Jared over at Waterblogged.info has a great post with two videos featuring Amy Goodman (raised on Long Island!) of Democracy Now!, the film FLOW (For Love Of Water), and Canadian activist Maude Barlow. The topic is obviously water.
Goodman and Barlow remind me of Michael Moore. I don't necessarily agree with every utterance, but society needs such people to poke it in the eye every so often (see today's aphorism).
The first clip has a few minutes of the film, then gets into an interview of Barlow by Goodman that carries over to the second clip. Barlow has written a number of books about water, and is well-known for being rabidly against the corporate takeover of water and the "commodification" and "privatization" of water.
I support some of the things Barlow does: more community say in the management of water resources and less use of bottled water are two items upon which we agree. She is also aware of and concerned with our decaying water infrastructure. But I need to call her on several things she said in this interview. Goodman did not take her to task because they are like-minded and Goodman is not a Water Wonk.
1) Barlow states that in the USA we are not protecting source water, and putting all our "water eggs" into cleaning dirty water, then implies we are doing that so companies like General Electric (GE) can make mucho dinero by cleaning it up.
In the USA, we are concerned with protecting source water. Has she not heard of wellhead protection and the more general source water protection programs? Source water protection enables the USA's largest municipal drinking water utility, the City of New York, to provide excellent water to over 8,000,000 people because it is aggressively manages its upstate watersheds for drinking-water quality. And yes, the locals are involved.
2) Goodman and Barlow seem to think that virtual water is something new and perhaps unseemly; it's not. Although the term "virtual water" is relatively new, virtual water has been around ever since one region exported some goods that required water to produce to another region. Water is embedded in many products, food and non-food alike. Barlow likes to cite the USA and China as virtual water exporters (and they are also virtual water importers, too), but fails to indicate that her own country exports huge amounts of virtual water in its wheat and beef exports. And, for every virtual water exporter there is a virtual water importer. So?
3) Barlow seems to downplay climate change ("...glaciers melting and all that") and places most of our water ills on water privatization. The latter is a relatively recent phenomenon, whereas climate change by humans has been going on for quite some time. Which scares me more? Climate change. So, yes, I guess I'm dead, catatonic, or Jack Bauer. She even seems to conflate climate change and our "abuse" of water. Not sure about that one.
4) What is wrong with putting water meters in homes and requiring people to pay for water? I have a water meter in my home, and it wasn't placed there by GE or Suez, but by the City of Corvallis, a place of 55,000 souls that is not hell-bent on taking over the water resources of the world. One of the reasons places have water problems is that people don't have to pay for water, or they pay too little. It's a fact: when you get something for free, you don't value it. Doesn't matter whether you are a peasant in Laos or a denizen of some toney Toronto suburb. In fact, many of us on municipal systems pay nothing for the water; we are paying for the system to deliver (O&M) the water. The water itself is assigned no value. Some municipalities are instituting commodity or scarcity charges so that the water itself is assigned a cost.
Regarding water systems and "charging" for water: when I started learning about building village systems in developing countries, the thing that was drilled into my head is that people must pay something for the water. If they don't, they won't feel "ownership" and the system will fail.
I see nothing inherently evil about privatization; what is important is to have local oversight and lifeline rates. Without those, it is bad.
5) Barlow states that China has "destroyed its water table". China actually has lots of different water tables, but aside from that, I'm unsure what she means. Does she mean that China has pumped so much ground water that it has dramatically (excessively) lowered the water tables in many of its aquifers? Or contaminated the aquifers?
6) She says that the USA water hunters are after the Guarani aquifer in Latin America as a potential domestic source.
Okay, here's a map of the Guarani aquifer, which underlies Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. It is arguably the largest single body of fresh ground water in the world - maybe even the largest single body of unfrozen fresh water in the world.
Let's get serious here. If we took this source over, how are we going to get the water to the USA? By thousands of miles of (expensive!) pipeline through hostile territory? Maybe an undersea pipeline? Shipping it up in supertankers or 'baggies'? It would likely be cheaper to desalt sea water, or get it from Alaska or Canada.
The USA is interested in this aquifer, as is the UN, but not as a potential domestic source, but because as a transnational water body it is subject to international disputes and other events that might threaten our security. It's the same reason NATO is funding me to manage a water project in the South Caucasus - to ensure that there are no fights over water that could destabilize the region. And it's the same reason that the Pentagon is concerned about AIDS in Africa. Altruism? Maybe not. Self-interest? Definitely!
7) She states that New Mexico has 10-year supply of water left, but provides no evidence for this statement. I worked in New Mexico for 17 years (1989-2006) and never heard any statement like that. And Lake Mead is the primary (not "back-up") water supply for Las Vegas.
8) Barlow says in school we erroneously learned you can't "interrupt" the hydrologic cycle. If we are talking about the global cycle, as shown below, that's true, you can't interrupt the cycle. What is true is that over time, the hydrologic cycle in a particular place likely changes; runoff may increase at the expense of evapotranspiration, precipitation may decrease in one place and increase elsewhere, etc. These changes have been happening naturally for millennia and have recently developed an anthropogenic signature. So yes, humans (and nature) have changed the cycle in various places. But interrupt? Not the right word. Alter? That's different.
I'll stop for now, lest I be accused of piling on Canada (again!). If you want to call me a nitpicker, fine, but remember, if Barlow is passing herself off as a world water expert (she's written 16 books, 16 more than I have), she needs to have a better grasp of the topics.
"Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up you get a lot of scum on top." -- Edward Abbey