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Water: the Incoming Apocalypse

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Sat May 17th, 2008 at 06:10:41 AM EST

Scouring the "internets" for water news I came across this dire warning:

Water: the Incoming Apocalypse. Not many people realize the seriousness of this issue.

Oil, of course, still dominates world economics and politics. But some day in the not so distant future, with peak oil, alternative fuels and other clean technologies, combined with the rising costs of extracting oil, will diminish petroleum's influence once and for all. Water will be the next oil. One hundred years ago, if someone had told you that water will be sold in stores, under "premium" brand names for as much as $3 for a liter, you would have said that this person is insane.

Well, insanity has caught up to reality. Water privatization is gaining on us, and unless we act, fast, you will be paying through the nose for every liter of water.

Cross-posted at DKos and PolitiCook

Diary rescue by Migeru

Somehow a necessity of life has become a commodity. Not only one that people will pay a premium to buy rather than drink for free from the tap, but also one that can be controlled for profit in the developing world. Corporations are jumping on the opportunity. According to a CBC series on the privatization of water,

"In the past ten years, three giant global corporations have quietly assumed control over the water supplied to almost 300 million people in every continent of the world,"
The world's private water industry is dominated by just three corporations: Vivendi and Suez, both of France, and Thames Water of England, owned by the German conglomerate RWE. According to one of the reports in the CBC series, Peter Spillett, a senior executive with Thames Water, calls water the petroleum of the 21st century. Sounds familiar? Even the World Bank encourages poor countries to privatize their water systems (though critics say it subsidizes the private water barons).

Let me go back to these figures again: thanks to the replenishing cycle of rain and evaporation, the amount of water on Earth has remained the same over the past four billion years. Only in this generation has there been concern that we -may be- are ruining our water supply. Of all the water on our planet, 97.5 per cent is sea water and three-quarters of the remaining 2.5 per cent is locked in polar ice caps. The tiny bit left over is drinkable.

For the past decade, the three water companies (mentioned above) have been on an explosive growth program. Just a dozen years ago, they operated private water utilities in 12 countries. They now provide drinking water for profit in 56 countries, according to a new study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The water business has gone from being seen as a low-return utility, to a source of "blue gold."

The world is running out of fresh water. Humanity is polluting, diverting and depleting the wellspring of life at a startling rate. With every passing day, our demand for fresh water outpaces its availability, and thousands more people are put at risk. Already, the social, political and economic impacts of water scarcity are rapidly becoming a destabilizing force, with water-related conflicts springing up around the globe (Darfur, Lebanon etc...) Quite simply, unless we dramatically change our ways, between one-half and two-thirds of humanity will be living with severe freshwater shortages within the next quarter-century.

Who owns the water? Does the city agency that pipes water to your home actually own it? Can you legally pump water right out of a river? Who owns the rain that runs off your roof? Who sets the price for water? Should water be owned by a person, group, or business? How do all the other species dependent on water figure into the picture? Faced with the suddenly well-documented freshwater crisis, governments and international institutions are advocating the privatization and "commodification" of water. Water, say the World Bank and the United Nations, is a "human need," not a "human right." These are not semantics; the difference in interpretation is crucial. A human need can be supplied many ways, especially for those with money. No one can sell a human right.

Recent dire predictions about the future "water wars" the Middle East will surely experience due to growing water scarcity, increasing populations, and worsening pollution of existing water sources have in part helped prioritize the issue of water and water management at the international level--most recently, at Davos 2008. Water will become a more contentious issue in the Middle East as the water crisis worsens in the coming decades, and the 20th century paradigm of water being a "matter of sovereignty" will only exacerbate conflict.

I don't have any answers to all these questions. We can only hope that human ingenuity will save the day, as this news -  which just hit the internet - may offer:

Scientists in Norway are working on a new filtration method which will release more drinking water in the world, by screening out pesticides and bacteria.

An interesting article in the same vein can be found here (pdf): http://www.blueplanetproject.net/documents/NACLA_Article2.pdf

I'd heard anecdotal stories of citizens being forbidden the right to collect rainwater from their roofs or in their yards, but haven't found actual proof of it yet.  What a disaster that would be.  The City of Austin encourages the purchasing of rain barrels, thank goodness, so no fear of that here for the time being.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 12:23:09 AM EST
"I'd heard anecdotal stories of citizens being forbidden the right to collect rainwater from their roofs"

Colorado water law prohibits the collection of water from your roof. It's very complicated, but basically, all water is owned by somebody, and usually the water rights (and mineral rights) are separate from the surface rights. Ownership is based on seniority, and owners of junior rights are shut off in periods of drought. Since most homeowners don't hold any water rights at all, they are not allowed to collect the water. If it happens to fall on your grass, that's ok, but you can't construct a dam to collect it in your yard, nor can you collect it from your roof.

The system is controversial, and supports a comprehensive legal system--complete with its own specialized lawyers, judges, courts, etc.--but works in dry areas like the American southwest.

by asdf on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 11:30:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the moment I confess to being untroubled by this as enforcement remains an issue of cheap liquid fuel. You can't enforce a water pricing if you can't send revenue collectors/police/armed units in to enforce it. So whatever systems they put in place won't survive $300 oil.

I am personally going to ensure that I end up on an Atlantic facing coast with hills to the east to ensure regular rainfall. Galicia, N W France or W Ireland sound pretty affordable to me. And I shall ensure I have access to water (I dowse, so can find my own well thanks).

I'd like to be in a position where caring about other situations will make any difference to them, but I won't be. I don't believe in loner survivalists (see my diary on Transition Towns, but I do believe in focussing my own efforts on the upcoming problems rather than hoping against hope it won't happen.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 09:24:50 AM EST
I live on the west coast of Eire, for this obvious reason. I have lived in OZ for twenty years and have lived through the great drought of the late seventies, and believe me, when you go through that experience, you tend to calculate exactly where you want your children to grow up.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 10:34:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't enforce a water pricing if you can't send revenue collectors/police/armed units in to enforce it.

That's the system we've had in the Western US from the start.  Water rights were separated from land rights early on and were snapped up by those with the capital to do so, who then held landowners for ransom.  The system is enforced by regulators, courts, and law enforcement.  Ditch riders patrol the canals (often on horseback) and shut off the water of anyone caught using more than his allotment.  I know of cases where stock pond dams have been dynamited because they prevented water from flowing downstream.

by rifek on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 08:14:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this is an interesting article which came out in April this year about labelling food with how much water was used in its production http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23547185-23289,00.html

though what would also be useful is if any of the water was retreated and used for other purposes within the factory?

by macklamm on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 03:46:40 PM EST
Thanks for the link. It makes sense doesn't it? It's all about water recycling and conservation, particularly in Oz.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 05:47:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another thing I found out during research for this piece: Vivendi owns almost all the desalination patents throughout the world and/or a direct ownership in the plants. Look at the financial structure of the world's largest plant, in Ashkelon, Israel.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 05:53:15 PM EST
i know when i lived in Brussels in one of its outer communes before moving into Brussels that one of my neighbours had wanted to collect rainwater for use in general household but not for drinking but was forbidden to do so by the commune.
by macklamm on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 06:46:50 AM EST
well before it gets to that the American de-population agenda will be well in force, hey America is supposed to be the next nature preserve right?
by Lasthorseman on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 11:23:00 PM EST

That "new" filtration method from Norway is nothing new. Ozonation then bio-filtration on an activated bed finished by nano-filtration is already used at large scale at the SEDIF Méry water plant near Paris.  

See here and there (pdf) if you read French.

The subject was already broached in some ways a few month ago by GreyHawk in that diary.

by Francois in Paris on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 12:31:09 AM EST

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