices 2 and 3)

Part 5:

Conclusions and
Recommendations

5 specific steps could save countless lives and slow the spread of contagion during public health emergencies.

A nationwide water shutoff moratorium might have reduced COVID infections by 4.0 percent and by 5.5 percent in states that lacked moratoria. Through a patchwork of protections in states with existing moratoria on water shutoffs, the growth rate of both COVID infections and deaths was significantly lower, with the biggest protection observed in states that imposed comprehensive moratoria on both public and private water systems. A national moratorium might have saved thousands of people. To ensure protection of water access for every person in the country, Food and Water Watch recommends that President Joe Biden work with Congress to:

Enact a Nationwide Moratorium on Utility Shutoffs for the Remainder of the COVID-19 Emergency.

Enacting a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs is an important and urgent measure to help slow the spread of COVID-19. There should be policies in place to automatically impose a water shutoff moratorium during states of emergency in the future. Moreover, vulnerable households must be protected from shutoff at all times. This includes households with young children, seniors, and medically compromised individuals.

Cancel Water Debt

Households have accrued an estimated nearly $9 billion in water and sewer debts over the pandemic.32 Federal support is necessary to offer forgiveness of these debts to avoid a tidal wave of shutoffs when moratoria expire.

Establish Income-Based Water Affordability Programs

Federal funding should support the establishment of state and local programs to provide percentage-of-income payment plans with arrears management components for all households at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Combined water and wastewater bills should not exceed 3 percent of household income, according to the United Nation’s standard of water affordability.33

Collect Better Data

Better data collection and reporting are necessary to help inform policy and solutions. Utilities should periodically report statistics about shutoffs, restorations, arrears, aging of arrears, and other metrics to inform policy. These data must be provided by zip code or census tract to allow for investigation of disparate impacts based on race and other socioeconomic factors and to better inform the outreach of low-income aid providers.

Restore Federal Funding for Water Infrastructure

National support for long-term financing for water utilities would help address systemic inequalities and create stronger, more resilient and more equitable communities. The nation’s water and wastewater systems need federal support.34 The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act is the type of sweeping legislation needed to address water contamination, affordability, job creation and justice all at the same time.

Water must be a priority for an infrastructure stimulus. With adequate water funding, we can provide immediate relief to households and fight the coronavirus, and we can also protect the health and safety of all communities. We must come out of this crisis with a newfound commitment to providing universal access to water for all.

Tell President Biden: No water shutoffs during a pandemic!

Acknowledgements

We want to thank the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future for partial funding support of the Cornell research.

Report by Xue Zhang and Mildred E. Warner from Cornell University in collaboration with Food & Water Watch.100

Endnotes
  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How
    to Protect Yourself & Others.” February 4, 2021, available
    at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent- getting-sick/prevention.html; Thebault, Reis et al. “How to prepare for coronavirus in the U.S.” Washington Post. March 11, 2020.
  2. For example, see: Missouri Public Service Commission. “Staff report on utility data request responses.” File No. AW- 2020-0356. February 22, 2021 at 34; Tennessee American Water. “Informational filing of Tennessee-American Water Company.” Tennessee Public Utility Commission. Docket No. 20-00047. February 15, 2021 at 4 to 8; Illinois Commerce Commission. “Illinois American Water Compliance Filing.” Docket 20-0309. February 16, 2021 at 2; Grant, Robert. “‘Some families end up homeless’: Jacksonville advocacy group urges utility districts to stop disconnects during pandemic.” Action Jax News. October 8, 2020.
  3. National Academy of Public Administration. “Developing a New Framework for Community Affordability of Clean Water Services.” October 2017 at 2.
  4. Mack, Elizabeth A. and Sarah Wrase. “A burgeoning crisis? A nationwide assessment of the geography of water afford- ability in the United States.” PLoS One, Vol. 12, Iss. 1. January 2017 at 7 to 9.
  5. Montag, Coty. Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. “Water/Color: A study of race and the affordability crisis in America’s cities.” 2019 at 2 to 5.
  6. 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.
  7. U.S. Congressional Budget Office. “Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure, 1956 to 2017.” (Pub. No. 54539). October 2018 at Supplemental Table W-8.
  8. 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 41 to 42.
  9. National Academy of Public Administration at 25.
  10. U.S. EPA. Environmental Financial Advisory Board. “Afford- able Rate Design for Households.” February 2006 at 5.
  11. Food & Water Watch. “America’s Secret Water Crisis: Na- tional Shutoff Survey Reveals Water Affordability Emergency Affecting Millions.” October 2018 at 2.
  12. Homsy, George C. and Mildred E. Warner. “Does public ownership of utilities matter for local government water poli- cies?” Utilities Policy. Vol. 64. Iss. 101057. 2020 at 1 and 5.
  13. Amirhadji, Jason et al. Georgetown Law Human Rights Insti- tute Fact-Finding Practicum. “Tapped Out — Threats to the Human Right to Water in the Urban United States.” April 2013 at 31 to 32.
  14. Ibid. at 31 to 32.
  15. Holmes, Lillian et al. Pacific Institute. “Water and the COV- ID-19 Pandemic: Equity Dimensions of Utility Disconnections in the U.S.” July 2020 at 3 to 4; DigDeep and US Water Alliance. “Closing the Water Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan.” 2019 at 22; Montag, 2019 at 4.
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  17. Jowers, Kay et al. “Housing Precarity & the COVID-19 Pan- demic: Impacts of Utility Disconnection and Eviction Mora- toria on Infections and Deaths Across US Counties.” National Bureau of Economic Research. January 2021. Available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w28394.
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  19. Neavling, Steve. “As coronavirus spreads, Detroit to restore water to thousands of households, offer moratorium on shutoffs.” Detroit Metro Times. March 9, 2020; Lakhani, Nina. “Detroit suspends water shutoffs over Covid-19 fears.” The Guardian. March 12, 2020.
  20. People’s Water Board Coalition. (Press release). “People’s Water Board Coalition Applauds Detroit Mayor’s Decision to Ban Water Shutoffs and Restore Residential Water.” Decem- ber 8, 2020.
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  23. Ibid. at 4.
  24. New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. “Water and Sewer Ar- rearages as of December 2020.” 2021, available at https:// www.nj.gov/bpu/newsroom/reports/covid19/Water%20 and%20Sewer%20Arrearages%20December%202020%20 Summary.pdf; U.S. Census. “Quickfacts: New Jersey.” Avail- able at https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/NJ. Accessed March 5, 2021.
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  26. Michigan. Executive Order No. 2020-28. March 28, 2020.
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  49. Indiana. Executive Order 20-33. June 30, 2020 at 2.
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  80. North Carolina. Executive Order No. 124. March 31, 2020 at 4.
  81. North Carolina. Executive Order No. 142. May 30, 2020 at 7.
  82. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Director’s Final Findings and Orders. In the Matter of Public Water Systems Under ORC Chapter 6109. March 31, 2020 at 2.
  83. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “Termination of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s March 31, 2020 State of Emergency Public Water System Order (PWS Or- der).” July 10, 2020.
  84. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Emergency Order. Docket No. M-2020-3019244. March 13, 2020 at 2.
  85. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Order. Docket No. M-2020-3019244. October 8, 2020 at 3.
  86. Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. Order on Commission’s Own Motion. Docket No. 5022. March 17, 2020 at 4.
  87. Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. Order. Docket No. 5022. July 15, 2020 at 4.
  88. South Carolina Public Service Commission. Commission Di- rective. Order No. 2020-228. Docket No. 2020-106-A. March 18, 2020.
  89. South Carolina Public Service Commission. Commission Directive. Order No. 2020-374. Docket No. 2020-106-A. May 14, 2020.
  90. Tennessee Public Utility Commission. (Press release). “TPUC Order on Service Disconnections.” March 27, 2020.
  91. Tennessee Public Utility Commission. “Order Lifting Suspen- sion of Disconnections of Service for Lack of Payment with Conditions, Effective on August 29, 2020.” Docket No. 20- 00047. September 16, 2020 at 2.
  92. Texas Public Utility Commission. Order Directing Certain Actions and Granting Exceptions to Certain Rules. Project No. 50664. March 26, 2020 at 1 and 2.
  93. Texas Public Utility Commission. Third Order Directing Certain Actions and Granting Exceptions to Certain Rules. Project No. 50664. May 14, 2020 at 1 and 2.
  94. Vermont. No. 92 of 2020 (H. 681) §9. March 30, 2020 at 7 to 8.
  95. Virginia State Corporation Commission. Order Suspending Disconnection of Service and Suspending Tariff Provisions Regarding Utility Disconnections of Service. Case No. PUR- 2020-00048. March 16, 2020.
  96. Virginia. 2020 Special Session. Acts of Assembly. Chapter 56. §4-14.7.a. November 18, 2020 at 363.
  97. Virginia State Corporation Commission. Additional Order on Moratorium. Case No. PUR-2020-00048. September 15, 2020 at 2.
  98. Washington. Proclamation by the Governor. 20-23.2. April 17, 2020 at 4; Washington. Proclamation by the Governor. 20- 23.13. December 8, 2020 at 3.
  99. Wisconsin Public Service Commission. (Press release). “PSC tells Wisconsin utilities to suspend disconnections for non- payment during public health emergency.” March 13, 2020; Wisconsin Public Service Commission. Supplemental Order on Residential Disconnection – Third. 5-UI-120. October 29, 2020 at 6.
  100. Zhang, Xue, Warner, Mildred E. and Grant, Mary. 2021 “Water shutoff moratoria lowered COVID-19 infection and death across US States,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. forthcoming.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2021.07.006

Senate Water Infrastructure Bill is Inadequate

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth. In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones issued the following statement:

“The water infrastructure bill that moved through committee today may be an improvement on past attempts to address our country’s ever-mounting list of water crises, but it is still wholly inadequate given the nature and scope of the task at hand. From rampant lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, to millions in the South recently going weeks without any water at all, our country’s water systems have literally reached the breaking point. Legislative half-measures simply won’t do in this time of national water crisis.

“The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would adequately meet the scope and scale of the crisis we face. The WATER Act would provide $35 billion annually to restore and rebuild drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems, provide relief to communities facing water service shutoffs due to unaffordable bills, and create nearly one million well-paying jobs across the country. Grave crises require bold solutions. Congress and the Biden administration need to meet the challenge head-on by including the WATER Act in any infrastructure package they consider.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Gratitude Report 2021

Categories

Clean Water

In this report, we’re sharing stories of the real people — our friends and neighbors — who feel the impacts of drilling, water shutoffs, and factory farms. We’re grateful for your generosity. Meet the people your support has touched this year.

Food & Water Watch organizers are in communities across the country, working closely with those most impacted by the dangers of factory farms, water insecurity, and fossil fuel infrastructure. These problems we tackle require both short-term and long-term solutions, and we are grateful for your generosity.

Food & Water Watch delivers real results that improve people’s lives – thanks to YOU.

  • You’re keeping the water turned on in millions of homes.
  • You’re shutting down factory farms, pushing for policies that support small and midsize family farms, and reviving rural communities. 
  • You’re stopping climate chaos, keeping people safe from fracking, and transitioning communities to 100% renewable energy.

Fighting Fossil Fuels

Like you, Food & Water Watch wants a livable planet for generations to come. That’s why we organize communities for a fair and just transition to 100% renewable energy as we work to stop all oil or gas production and ban fracking now.

Alex Austin lived in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles for most of her life until a few months ago, when she along with many neighbors were forced to move due to the health effects of the largest gas leak in U.S. history. The gas leak lasted four months, releasing roughly 100,000 metric tons of climate-destroying methane and other harmful pollutants that threatened nearby communities and forced more than 8,000 families to flee their homes.

Food & Water Watch had been working with residents there for years prior to the blowout because of the enormous risk of gas infrastructure. Along with our organizer, Alex has fought for justice for her community at the local, state, and national levels — and this fight will go on.

That’s what your support brings — a team of residents and volunteers working together, guided by our organizers and empowered by our research, legal expertise, and advocacy.

Securing Water For All

Water companies and utilities burden tens of millions of families with sky-high water bills to support crumbling water infrastructure. That’s why we fight for federal investment in our national water infrastructure — we want clean, safe, and affordable water for all.  

Pastor James is a community leader in Baltimore. The government nearly took his beloved church through a tax sale, in part because of an unaffordable water bill. By connecting with Food & Water Watch, the church found help and stopped their eviction from their home of 30 years. 

We worked with Pastor James and others to pass legislation to remove water bills from the tax sale process, protecting thousands from losing their home for an unaffordable water bill. 

Building a Better Food System

“For some people, farming is a hidden world,” says Tiffany, who runs a small livestock farm with her husband, Andy, south of Minneapolis. When the pandemic hit, they saw a surge of people who wanted locally-grown food.

They were lucky. Many other small farms, overlooked by federal relief, suffered devastating losses during the pandemic. 

That’s why Food & Water Watch’s work to ban factory farms is so important. Small and medium-sized farms raising livestock are being pushed out by large factory farms housing thousands of animals in crowded spaces. These operations, controlled by approximately 20 corporations, produce enormous volumes of waste, pollute the air and water, exploit workers, harm animal welfare, fuel antibiotic resistance and climate change, and harm the rural communities they are purported to benefit.

We’re fighting for legislation to hold corporations accountable and bring transformational change. We also take the worst offenders to court. With partners in the largest farm states, we’re standing up to giant corporate interests. 

This is an exclusive preview from our upcoming research piece that sets out a bold new vision for farming in America – set for release in April.

We at Food & Water Watch are grateful for your generosity. 

Your investment in healthy food, clean water, and a livable climate makes a huge impact. Thank you for joining us to fight like you live here!

Your generous support makes all of this possible.

Food & Water Watch and Iowa CCI Call for EPA Intervention in Iowa’s Water Pollution Crisis

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Des Moines, IA — As environmentalists celebrated World Water Day this week, groups in Iowa took a different approach. Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are calling on the leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in as continued legislative inaction on factory farm moratorium bills has left Iowans without legal protections to deal with the converging factory farm and water pollution crises in the state.

Animals confined in factory farms across Iowa are the leading cause of water pollution in the state. Industrial agriculture’s unchecked expansion has resulted in exploding numbers of factory farm operations — the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that an average of 500 factory farms are added to the state each year. At the same time, Iowa’s residents struggle with contaminated drinking water and rivers and streams that are unsafe for recreation.

40% of private wells in the state were found to be contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria, and over 200 of Iowa’s community water systems struggle to provide clean drinking water due to high nitrate levels. Given legislative inaction on bills to curb the development of factory farms known to drive this pollution, Food & Water Watch and Iowa CCI  call on the EPA for national intervention.

“For years, Iowa’s legislature has ignored the water pollution crisis we find ourselves in,” said Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit. “More interested in courting industry campaign donations than keeping our drinking water safe, our politicians have failed to use their power this session to curb factory farm expansion. We call on the EPA to act in their stead, and ramp up their inspections and enforcement efforts in our state.”

“Pollution from factory farms is impacting all Iowans — rural and urban, young and old, across race, gender and income status,” said Iowa CCI Organizer Abigail Landhuis. “It’s obvious that Governor Reynolds’ DNR is not interested in addressing our water crisis with urgency. We need the EPA to step in to take action and reduce the harms factory farms have on Iowa’s waterways.”  

The two groups are also pursuing a legal remedy for the factory farm and water pollution crises in Iowa. Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the State of Iowa for failing to protect the public use of the Raccoon River, elevating the river as a case study of the water pollution rampant throughout the state’s waterways. The case is currently with the Iowa Supreme Court.

FWW v. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Categories

Clean Water

The Clean Water Act is one of the United States’ most successful environmental laws, in large part because it requires permits that impose strict pollution limits on sources like factories and wastewater treatment plants. These permits are the cornerstone of the statute, but this success is now being threatened by a water pollution “trading” approach that allows polluters to purchase pollution credits in lieu of meeting their own permits’ discharge limits.

In Pennsylvania, the state has implemented trading on a large scale and is allowing facilities like Keystone Protein, a slaughterhouse, to avoid meeting pollution limits mandated by the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan and instead purchase credits. This approach lets major polluters off the hook, undermines transparency, and makes it all but impossible for citizens to enforce permit requirements – it is also illegal.

The Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulations say nothing about pollution trading because it is contrary to the very purpose and structure of the law. This has prevented citizens from challenging trading to date. But EPA has allowed states to move forward with trading despite the lack of express authority or any EPA rules. Food & Water Watch is leading a landmark case seeking to have water pollution trading declared illegal under the Clean Water Act and put an end to the practice. We are challenging the pollution trading provisions in Keystone Protein’s Clean Water Act permit, and our case was recently heard by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

We don’t shy away from the right fights. Donate today to fund critical work like this!

Our Amicus Brief for Jaqueline Taylor v. Detroit

Categories

Clean Water

In September of 2020, Food & Water Watch and For Love of Water (FLOW), through local counsel Constitutional Litigation Associates, P.C., filed a “friend of the court” brief in Jacqueline Taylor et al., v. City of Detroit et al.a groundbreaking lawsuit that seeks to prevent water shutoffs in Detroit until the city establishes a customer affordability program.

From our senior staff attorney, Zach Corrigan:

“We’re proud to join with local allies in support of the landmark lawsuit to challenge water shutoff policies in Detroit, and potentially across the nation. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, city policies kept Detroit residents from washing their hands, flushing their toilets and cleaning their homes. The policies have caused disastrous consequences for the predominantly Black and poor residents of Detroit. 

People have a liberty interest in bodily integrity that is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and this right includes not depriving people of the water that they need for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene. It simply makes no sense to say that the Constitution would protect people from gross governmental recklessness resulting in the mass contamination of people’s water with toxic lead, such as in the city of Flint, but not when officials turn a blind eye to the serious health problems in turning residents’ water off altogether.

People’s right not to be deprived of the water they need… is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of this nation. It is imbued in case law defining the duties applicable to water utilities and in other contexts, such as the treatment of prisoners. Courts have expressly and repeatedly recognized the importance of ensuring people are not deprived of the water necessary for life and health.”

Someone has to stand up for the people. A donation of any amount helps fund more fights like this!

Our Right To Clean, Affordable Water

Categories

Clean Water

Corporations are seeking to control and restrict our increasingly scarce and polluted water supplies. But we must treat water like the priceless resource it is — and as a human right.

Water is essential for life, but increasingly, it is viewed as a source of windfall profits. This is unacceptable. Access to clean water should not be based on who can pay the most.

Food & Water Watch opposes the commodification and privatization of water in all forms. We support managing water supplies as a public trust, improving our public water systems, and making water service safe and affordable for all.

A monthly donation helps us scale up the fight to keep corporations out of our public water supplies.

Supporting the WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

Making Things Happen On A National Level

Rather than letting corporations exploit our water problems for profit, we believe our federal government should provide the support our water systems need so that everyone in the United States can have access to locally managed, affordable, safe, and clean drinking water services. Our research supports this path forward

On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82% since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. 

That’s why we support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act.

This legislation will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to bridge the current water-funding gap by taxing offshore corporate profits in the year they are generated. If passed, the WATER Act will secure a significant portion of what we need to protect our drinking water and create up to 945,000 jobs. With many systems advancing in age (some more than 100 years old), we need this funding more than ever. We must renew our commitment to public water, and make sure everyone has access to affordable water service.

We Fight Locally, Too

In addition to fighting for important federal legislation to protect our water, we also organize people in towns across the country to fight back when a corporation is plotting a takeover of municipal water services.

For instance, in a stunning win for public water, voters in Edison, New Jersey voted 84 percent to 16 percent in favor of bringing their sewer system and part of their drinking water system under public control. This makes the town the third municipality in the country to effectively ban water privatization and the first to do so through a citizen-initiated referendum.

We must manage our water as a common resource, not a profit center, and we must provide tap water as public service, not a business.

Urge your members of Congress to support the WATER Act!

Ending Water Shutoffs

Categories

Clean Water

Too many people across the country can’t wash their hands because their water service is turned off. This endangers all of us, especially when the most widely endorsed strategy to prevent or manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) is to wash our hands frequently. 

Water must be turned on for everyone, right now, for the safety of the entire country. That’s why we’ve been pushing both Congress in their stimulus package and governors at the state level — demanding that they stop all water shutoffs and enact long-term solutions that will ensure our water systems are funded.

This emergency has proven one thing: Withholding water costs lives and it’s time our representatives stepped up to protect us.

Tell President Biden the water needs to stay on for everyone in our country!

Bottling Profits

Categories

Clean Water

Bottled water means massive corporate profits — and less support for our public water. Multinational corporations like Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola sell single-use plastic bottles – waste that ends up in landfills and ultimately, litters our oceans – for thousands of times what it costs to get that water from the tap. While they market bottled water as a beverage of convenience, it’s coming at the expense of our public water infrastructure — which has provided affordable and convenient access to water for over a hundred years.

We shouldn’t have to rely on corporations like Nestlé for this life-giving resource.

Water should be locally-managed by accountable authorities, like democratically-elected local governments. We oppose needlessly expensive bottled water in favor of affordable, safe tap water service.

Support the WATER Act to redirect our public funds toward protecting safe, affordable water for all.

Stopping The Privatization Of A Public Right

Categories

Clean Water

Corporate Control of Water Systems

Water corporations, like Veolia or Suez, are seeking to profit off of managing local systems that provide our drinking water and sewer services. Wall Street investors are working with these companies to take advantage of cash-strapped local governments and entice them into selling or leasing off their water assets.

But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water services to people, but that’s exactly what happens when private companies take over local systems.

Using Our Tax Dollars to Support Public Water Systems

Rather than letting corporations exploit our water problems for profit, we believe our federal government should provide the support our water systems need so that everyone in the United States can have access to locally-managed, affordable, safe and clean drinking water service. 

On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82% since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. 

That’s why we support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act.

This legislation will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to bridge the current water-funding gap by taxing offshore corporate profits in the year they are generated. If passed, the WATER Act will secure a significant portion of what we need to protect our drinking water and create up to 945,000 jobs. With many systems advancing in age (some more than 100 years old), we need this funding more than ever. We must renew our commitment to public water, and make sure everyone has access to affordable water service.

We must manage our water as a common resource, not a profit center, and we must provide tap water as public service, not a business.

The WATER Act is the key to a future where safe water is available to all of us. Sign on to show your support!