Empowerment: Decentraliztion of Water – Cooperate

The oldest known cure for a hangover, required to grow and raise food,  and used to maintain our human bodies both internally and externally – the most important and underrated resource, water.

Large scale chemical industries, foreign corporations, and governments have focused less on water as a necessity and more of a commodity to be used for profit and/or power. This results in the resource being tainted, sold and legislated by big business and its enabler, the government. This paradigm of dis- empowering localities and natives for sake of “progress” has devastating effects ranging from poisoning like in Flint, Michigan and Charleston, West Virginia to scarcity and pollution problems in the southwest United Sates.

Examples of water problems resulting from archaic centralized systems:

Flint, Michigan, a municipally owned water (public) utility, is the latest large scale disaster in which the Governor, under emergency powers, not citizens, decided that switching its water intake from Detroit’s system to the Flint river was a more cost effective and wise decision. Pipe corrosion and lead poising resulted from the “emergency” decision. Some have recently pointed out that the decision was not more cost effective and other motivations may be involved. Another issue was that EPA and Michigan’s DEQ knew about lead poisoning problem. Eventually the problem became so apparent that corporate media realized they could profit on it, thus reporting on issue and forcing Snyder’s hand. Obama even had a short scripted remark. Children will suffer the most from irreversible mental defects, and let’s not forget leads correlation throughout history with violence – all because of our adherence to archaic models of handling resources.

Charleston, West Virginia, a corporate owned water (private) utility, suffered from an upstream chemical spill from a poorly ran company called Freedom Industries. This resulted in many differing cases of adverse external and internal reactions by those using the water. American Water Corporation, the owner of Charleston’s water distribution, was slow to react to crisis and engaged in shady behavior when fixing filters or addressing ability to deal with future emergencies. Not to mention a neglected infrastructure that will take 400 years to replace on current pace. Aside from crisis, the WVPSC, tasked with overseeing rates and infrastructure expenditures, is largely occupied by attorneys who represented same corporate utilities and approve rate hikes without any improvements to infrastructure or emergency preparedness. Calls are still ongoing, well after the crisis, for WVPSC to investigate the numerous issues surrounding American Water’s poor handling of crisis.

The southwest US is a a different breed of water crisis. Historical impacts such as dam building, irrigating of desert and high altitudes to grow costly crops, selling of limited water supplies to foreign entities and Los Angeles (I shouldn’t have to say much more on  LA, they put shade balls in the water reservoir to protect it’s imported water from evaporation) are creating an almost irreversible drought epidemic – that isn’t even factoring role pollution from fracking & pharmaceutical runoff or climate change play into decreasing an already limited water supply (I suggest reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner to see impact of centralized “progress.”)

On top of the impact of past policies in the US, we have collusion between multi-national corporations and federal government allowing Nestle (world’s largest water bottler) to bottle water, during a drought, with a decades old expired permit. Or incidents like when Native Americans are told water is safe after an EPA Colorado mine cleanup only to find heavy metals still flowing into river and threatening their downstream crops.

Finally, a newer trend in relation to how scarce water has become worldwide, is that of foreign nations purchasing irrigable desert land to grow feed for their cattle and drastically lowering already low desert aquifers.  This directly ignores historical cases of potential destruction of important ecosystems that can’t be undone and possibly displacing and devastating local human population as well.

Empowering solution:

These all demonstrate the need for new solutions, and an evolution in how humans maintain their local resources. A model outside the whims of governmental bureaucracies or the profit margin of a corporation, in which the individual and community are empowered… A cooperative and decentralized model in which the citizen/customer is also the owner of the utility.

Kostas Nikolaou’s sourced overview from the Alternative World Water Forum, shows that thousands of water cooperatives from small rural communities to highly populated urban areas are currently operating in a successful manner all over the world. These cooperatives are a more reliable, safer and more directly democratic in nature – one person, one vote directly related to your local resource and its distribution.

Additionally, a US funded study by University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives found that water cooperatives (in addition to other types of utility cooperatives) are economically beneficial. According to UWCC’s data from 923 water cooperatives, they “account for >$2.2B in assets, $1.7B in sales revenue, and pay $4.7M in wages. There are approximately 2 million memberships and 40,000 employees. As Table 4-5.3 shows, by extrapolating to the entire population (3,352 firms) and adding indirect and induced impacts to this activity, water cooperatives account for close to $2.6B in revenue, 11,000 jobs, $408M in wages paid, and nearly $500M in valued-added income.”  So, the notion that only government or a corporation has economic wherewithal to handle a utility is not absolute.

We as citizens, consumers and humans attempting to live in harmony deserve real progress, not progress handed down from corporations and far off bureaucrats sucking resources into an unaccountable centralized model. Cooperating, as opposed to the archaic private and municipally owned models, is that progress that all individuals and communities deserve and should strive for. Decentralize everything.