Corporations Badmouth Public Water

aren't looking pretty for drinking water these days. Recent articles
from TheNew York Times and the Associated Press have
exposed unchecked pollution, grave gaps in oversight, decaying
infrastructure, and concerns about emerging contaminants.

aren't looking pretty for drinking water these days. Recent articles
from TheNew York Times and the Associated Press have
exposed unchecked pollution, grave gaps in oversight, decaying
infrastructure, and concerns about emerging contaminants.

Yet one
voice sees the decay of our water infrastructure through a rose-colored
glass. "We're bullish on water in the next 10 years," said Nestle Waters
North America CEO Kim Jeffery, on a recent call for analysts. How
exactly can he say this, given recent reports?

The Clean
Water Act was passed in the 1970s in response to widespread public
concern about high levels of water pollution. Images of the Cuyahoga
River in Ohio burning or the dredging of Boston Harbor still linger as a
reminder of how bad things had become. There has been much progress in
the 40 years since, but there are still problems and a long way to go.

At the
root of these problems lies the question, "for whom?" For whom are our
country's waters intended first and foremost? Surely our founding
fathers' design was not to have a set of private polluters and users
control it as they please.

many of the problems facing our water resources and systems lies
corporate control of water. Big corporations often have priority access
to water, which they then overuse, abuse or appropriate to benefit their
bottom line without regard for the costs to the public. Sometimes the
impact is direct-Massey dumping coal slurry into streams in West
Virginia, or General Electric's legacy of PCB contamination in the
Hudson River. In other cases, it is indirect--pesticides and fertilizers
may be applied by farmers, but the agribusiness and chemical
corporations that produce them profit handsomely from encouraging their
overuse, while the impacts flow downstream.

When this
is what the upstream impact of corporate control looks like, why would
we look to yet another private corporation to make things right?

Jeffery said that, "we believe tap infrastructure in the U.S. will
continue to decline. People will turn to filtration and bottled water
for pure water needs." The bottled water industry isn't just seizing an
opportunity- it is banking on the decline of our water infrastructure as
key to their successful business model. Nestle is actually helping to
further this decline. Jeffery boasts that, "our company is the only one
out there driving the consumption of bottled water in America and the
need to consume bottled water in America."

Well, how
does one do that, if not by disparaging the alternative-the tap? And
what public, disheartened by accusations against the tap, would advocate
for renewed investment in public water? (Ironically, Nestle's Pure Life
brand is bottled tap water and bottled water in general is less
regulated than the tap.)

Nevertheless, Nestle might argue, "isn't a business model based on
bypassing or cleaning up other corporation's messes an illustration of
the 'magic' of market forces?" The reality is this 'magic' means those
who can pay, will, and those who cannot, will go thirsty.

pollution increases and clean water becomes scarce, the expensive
treatments required will make providing it more expensive. As rates
increase, wealthy users of water--well-to-do gated communities,
industrial users or big agribusiness firms--will pay what they need to
pay. For the rest, there will either be derelict tap water or bottled
water at prices much higher than what most of us currently pay.

Relying on
corporations to provide solutions to our drinking water challenges
doesn't solve the problem because it relies on the same
principle--corporate control--that created many of the problems in the
first place. There are other ways. Federal spending on our water
systems is at historic lows. We can invest the money needed to
rehabilitate them; an investment which would help pay for itself and
then some by creating local jobs and promoting further economic

We must
reaffirm our nation's commitment to first provide clean, affordable
drinking water for all, and ensure that our water systems and resources
are democratically controlled for the public good. Because as Nestle's
Jeffery aptly points out, "the only question [now] is who gets what
share of water." It's our choice.

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