California took on energy crisis, now it faces water crisis

Lester Snow, San Francisco Chronicle
Once a week, a truck brings drinking water to the small town of Bodega, just west of Santa Rosa. Without this delivery, the Bodega Water Company could not meet the needs of the town’s 150 residents who normally rely on well water. The company expects to step up the trucked-in deliveries to twice a week and then daily as the state’s drought worsens and groundwater supplies dwindle.

Bodega’s water shortage is just one example of how serious the state’s water problems have become. While not every community in California is suffering like Bodega, many are facing serious water shortages. East Bay residents have already been asked to cut back their residential water use by 19 percent. In fact, 18 communities across the state have implemented some form of mandatory water rationing. Many other water agencies have asked customers to comply with voluntary conservation programs, have implemented price changes to make conservation a financially appealing choice, or have placed restrictions on water deliveries.

Public water agencies are only receiving 35 percent of their annual allocation of water from the State Water Project this year – the lowest level since the severe 1991 drought. In the coming year, deliveries will likely be even less.

California is looking down the barrel of a potentially severe, long-term drought. We’ve had two extremely dry years and initial forecasts from the National Weather Service are that the drought conditions will continue into next year…
(29 September 2008)

FLOW: The Film that Will Change the Way You Think About Water

Tara Lohan, AlterNet
Can anyone really own water? That was the questions that got French filmmaker Irena Salina inspired to take on a mammoth project — chronicling the global water crisis and solutions — from privatization to politics to pollution.

Her creation, the award-winning film “FLOW: For Love of Water,” was a Sundance hit and now is making its theatrical debut in theaters across the country. Her film includes interviews with some of the world’s leading activists, scientists and policy makers. But it also looks at how everyday people are affected around the world — from the United States to South Africa to India and the growing network of grassroots activists that are coming together.

While the film is alarming, it is also empowering.

As a review in the New York Times said, “Irena Salina’s astonishingly wide-ranging film is less depressing than galvanizing, an informed and heartfelt examination of the tug of war between public health and private interests. From the dubious quality of our tap water (possibly laced with rocket fuel) to the terrifyingly unpoliced contents of bottled brands (one company pumped from the vicinity of a Superfund site), the movie ruthlessly dismantles our assumptions about water safety and government oversight.”…
Tara Lohan is one of the editors of a book called Water Consciousness
(27 September 2008)

The New Corporate Threat to Our Water Supplies

Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Tom Dispatch
In the last few years, the world’s largest financial institutions and pension funds, from Goldman Sachs to Australia’s Macquarie Bank, have figured out that old, trustworthy utilities and infrastructure could become reliable cash cows — supporting the financial system’s speculative junk derivatives with the real concrete of highways, water utilities, airports, harbors, and transit systems.

The spiraling collapse of the financial system may only intensify the quest for private investments in what is now the public sector. This flipping of public assets could be the next big phase of privatization, and it could happen even under an Obama administration, as local and state governments, starved during Bush’s two terms in office, look to bail out on public assets, employees, and responsibilities. The Republican record of neglect of basic infrastructure reads like a police blotter: levees in New Orleans, a major bridge in Minneapolis, a collapsing power grid, bursting water mains, and outdated sewage treatment plants.

Billions in private assets are now parked in “infrastructure funds” waiting for the crisis to mature and the right public assets to buy on the cheap. The first harbingers of a potential fire sale are already on the horizon. The City of Chicago has leased its major highway and Indiana its toll road. Private companies are managing major ports and bidding for control of local water systems across the country. Government jobs are also up for sale. For the first time in American history, the federal government employs more contract workers than regular employees.

This radical shift to the private sector could become one of history’s largest transfers of ownership, control, and wealth from the public trust to the private till. But more is at stake. The concept of democracy itself is being challenged by multinational corporations that see Americans not as citizens, but as customers, and government not as something of, by, and for the people, but as a market to be entered for profit…
This essay is an adaptation of an essay in the above mentioned book, Water Consciousness
(25 September 2008)

Bottled Water at Issue in Great Lakes

Kari Lydersen, The Washington Post
Even as a 10-year campaign to block wholesale export of Great Lakes water came to a successful conclusion in Congress last week, some legislators and environmentalists vowed to continue their fight to close a “bottled-water loophole,” a campaign that taps into a national debate over sales of H2O in disposable containers.

A provision of the Great Lakes Compact allows water to be diverted from the basin if it is in containers holding less than 5.7 gallons. The question is whether bottling water from the aquifers that feed the lakes, the largest repository of fresh water on Earth, should be seen as ordinary human consumption, commercial production, or export of a treasured natural resource.

In August, Nestle Waters North America was granted permits for a new well and pipeline at its Ice Mountain facility in Mecosta County, Mich., where it bottles 700,000 gallons a day. Nestle also recently renewed permits for its plant in Guelph, Ontario. Both have sparked vocal opposition from those who say the industry is privatizing a public good and harming the environment…
(29 September 2008)