Across the country, capitalism, pollution and mismanagement is endangering our drinking water supply
Is water becoming the new gold? Wall Street is quickly taking notice of companies tackling the issue of clean water supply and investing heavily in them. Water is a $600 billion industry and is expected to grow to $1 trillion in the next six years. The World Economic Forum has listed water as third on the 2014 global risk chart. Water is actually more valuable than gold in economic terms and crucial to human survival. Here are a few stories that are raising its price and other concerns regarding our drinking water supply.
Profiteering: Most Bottled Water is Coming from Drought Stricken Regions
Mother Jones reported Monday that popular bottled water brands such as Aquafina and Dasani source mainly from catastrophically dry parts of the West. Specifically, California, which is experiencing the third driest year ever recorded. Residents in certain California towns are faced with fines if they exceed water usage rates set by municipalities, yet California is the only western state without groundwater regulation. This means water companies that find water by drilling below the surface can claim it as their own. They can then charge whatever price the market will bear.
Additionally, due to business friendly republicans and deregulation, little is actually known about the sources of water or how much water is actually bottled by a facility. Roughly 55 percent of bottled water is spring water the other 45 percent comes from municipal water supplies. What this means, according to Mother Jones, is that companies such as Aquafina and Dasani “simply treat tap water (the same stuff that comes out of your tap) and bottle it up.”
Bottling companies like this leave a huge carbon footprint. Mother Jones writes: The water inside the bottle isn’t the only water that bottling companies require: Coca-Cola bottling plants, which produce Dasani, use 1.63 liters of water for every liter of beverage produced in California, according to Coca-Cola representative Dora Wong.
As with any commodity, as long as there is a demand there is supply. The bottled water industry produced 10 billion gallons of water last year and sales topped $12 billion dollars. Effectively turning a human-right (according to the United Nations ) and public resource into a private, for-profit commodity.
In the Toledo, Ohio’s fourth largest city, area residents were forced to cease all water usage, including bathing and cleaning, for several days due to pollution in Lake Erie. Store shelves in the surrounding area, including towns as far as 50 miles away, were stripped bare of all bottled water. Restaurants were urged to close. And residents were warned that boiling water would only increase the toxins in the water.
Toledo’s water, like many communities in the area, is sourced from Lake Erie. The source of the toxins in Lake Erie come from algal blooms, a naturally occurring event. Scientists recently predicted a higher than normal risk of algal blooms, but didn’t expect a peak until September. However, Algal blooms are fed by phosphorus, mainly from farm fertilizer run-off and sewage treatment plants.
The result is toxins that contribute to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive. In this case the toxin, microsystin, found in the water treatment plant can cause irreversible liver and kidney damage. It can also cause diarrhea, nausea and dizziness. They are known to irritate the skin, eyes and throat.
Communities are also faced with an aging infrastructure that results in wasted water through water main breaks. In Bay City, Michigan city workers are struggling to find a water main break that is spilling 5 million gallons of water every 12 hours. Water reserves were predicted to run dry by Monday of this week.
Gary Korthals, a city water and sewer supervisor, said that if the “break is under the river it would be a major repair for the city,” likely lasting several months. MLive is reporting that despite the emergency, businesses in downtown Bay City and in the county — including laundromats — continued operating, despite the emergency being issued.
“I guess it didn’t faze me at all,” said Savana West, a Bay City resident who was doing her laundry at Totally Clean Coin Laundry, 2608 Center. West said she read about the emergency, but that she had already planned to do her laundry. “If we are going to run out of water tomorrow, I’m going to need clean clothes for the rest of the week.” (MLive)
Bay City isn’t alone when it comes to an aging water system. Brookline, Mass, experienced a water main break that buckled pavement and sent a water geyser 80 feet in the air. Atlanta, Georgia, is relying on a water system built in 1875 to meet the needs of today. Last week, Los Angles experienced a break in a water main built in 1921 that left a 15 foot hole in Sunset Blvd.
According to an American Society of Civil Engineers report last year, “much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life.”Note that the cost of replacing pipes in the coming decades could exceed $1 trillion. It is estimated that the United States needs an additional $16 billion a year just to maintain the pipes and replace the ones that actually burst. Many cities do not have an adequate supply of emergency drinking water if something goes wrong like it did in Bay City. Atlanta only has 3 to 5 days of reserves.
Single Biggest Threat
Lack of water is the single biggest threat to the world’s population. It has been predicted that water will “cause global conflicts in the future.” The threat includes Africa and the Middle East. But it is not only a third-world problem. The State Department has reported that “water is not just a human health issue, not just an economic development or environmental issue, but a peace and security issue.”
It is hard to ignore that we are facing the perfect storm of capitalism, apathy, waste, and global warming. We are barreling head first into a crisis. Yet, little if any preparation appears to be occurring at any level of government. We can only hope that when the time comes we can quickly find solutions.