Archive for Water
City leaders and a group of organizers here have been fighting state efforts to take over our city’s water system for several years. City of Asheville v State of North Carolina, et al. goes before the state Supreme Court next month. The originator of the bill (an ALEC board member before he lost his state House seat) insisted transferring control to a regional authority was not the first step towards privatization. You know, we just didn’t believe him. The water situation in Flint, Michigan is sure to come up in oral arguments on May 17.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) of Milwaukee is the Ranking Member of the Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee that oversees U.S. relations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. She is not too keen on water privatization either. Privatization opponents in Wisconsin recently fought off an effort led by Aqua America Inc. to privatize water there:
The legislation would legalize purchases of water utilities by out-of-state corporations and change existing law to make public referendums on such purchases optional instead of mandatory.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has even more legal trouble coming his way:
A federal racketeering lawsuit by hundreds of resident in Flint, Michigan, is alleging the city’s two-year water crisis was the result of an“intentional scheme” crafted by state officials and Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, to balance the city’s budget.
In a press conference announcing the 17-count racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations (Rico) complaint on Wednesday, attorneys said the state of Michigan ran Flint’s day-to-day operations through an emergency manager, who prioritized balancing the city’s budget through a cost-cutting measure: switching Flint’s water source in April 2014 from Lake Huron, which serviced the city for more than 50 years, to a local river.
With adults and children essentially poisoned by lead, a neurotoxin, the damages could go on “for generations,” said attorneys about the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Flint.
The sooner America legalizes marijuana and collectively lights one up, the better. At the risk of sounding as if I did at this early hour, let’s look at the some of the lunatics running the asylum.
It is an article of the one, true, conservative faith that government must be run “like a business.” NC Gov. Pat McCrory and the state of North Carolina have a state Supreme Court date in May to settle whether an ALEC-inspired legislature can abscond with a city’s water system and turn it over to a regional authority — the first step, some believe, on the road to privatizing the public water supply’s operation and/or ownership. The experience of Flint, Michigan is sure to come up. So how’d that work out for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder? A former adviser explains (emphasis mine):
Dennis Schornack, who retired after serving more than three years as a senior adviser on transportation issues to Snyder during his first term, is the first current or former Snyder official to directly criticize the governor and his management style for contributing to the public health crisis.
Schornack said he still believes Snyder is an intelligent leader and “basically a good guy.” But, he said, decisions about Flint’s drinking water should have been dictated by science instead of finances and the bottom line.
WASHINGTON — Government officials tangled on Wednesday over who was to blame for the crisis in Flint, Michigan, that allowed lead-contaminated water to flow to thousands of residents at a combative congressional hearing that devolved into a partisan fight over witnesses and no-shows.
“A failure of epic proportions,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at the first Capitol Hill hearing since the crisis in Flint emerged last year.
Flint’s former state-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, was a no show. He refused a federal subpoena claiming there was too short a notice for him to appear in Washington. The Detroit Free Press reports:
The United States used to be the subject of Michael Moore documentaries. Now we are living in one. Moore was in his home town of Flint, Michigan yesterday to protest the contamination of the city’s water with lead:
FLINT, MI — Filmmaker Michael Moore accused Gov. Rick Snyder of poisoning Flint water in a rally here today, Jan. 16, and called again for the U.S. attorney general to investigate the governor for what he called crimes against the city.
“I am standing in the middle of a crime scene …,” Moore said. “Ten people have been killed … because of a decision to save money.”
Yesterday, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing federal dollars to help “save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Genesee County.”
There is a long backstory to this situation. Wouldn’t you know, as Moore said, it involves the Midas Cult and money.
“A manmade catastrophe”
Today, Earth Day 2015, President Obama visits Everglades National Park to talk about climate change and the threat it poses to the water ecology of south Florida. On the first Earth Day in 1970, few Americans had even heard of ecology.
NPR’s Melissa Block spoke with Evelyn Gaiser, an ecologist with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, about saltwater incursion into the Everglades. She’ll be reminding the president the Everglades is not just home to birds, snakes, and alligators:
BLOCK: And along with preserving biodiversity, preserving wild space and habitat, of course also you’re seeing a real threat to drinking water with what’s going on in the Everglades, right?
GAISER: That’s exactly right. So the people of Florida depend on that aquifer underneath the Everglades for their drinking water. And as we have insufficient freshwater moving into the Everglades, we see a depletion in the freshwater resources available to the growing population of South Florida.
On the Pacific coast, Californians struggle with an epic drought and reservoirs have all but dried up.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which typically supplies nearly a third of California’s water, is showing the lowest water content on record: 6 percent of the long-term average for April 1. That doesn’t just set a new record, it shatters the old low-water mark of 25 percent, which happens to have been last year’s reading (tied with 1977).
Things are so bad that Governor Jerry Brown decided to slog into the field for the manual snow survey on Wednesday morning. He didn’t need snowshoes but he did bring along a first-ever executive order mandating statewide water reductions.
“We’re in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action,” he told reporters who made it to the Sierra survey site off of Highway 50.
In the Central Valley, farmers would drill wells if they could stand the two-year wait, the half-million dollar cost, and if there was any point. California celebrates its gold rush history in the appellation, the 49ers. I’m wondering if the 6-Percenters might have a future in California lore.
We seem to have created a political environment in which for some reason our communities can no longer afford to maintain public infrastructure. Oh, right. That requires taxes. (That’s 5 letters. Hmmm, I was sure it was a four-letter word.)
Now that We the People have seen fit to ensure we no longer have the revenue to do on a not-for-profit basis the things a Great People once did to create a Great Nation, companies that lobbied long and hard to reduce their taxes (and public revenues) are stepping up, eager to do them for us. For a profit. Go figure.
One of the first public properties that goes into the carts at the Chop ‘N Shop is water. Right now, Portland is fighting to retain control of its water system:
A simmering water war is about to come to a boil over the fate of historic, well-loved public reservoirs in Portland, Oregon. At the heart of the controversy is a breakdown in public trust that reflects the dangers of corporate-led water privatization schemesin the United States and around the world.
A 2006 EPA ruling (called LT2) to protect systems against Cryptosporidium precipitated the fight over modifications to reservoirs on the National Register of Historic Places.
At Truthout, Victoria Collier details alleged cronyism in the water project involving contracts with CH2M Hill. (Full disclosure: I did some engineering for them on a factory some years back.) Furthermore, it seems the firm is involved in a coordinated effort to privatize infrastructure on the west coast (emphasis mine):
The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX)was launched collaboratively by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and CH2M Hill, though the corporation has since recused itself from an official partnership position.
Now comprised of governors and state officials from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the WCX is quietly developing a regional “public-private partnership” (PPP) model to fast-track private financing and development of infrastructure – everything from schools, bridges and highways to energy, waste and fresh water systems.
Citing the crippled tax base of so many US states, the WCX notes with regret that crumbling public infrastructure and future development needs can no longer be met by the public sector.
You bet your assets, they regret it. That “crippled tax base” just happened, of course. It just happened to coincide with the interests of international corporations that want to get their hands on public infrastructure across the planet. They want to buy it for a song from tax-starved cities and then sell it right back at a profit. It makes the payday loan industry look benign. As I observed:
Privatizing water supplies is a growth industry. Whether it’s American Water, Aqua America, Suez, Veolia Water, or Nestle, private water companies are competing to lock up water resources and public water systems. If not for you, for the fracking industry. As with charter schools and vouchers in public education, public-private partnerships are one of business’ favorite tactics for getting this particular camel’s nose under the tent.
This is a theme you see repeated with P3s across the country from Michigan south to Georgia and west to California as corporations lobby hard to gain control of public utilities and infrastructure. From schools to prisons to water and sewer. We have already discussed how that is working out for highways.
When Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder placed Detroit under receivership and appointed Kevyn Orr in March 2013 as emergency manager – effectively negating citizen control of their own city government – the first items considered for privatizing were the water and sewer systems. (Receivership ended in December 2014.)
When the GOP took control of North Carolina’s legislature in 2011, removing airports and water systems from control of the cities was top of the ALEC agenda. Where cities have fought the state takeovers in court, judges have sided with the cities.
But that’s just Round One. Because for the GOP, privatization is a twofer: it lines their corporate donors’ pockets and it weakens cities where the remaining large blocks of blue votes are. It’s the next phase of Defund the Left.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Just because Rep. Tim Moffitt lost his reelection bid doesn’t mean the fight over Asheville’s water system is over. And guess what? There’s still time for more mischief before January.
The case is still in the courts. So stay tuned.
But as some of us have observed, the push to wrest control of water from cities is not a local phenomenon. Others without any connection to the Sullivan Acts are having the same fights around the country. Detroit, for example. Some, like St. Louis, are winning:
A new report from Corporate Accountability International, “Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water,” addresses the privatization juggernaut to describe how some cities have dealt with corporate pressure, especially since some of it is predicated on the needs of U.S. water systems for as much as $4.8 trillion in investment in the next 20 years, as private companies, such as the French multinational Veolia Water North America, hinting that privatization would help create the needed capitalization.
The report describes elements of Veolia’s strategy in St. Louis. One example is their offer of consulting services (through Veolia’s Peer Performance Solutions) that would cut public water system costs, but in reality would be a foot in the door toward privatization. After years of pitching, Veolia got the city, including Mayor Francis Slay, to approve a Peer Performance Solutions contract with Veolia, but community activists and nonprofits challenged the idea. Activists formed the St. Louis Dump Veolia coalition to oppose the contract. The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center did its own analysis of the proposed contract, finding that the “contract will have the effect of privatizing the city’s Water Division, and will make city residents captive to Veolia.” According to the Corporate Accountability International report author, Emanuele Lobina, the terms of the Veolia contract would make Veolia “the private owner of all ideas for improving the St. Louis Water Division.”
Ultimately, Veolia failed. withdrew. Perhaps because 33 U.S. cities that went down the privatization path have already “re-municipalized” their water systems. Sometimes the glossy sales pitch is the only thing that shines about these deals.
Fracking continues to gain in unpopularity. During the recent election, candidates and campaigners told me one sure way to flip voters from the opposition — especially rural voters — was to inform them the Republican supported fracking.
There’s trouble at t’drill in Bakersfield, CA. “Errors were made.” (video at KNTV link):
State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation.
Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.
Nah. Never happen where you live, right?
“This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” said fourth- generation Kern County almond grower Tom Frantz, who lives down the road from several of the injection wells in question.
According to state records, as many as 40 water supply wells, including domestic drinking wells, are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers.
Kern County community organizer Juan Flores told reporters, “No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well. The people are worried. They’re scared.”
But there’s nothing to see here, little people:
The trade association that represents many of California’s oil and gas companies says the water-injection is a “paperwork issue.” In a statement issued to NBC Bay Area, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said “there has never been a bona vide claim or evidence presented that the paperwork confusion resulted in any contamination of drinking supplies near the disputed injection wells.”
However, state officials tested 8 water supply wells within a one-mile radius of some of those wells.
Four water samples came back with higher than allowable levels of nitrate, arsenic, and thallium.
Those same chemicals are used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process and can be found in oil recovery waste-water.
“We are still comparing the testing of what was the injection water to what is the tested water that came out of these wells to find out if they were background levels or whether that’s the result of oil and gas operation, but so far it’s looking like it’s background,” said James Marshall from the California Department of Conservation.
Marshall acknowledged that those chemicals could have come from oil extraction, and not necessarily wastewater disposal.
I know, right? What a relief.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)