Basic Position: Water is a collective, community resource. Our legal structures for allocating water need to be reformed. Water utilities should be publicly owned.
Note: the following is mostly taken verbatim from "Who Governs Water?" by Nancy Price and Doug Hammerstrom published in Peace & Freedom magazine.
Details: Access to water is a fundamental human right implicitly supported by international law, declarations and state practice. Multinational profit-making corporations view water like any scarce commodity: they want to control it for economic benefit.
Clean water is in rapid decline. Only 3/10ths of one percent of the world's fresh water resources are safe for human consumption. Globally more than a billion people lack access to clean and affordable water. This growing scarcity has multiple causes: waste, pollution, deforestation, poor planning, regional political turmoil and climate change. Corporations are aggressively changing local and international law to redefine water as a scarce commodity that should be controlled for the economic benefit of their shareholders or private partners.
Market ideology says that economic choices can make all the decisions necessary to allocate water. But, if economic choices make all our decisions there is no place for political and social decisions. While market ideologues claim that the market system is a part of democracy, it is clear that the more we base our decisions on markets the less we have democracy. Corporate control of water systems moves us in the direction of having no space for democratic decision-making about water to reflect social and environmental needs and values.
The international trade treaties aid corporations with their water grabs. Specifically, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a separate agreement under the World Trade Organization, provides the framework for privatization and deregulation of water services. It defines water as a commodity and the collection, distribution and use of it as environmental services. No longer is it to be taken for granted as a natural resource, a public good, and a human right. GATS is still being negotiated and as part of the request-offer phase completed at the end of March, the European Union (EU) requested the United States open its water services sector to competition. This would result in privatization and deregulation should the GATS be signed by WTO member nations by the anticipated deadline of early 2005. To date, the United States Trade Representative offered only to open up the wastewater treatment sector to competition by EU.
Here in the United States a large number of communities are under siege regarding land sales to acquire ground water rights, river water and springs, and the privatization of public water service. In some US cities, like Stockton, CA, because citizens failed to prevent the city council from signing a long-term contract for corporate take-over of their municipal system, they are now faced with exorbitant rate-hikes. In some other cities, such as Atlanta, citizens succeeded in buying back their formerly public system from private management. But buying back the system originally built at taxpayer expense seems a steep price to pay to regain local democratic control.
The privatization of water is a corporate move to take away the people's authority over the most important substance to life and to community and environmental health.
Local, state and federal laws must be written
to keep water a community resource and to allocate it fairly.