Tag: water privatization

Michigan Lawmakers Must Step Up on Behalf of Our Water

It is vital to assert the human right to water and prohibit private control and sale of water as a product

Jim Olson, FLOW Founder

Editor’s Note: Great Lakes Echo published an article in December 2021 titled, “Can a bottled water royalty help preserve the Great Lakes?” which highlighted the idea of applying a royalty on sales of water captured by private entities and sold on the market. FLOW founder Jim Olson offers his thoughts on the nature of water as part of the public trust and the necessity of retaining state sovereignty over all water.

By Jim Olson

In Michigan, water in its natural state, including groundwater, is held by the state as sovereign for the benefit of the people. Michigan’s 2008 groundwater withdrawal law declares that lakes, streams, and groundwater–indeed springs, seeps, and wetlands–are a singularly connected part of the water cycle. The removal of water from one arc of the water cycle affects the other, often substantially.

It’s time for all legislators regardless of political party to step up on behalf of all of us and protect our public water, the human right to water, and the prohibition of private control and sale of water as a product.

The 2008 law also declares waters of the state, including groundwater, are held in trust for the benefit of citizens, and so does the eight-state Great Lakes Compact, which also dates back to 2008. When the singular and connected nature of groundwater and surface water is scientifically understood, that the removal of groundwater is a removal of surface water that is otherwise replenished by the groundwater, courts regularly subject the withdrawal to public trust protections. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2021 Mississippi v. Tennessee ruling, reaffirmed its basic rule that groundwater, like all waters within the boundaries of a state, are subject to exclusive control and ownership of the state, except for navigational servitude and interests. 

The Michigan Supreme Court has recognized that groundwater is not owned by anyone, and to the extent that it is, it is the common property of the state as sovereign. So, too has our legislature declared that our lakes, streams, and groundwater are a single hydrological system and that these common waters are held in trust by the State as sovereign. Sovereign means people–that’s all of us here in Michigan.

The International Bottled Water Association is wrong. Water is not a product until a state authorizes the sale of water as a product. That hasn’t happened in Michigan. BlueTriton Brands, formerly Nestlé Waters North America, Inc., like other bottled water operators, gets permits to withdraw and use water, but the notion that use includes sale has never been addressed. Once it is, water, if allowed to be sold in bottles or other containers less than 5.7 gallons must be licensed. Any other sale of water must be prohibited and explicitly not authorized or subject to license. Otherwise, Wall Street hedge funds and commodities exchanges will move in, prices will skyrocket, and water necessary to our own people, farmers, farms, industries, recreational pursuits, and communities will be subject to private control. 

We sure don’t want water traded or marketed out of the Great Lakes or Michigan. If there’s a humanitarian need or crisis, a one-time transfer can be done by the state for a public, humanitarian purpose on behalf of its citizens. But it won’t be sold, and it won’t be a product.

It’s unconscionable that those in cities and villages in rural areas facing water shutoffs because of inability to pay for the unaffordable rising costs of infrastructure or the presence of lead or another health threat should be forced to buy and use bottled water, which is degrading.

Municipal drinking water services are public goods established for public use, not private sale. That’s why bottled water companies that tap public water supplies in Michigan must obtain a license. Otherwise they would take the water, jack up the price once in a bottle, and not share the gain from selling a public good with the rest of the community’s residents–that’s called a subsidy, and under Michigan law and constitution, it’s unlawful. 

It’s time for all legislators regardless of political party to step up on behalf of all of us and protect our public water, the human right to water, and the prohibition of private control and sale of water as a product. It’s unconscionable that those in cities and villages in rural areas facing water shutoffs because of inability to pay for the unaffordable rising costs of infrastructure or the presence of lead or another health threat should be forced to buy and use bottled water, which is degrading, and 100 to 1000 times more expensive than what people should be able to pay to a city or village for their public water service.

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.

Safeguarding and Reclaiming the Public Water Commons and a Human Right to Water and Health

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

Maude Barlow’s latest, “Whose Water Is It Anyway” is hot off the press

Photo courtesy Council of Canadians

By Jim Olson

It took me just a few hours to finish reading Maude Barlow’s incisive, inspiring new book, Whose Water Is It Anyway?: Taking Water Protection into Public Hands (ECW Press, 2019). This is not new territory for Maude.  She’s a world water policy guru and activist for the protection of the human right to water, the war against the schemes by the corporate elite to privatize and control water, and the fight to sustain water’s integrity in the watersheds where it flows. In 2002, she published Blue Gold with Tony Clark to go after global corporate thefts of water by taking over public water supplies or selling off public water in bottles. In 2007, she released Blue Covenant, enshrining the inherent obligation to assure the human right to water for people’s access to affordable safe water for all; and in 2015, she wrote Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, in which she not only championed the human right to water, but called on governments and people to recognize the duty to care for the water on which the right to water and all life depends.

Her new book, Whose Water Is It Anyway, a convenient pocket-sized paperback, tells the story behind her life’s work. It was ignited when in the 1980s she glimpsed the under-the table hand of a widespread corporate scheme to parade as champions of the free market that would provide water to meet the needs of people everywhere. The scheme was actually to control the world’s sources and delivery systems of water. Her new book combines her story and the stories of many others facing blows from the corporate world order that cut off drinking water, metered the wells of peasants, or robbed residents and watersheds of the flow of freshwater to convert water into bottles at publicly subsidized massive private gain.

She hits the highs and lows—the death of a young man in Bolivia over a corporate takeover of the water of the peasants of Cochabamba, the conversion by Nestlé and other bottled water companies of the right to use water into the right to sell water on the private market at exorbitant profits. Then she traces the global awareness and growing movement that in the past 30 years has spread throughout the world, and raised a shield against the private ownership and ironfisted clench on the world’s water taps. Her story could have ended in 2010, when her life’s work, and the work of water warriors around the world—including the Blue Planet Project, Council of Canadians, Food and Water Watch, and Uruguay’s National Commission for the Defense of Water—culminated a decade of dedicated work to finally see the United Nations enact resolutions in 2010 declaring the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.

It would have been enough for Maude to tell this story, in a digestible, accessible paperback, but that wasn’t enough. Everything she writes is about her life, the conflicts over water, and the many unsung heroes on the front lines, which highlight the water crisis we face through privatization and waste of our most precious commons. The work is not done, the awareness and movement should be as much a part of quality of life, health, and dignity, and life itself. No, it wasn’t enough to stop with the success, but to chart the next steps she sees as essential, ones that are already taking root across the world—Blue Communities.

The Blue Communities movement is a citizen, grassroots, local movement that shifts the understanding of the sustainability of a community, its quality of life and economy on three basic principles: 1. Water is a commons in which everyone has a human right for drinking, health, and safety; 2. Water, including local public water infrastructure, is public, and must forever remain a commons, preserved for present and generations to come—a commons held in public trust, as FLOW has envisioned and worked for over the past 10 years; and 3. that natural water sources—our streams and lakes and groundwater—shall not be privatized by ownership or control, and public water should not be taken for free as bottled water, or the private takeover and control of access to public water supplies and infrastructure. Each local city or local rural government in the Blue Communities program adopts a resolution centering itself and its future on sustaining water for life, water that is public, a commons, safe, and accessible, common and secure for all. Already, cities in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Great Britain, and the United States have turned to resolutions and specific actions to commit to the Blue Community principles. The World Council of Churches, representing 590 million Christians, has declared itself a Blue Community.

Maude’s book is a combination of big picture world water crisis, personal story, water policy, conflicts, and solution. Here is a short readable book, a book you can slip into your purse, backpack, or even suit coat pocket, to take with you into the city hall, the boardroom, the classroom, or statehouse. It’s a story that should be read by everyone who cares about liberty, dignity, harmony, and the common good of people and planet. Here’s an author who walks the walk and helps show us the way forward. For further information on Blue Communities, water commons, privatization, and the public trust doctrine, visit The Council of Canadians or FLOW’s OUR20 Communities page.

FLOW Response to Hurricane Harvey NEWS

Bottled water

Stop All Disaster-Schemers from Ripping Off Our Public Water for Selfish Profits

Jim Olson

Here’s the ugly future of water if we don’t protect it as something public and held in public trust for the benefit of citizens. Water is a commons, meant to be used by landowners, homeowners, and citizens who have a right to access for drinking water. Water can be priced based on cost as a nonprofit cost-based public or municipal operation, but not as a private commodity.

We must resist all efforts to privatize water, or we will lose liberty, property, democracy, and life itself. Water is becoming scarcer, or wildly out of control, causing flooding like hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, and mudslides killing thousands around the world with increasing frequency during the past decade.

The faces and devastation of people in Houston, Texas, and Louisiana will be the faces of all of us everywhere. We saw it in Detroit during massive shut-offs of water to those who cannot afford it. We saw it in Flint from shut-offs of taps because of lead and other toxins in the water supply. We must protect and insist that water throughout the water cycle – water vapor or streams in the air, precipitation, run off, percolating groundwater, wetlands, springs, streams, lakes, big rivers, oceans, evaporation – is first and foremost public and subject to a duty to protect it from abuse, waste, and private gain by those who want to confiscate it for themselves to profit off the backs of all of us: individuals, communities, and the earth itself.


Hurricane Harvey Rainfall Compared to Great Lakes Water Levels

Nayt Boyt

Hurricane Harvey, which has resided in Texas for an entire week, has provided the region with record-breaking amounts of rain. Houston has received more rain from this storm alone than from their total annual allotment.

To put that amount of rain in context, consider this MLive article written by Mark Torregrossa, comparing the amounts to our massive Great Lakes. Current estimates of rainfall from Hurricane Harvey hover around 19 trillion gallons, which is enough water to raise the entire Great Lakes nearly a full foot. The Great Lakes holds 20% of the world’s fresh surface water, and raising the water levels even one inch takes substantial amounts of rainfall.

The balance of water is crucial for everyone. As the devastation continues, our hearts reach out to all of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. 


 

Osceola County Site Visit –  Stealing Michigan’s Invisible Resource

 

This article is a follow-up to my January post on “Groundwater – Invisible but Precious.”

On a recent bike tour in northern Michigan, I decided to put Evart on the itinerary and stop by the area where Nestle Waters North America is hoping to increase their taking of Michigan groundwater. Nestle would like to increase the flow in their existing production well (PW-1) from 250 gallons per minute (gpm) to 400 gpm, and send the water to their water bottling plant in Mecosta County. This flow would total over 500,000 gallons per day, or 210 million gallons per year. Nestle’s cost to take this water - a $200 permit fee. This production well is located in a hydrologically sensitive area of springs and between the upper reaches of Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek.

Before my visit, I had already reviewed information provided by Nestle: topographic maps, soil borings, historical stream flow and groundwater level data, an aquifer test performed on the production well, and the predictions from a groundwater computer model their consultants produced. Hydrologists rely on this type of data and models to analyze watersheds and look at “what if” scenarios. A site visit fills in some of the gaps and details that you can’t see on a sheet of paper or on your computer screen.

This area just north of the small village of Evart is beautiful - rolling and wooded. The land is private, and mostly occupied by hunt clubs and the Spring Hill Camp. The travel was slow for me on my bike because the roads were soft gravel and hilly. A loaded touring bike (and owner) prefer flat and paved. I was able to only see the creeks where they crossed the roads, but I was able to get some sense of the hydrology and topography.

Bike touring provides lots of time to think, and my concerns with this taking of Michigan groundwater rolled around in my brain. Two primary concerns are as follows:

  1. Nestle has been pumping groundwater from this production well for over a decade and gathering data. It is unusual but very beneficial to have all of this historical data. Unfortunately, Nestle did not use the data to analyze the effects of the historic pumping on the small streams and springs near their production well PW-1, nor did they share all of the data with the public. They only used the data to develop a computer model that was then utilized to predict the impacts of an increased flow from PW-1. Computer models are far from perfect. FLOW hired its own hydrologist to review Nestle’s reports, and has pointed to several concerns and unsupported assumptions in Nestle’s work.
  2. The production well is located where it is so that Nestle can label the water “Spring Water.” Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements in fact state that “Spring water shall be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring.” (See excerpts from FDA regulations in Attachment 1). The difference between taking a few gpm of groundwater flowing out of a spring, and pumping hundreds of gpm from a bore hole is significant and will likely always impact the small springs and streams nearby. If a large production well is installed, one is simply drawing in groundwater from the area and the production well can be located out of the sensitive headwater areas of the watershed. For example, the City of Evart community wells are located only a few miles away from PW-1, along the Muskegon River, and are pumping virtually the same water from the same unconfined aquifer. But the potential impacts are much different – the average flow in the Muskegon river is 450,000 gpm, whereas the average flow from a gauge on Twin Creek close to PW-1 is 780 gpm. When a pumped well removes 400 gpm from an unconfined aquifer, the result is a taking of 400 gpm from the springs and streams nearby. The impact is obvious.

So whether you enjoy bottled water or not (I don’t buy it), it is clear to me that Nestle is taking too much of Michigan’s groundwater, in a precarious and sensitive location, for too small a fee. On this bike trip, I travelled along the Muskegon River from Paris to Hersey to Evart to where it crosses Highway M-61 west of Harrison. It is a big, beautiful river, from a big, beautiful watershed that drains a large chunk of Michigan. Groundwater taken close to the Muskegon River minimizes the impact to the watershed, and gets rid of the uncertainty of the computer models. This water could not be labeled Spring Water, but that may be a compromise that the citizens of Michigan would be willing to accept.

 


Bob Otwell has been a member of the FLOW board since 2013. He is the founder of Otwell Mawby PC, a Traverse City environmental consulting firm. He has degrees in Civil Engineering and has experience in groundwater and surface water hydrology, along with environmental studies and clean-up. Bob did a career switch and was the executive director of TART Trails from 2001 to 2010.

FDA Regulation Excerpts