Tag: Great Lakes Basin

Securing Public Ownership of Our Water as a Human Right, Public Trust, and Defense against Privatization

By Liz Kirkwood

Water is life. It is the resource that not only keeps us alive, but also powers everything we do on this small blue planet. Living here in the Great Lakes, we are stewards of some 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water. It is an enormous gift and an enormous responsibility, particularly in the face of the global water crisis

Water access and equity issues are striking the poorest communities the hardest, leaving 2.2 billion people worldwide without access to water and 4.2 billion people without sanitation. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.  

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood

Water insecurity and climate change, in turn, are fueling the increased economic value of water supplies, an alarming interest in the financialization and commodification of water, and accelerated privatization of public water infrastructure. 

For the first time ever, in December 2020, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) listed California water futures as an investment to be bought and sold like grain or oil. In 2021, a private equity hedge fund called Blue Triton purchased all of Nestlé’s U.S. water bottling operations except Perrier. These and other privatization efforts degrade the singular importance of water, risk what is essential to all life on this planet, and exacerbate growing global and regional inequities between rich and poor to access potable water supplies. 

To counter this privatization trend, the UN’s recent report titled, Risks and impacts of the commodification and financialization of water on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, recommended “that States take urgent legal measures to prevent water, as a public good, from being managed in the futures markets as a financial asset under the speculative logic that presides over these markets, thereby avoiding the risks of price volatility and speculative bubbles that threaten the human rights to drinking water and sanitation of those living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems and the most vulnerable economies.” 

States and communities can accomplish this by resolutions, declarations, statutes and laws, or constitutional enactments or current ones, properly interpreted so that water remains in the public domain protected by public trust and commons principles.

In June 2021, the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) unanimously approved a resolution affirming water as a human right and expressing concern about the trend toward treating water as a commodity. The resolution also affirms that “the water of the Great Lakes … shall remain in the public trust for the people of the Great Lakes region.” Read FLOW’s coverage here.

This resolution promises to be a milestone in the looming controversy over the creation of water futures markets and to establish clear principles to guide public policy and investments in water system infrastructure priorities in communities across the Great Lakes Basin. The issue of ownership and sale of Great Lakes water is not on the horizon; it is already here at our doorstep.

FLOW seeks to promote and extend this affirmation in Michigan communities and others across the Great Lakes watershed. Traverse City, whose City Commission will consider the resolution at 7 p.m. on December 6,  has a unique opportunity and responsibility to join this movement to assure public ownership of water. The opportunity lies in securing newly available federal funding to beef up our public water infrastructure and to ensure clean drinking water, eliminate sewage overflows, protect shoreline and prevent beach closures as a result of E. coli contamination and other contaminants. The responsibility lies in demonstrating stewardship by avoiding the trap into which other communities have fallen by privatizing ownership of water services. This has led to dramatically higher water rates for customers and deteriorating maintenance of infrastructure. Keeping water public provides avenues for accountability and keeps decisions in our hands as residents and voters.

Now is the time to clearly articulate our community values and principles around protecting our water as a public commons as  we prepare to make long-term water infrastructure investments and build climate resilience in communities across the Great Lakes. 

Please Support Keeping Water Public in Traverse City
The Traverse City Commission will hold its regular meeting at 7 p.m. ET on Mon., December 6, 2021, at the Governmental Center, 400 Boardman Avenue, Traverse City, Mich.
New business on the agenda includes this resolution being advanced by FLOW: A Resolution Proclaiming Water and Sanitation as Basic Human Rights, and that Water Shall Remain in the Public Trust. Please plan to attend or, if you cannot, watch the livestream.