By Marci Singer, Petoskey News-Review, Monday, June 22, 2009
“Congressman Stupak’s resolution clearly states that water cannot be treated as a product and cannot be sold as such for commercial profit. The resolution’s statement that water is a public trust, not a private commodity, would prevent all exporting of water.”
Bottled water is at the heart of a debate within the Great Lakes Basin. Members of FLOW, also known as For the Love of Water, a coalition of Midwestern citizen groups dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes Basin from water withdrawals, said a loophole in the Great Lakes Compact leaves Great Lakes water vulnerable to other kinds of privatization. They fear the big lakes and the vast ecosystem that supports them will be vulnerable to full-scale commercial exploitation that, in some future political setting, could not be stopped.
While the group praised last week’s introduction of House Resolution 551 by Congressman Bart Stupak, area environmentalists are saying the bottled water “loophole” is a mischaracterization of what the Bulk Water Transfer provision does in the compact. “When it comes to bottled water, the compact says it is up to the states to regulate how those operations will work in their jurisdictions,” said Dr. Grenetta Thomassey, policy director with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey.
Thomassey said international trade agreements do not allow for the discrimination against one specific industry, such as bottled water.
“The 5.7 gallon exception did not give the bottled water industry a free rein. Instead, it offered a solution that allows states to regulate bottled water as they see fit,” she said. “And, when Michigan passed the compact, it also passed strong regulations on the bottled water industry. We hope all the Great Lakes states will do the same.”
FLOW said Congressman Stupak’s resolution clearly states that water cannot be treated as a product and cannot be sold as such for commercial profit. The resolution’s statement that water is a public trust, not a private commodity, would prevent all exporting of water from the Basin. They added that HR 551 would protect the Great Lakes and the rivers and aquifers that feed them more effectively than the international agreement that Congress approved last fall.
“The issue of making water a ‘commodity’ grew out of the globalization of our economy,” Thomassey said. “This was a major problem before the compact was negotiated and it remains a problem. Nowhere in the compact is bottled water called a product, but it is already viewed that way in many international trade arenas. If we want to be really effective in fighting those concerns, we need Rep. Stupak and the rest of our legislators to address and renegotiate language in the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade agreements.”
Additionally, Thomassey said the Food and Drug Administration has labeling requirements that drive the bottled water industry to sites that directly impact sensitive headwaters of rivers and streams.
“Again, to make a big difference on bottled water operations, our legislature and executive branch should be pressed to make changes to Food and Drug Administration labeling requirements,” she said. “We appreciate Rep. Stupak’s hard work to protect our waters. He is a solid champion for the Great Lakes. We hope he will consider these additional approaches to address his concerns about treating water as a commodity.”