Saturday, November 03, 2007

Back to the Tap

The following article about Nestle's interest in our local water isn't my usual entry, but after noticing that the moderate sized tanker truck I was following down Route 2 in Massachusetts, was carrying none other than "Water," my stomach turned as a I imagined a future of similar "Water" trucks, removing water from one town, selling it to another, all for corporate profit.

So, I am posting this, with hopes that it will encourage citizens around the country to keep close tabs on their own water - before it's sold off - and to consider getting their drinking water (whenever possible) the "old fashioned way" - from the tap.

(Reprinted from The Montague Reporter)

This week, Nestle Water North America announced it was suspending its plan to explore the aquifir below the Montague Plains as the source for a potential water bottling plant in our community. So it seems Montague residents won’t be paying $2 a bottle to purchase our own pure Montague Plains water, at least not from Nestle, and at least not in the near future.

But that’s no reason to let down our guard. That was the message from Tuesday evening’s meeting held by the Montague Alliance to Protect our Water. Following a detailed “tour” of water flow in the plains, and the aquifer below, hydrogeologist Nancy Caffall (formerly with the state Department of Environmental Protection,) noted that “this kind of formation is particularly attractive for bottling companies.”

That’s one reason to keep on guard. Although Nestle’s may have found drilling on State land too “complicated,” because of the nature of the aquifer, and the profitability of a good water source, there’s always the potential for Nestle or another corporate bottler to pursue access through private land abutting the state owned plains.

“A municipal official from the town of Montague should ask if Nestle is talking to other property owners in the area,” suggested Russ Cohen, of the Department.of Fish and Game Riverways Program, prompting discussion of how best to inform nearby property owners of the larger impact, and potential risks of opening the door to a Nestle representative.

What would it take to discourage or deny drilling permits in the state of Massachusetts? In addition various MA DEP regulations, says Nancy Caffall, there is also the Massachusetts Water Management Act which requires that water withdrawals not stress the host river basin. That is, all withdrawals to a particular basin are considered rather than a more piecemeal approach, or one that considers only the impact on nearby surface waters.

Ironically, what makes spring water Spring Water is that it must be withdrawn from a location that is hydrogeologically connected to a surface stream. In other words, sites that are often more ecologically sensitive – with nearby habitat, freshwater fish streams etc.

And, says Kirt Mayland, Director of the New England Office of the Eastern Water Project of Trout Unlimited, the water industry wants to keep it this way – rather than going to sites where there’d be less impact. For example in Wisconsin, bottlers have drilled wells near some of the best trout streams in the region.

The case of Montague verses Nestles didn’t get as far as evaluation of impacts on nearby streams, or host river basins, in part thanks to the now famous Article 97. In addition to guaranteeing the people’s right to public resources, Article 97 also grants that removal of natural resources from public lands must be in the best interest for wildlife and wildlife habitat. So, unless like us, critters living on the plains have turned to bottled water, it’s hard to envision how corporate withdrawal would be of benefit to them, or to the public.

But as one meeting participant pointed out, “While Article 97 seemed like a real silver bullet, and although it has the most wonderful language for resource protection, there are a lot of terrible plans that happen – in this case the state may have been sensitive to all the opposition because it’s on state land.” Since most legislation regulating and protecting water was passed in the old days, when we drank water from the kitchen sink, or the bubbler down the hall, and before the rise of the multi-billion dollar bottled water industry, there are plenty of loopholes that corporations with deep pockets can ferret out. In short, there’s plenty of work to be done identifying and filling in the loopholes of state water legislation.

Not only is the extraction of a common trust resource, one that should be as free and accessible as the air we breath an issue, but between the trucking and the bottling there are plenty of other environmental impacts of the bottled water industry.

“There’s a whole lot of trucking,” impressed Mayland who noted that because the industry is so reliant on trucking, and because fuel prices are soaring, and because we here in the Northeast are major consumers of bottled water, the Route 91 corridor is of particular interest to bottled water developers, as are other locations in the Northeast that combine access to good water with access to good roads.

There is no doubt we have, in part, brought this upon ourselves by becoming a culture reliant upon bottled water. According to the group Corporate Accountability International “One of the most visible examples of corporate control of water is bottled water. It is the fastest growing sector of the US beverage market and just three corporations – Coke, Pepsi and NestlĂ© – make up over half of the US bottled water market. These corporations are privatizing our water, bottling it and selling it back to us at prices hundreds, even thousands of times what tap water costs. They have turned a shared common resource into a $100 billion global market – and one of the world’s fastest growing branded beverages.”

But if corporate greed isn’t enough to make you think twice about purchasing that next bottle of Aquafina, Poland Springs, or Evian, then think locally. We all know what happens to bottles that aren’t recycled, they’re tossed into garbage, flattened along the road side, or floating down the river. Then there is the toxic side of plastic bottles, and the potential for bottles, depending on the plastic to leach small amounts of toxicants into drinking water.

It’s time to turn back to the tap, relinquishing the bottle, and protect our municipal waters.

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