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2016’s Vital Issues We Must Face: (#2) WATER

(You can read about Vital Issue No. 1 here.)

As you listen to candidates for 2016, make them face and discuss solutions for our nation and globe’s vital issues…as you seek solutions yourself. Here’s a look at vital issue No. 2:

(2) Water

Humans are made up of 65 percent water. The number of humans on earth is increasing, now at 7.2 billion, and projected to grow.

The earth’s fresh water is decreasing. The world’s aquifers are being diminished faster than nature can refill them.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday, June 16:

The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

The earth’s water is 97 percent ocean, salt water. China is looking at investing as much as $31 billion in desalination. America has invested $1 trillion in foreign military invasions but trails in desalination efforts. That needs to change.

water-shortages-in-middle-east-could-mean-further-oil-hikes_223We’ve seen well-publicized in the U.S. the growing water problems in the West, especially drought in California — the major national food supplier — and Texas, and the draining of the Colorado River which supplies water to seven U.S. states.

The Washington Post story includes a map showing that the most distressed aquifers are in California, and in the nation’s Southeast ranging from Florida and stretching northeast to the Carolinas and west to Texas.

But the rest of the nation also is waking to the potential of water problems. In late May, Peter Mulvaney, senior principal at West Monroe Partners, a water and energy utility consultant, spoke to a group of Great Lakes residents. He explained how the Great Lakes contain 95 percent of the nation’s usable fresh water, and must be protected from pollutants and invasive species. Speaking to the Lake Michigan residents particularly of their lake, he noted:

This is a glacial deposit. This is a one-time gift. Investing in these resources and investing in policies to protect them is absolutely critical.

Privatizing Our Water

While fresh water is decreasing and population increasing, an effort is also rising to privatize the world’s water. Nestlé is at the forefront of this effort.

Nestlé, the Swiss multinational nutritional, snack food, and health-related consumer goods company, is the world’s largest food company via revenues. Its bottle water division, Nestlé Waters, produces and distributes 64 brands including Aquarel, Arrowhead Water, Contrex, Deer Park Spring Water, Ice Mountain, Nestlé Pure Life, Ozarka, Perrier, Poland Spring, and San Pellegrino.

As just one example of its efforts to capture public water for private profit, Nestlé Waters North America worked to finalize an exclusive 45-year contract with the water company for Fryeburg, Maine (pop. 3,449), which sits on the Saco River. Under the contract, Nestle would pay $240,000 a year to annually draw a minimum of 75 million gallons in water for private bottling and distribution.

Greatly disturbing is the attitude of Nestlé leadership toward privatizing water. In recent years, a video interview with Nestlé’s chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has emerged. In it, he says water supply is “not a human right,” and water should be “valued” through privatization. In other words, don’t drink it unless you can pay a private corporation for it. His stance raised a public controversy, leading him to step back, saying water for hygiene and drinking is a basic right. But one wonders if that’s not a public-relations position rather than an honest philosophy.

Nestlé also ran into public scrutiny in 2014 for drawing water from drought-stricken California, as Salon described here.

Yes, even public water utilities charge for water consumption, but the rates are subject to public hearing and political pressures. That seems less of a possibility with privatization, no matter the political rhetoric that surrounds it.

You can see the video interview with Brabeck-Letmathe here.


Cities in economic trouble also will stop providing water to citizens, primarily the poor who can’t pay. Detroit is an example. The city, which had declared bankruptcy and began a process of austerity, in June 2014 began cutting off water and sewer to 3,000 customers a week who had more than $150 in unpaid water bills.

Noted the Los Angeles Times in a June 28, 2014 article:

In May, the water department sent out 46,000 warnings and cut off service to 4,531. The city says that cutting off water is the only way to get people to pay their bills as Detroit tries to emerge from bankruptcy — the utility is currently owed $90 million from customers, and nearly half the city’s 300,000 or so accounts are past due.

But cutting off water to people already living in poverty came under criticism last week from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose experts said that Detroit was violating international standards by cutting off access to water. “When there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections,” Catarina de Albuquerque, the office’s expert on the human right to water and sanitation, said in the communique.

Your Right to Water

think globally act locallyThe U.N. can provide an international voice for the human’s right to water, but forcing corporations and even public utilities to care for the human condition will require countries passing laws and their courts responding to laws and human rights.

In May, France’s Constitutional Court set a landmark all nation’s should use to assure the human right to water. The court ruled it illegal to cut off water to people who couldn’t pay for it.

The right to water has been a major legal issue in South Africa and India. South Africa even has the right written into its constitution. For more information on the human right to water, read this and specifically in the U.S. read this.

Water as War Weapon

These efforts at privatization and austerity are essentially weapons of war on the public’s right to water. But water is also being used as a weapon in violent wars around the globe. We wrote for The Clyde Fitch Report in July 2014 about “Water as a Weapon of Bloody and Financial War”. We introduced the column with this concern:

Continuing reports are showing us a growing, deadly trend in human-rights abuse. From Ukraine, to Syria and Iraq, to Egypt, to even Detroit, the denial of our most precious resource—water—can prove either an immediate deadly tool or a time bomb set to ignite conflict.

What can you as voters do about all this? Basically, you’ll need to read and think globally about solutions, and act locally. That means communicating with your U.S. senators and Congressmember on worldwide and national issues, and with your governor and state legislators, as well as your local elected and administrative officials.


The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in April, together with the World Water Council,  released a paper called “Towards a Water and Food Secure Future”. In a release announcing the report, the FAO said:

In 2050 there will be enough water to help produce the food needed to feed a global population expected to top nine billion, but overconsumption, degradation and the impact of climate change will reduce water supplies in many regions, especially developing countries…

Towards a Water and Food Secure Future calls for government policies and investments by the public and private sectors to ensure that crops, livestock and fish are sustainably produced in ways also aimed at safeguarding water resources.

Such actions are essential in order to reduce poverty, increase incomes and ensure food security for many people living in rural and urban areas…

Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council, stressed:

Food and water security are inextricably linked. We believe that by developing local approaches and making the right investments, world leaders can ensure that there will be sufficient water volume, quality and access to meet food security in 2050 and beyond.

You’ll have to get organized, educated and active to force your officials to take action in “developing local approaches and making the right investments”. And you’ll have to challenge candidates running for federal, state and local offices to face the issues, too. It’s your and your children’s water, and your future.

Roger Armbrust

Roger Armbrust's articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He formerly served as national news editor of Back Stage in New York City, where he also taught a professional writing course at New York University. His recent book of sonnets -- oh, touch me there: Love Sonnets -- is available from Amazon and other book sites. He is an associate curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. He is also co-founder and co-curator of reality: a world of views.

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1 Response

  1. May 16, 2016

    […] such positive, cooperative generalities becoming reality. We’ve written often of problems with global water supply, including “Water as a Weapon of Bloody and Financial War”. We don’t see that going […]

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