Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission today rejected a petition from Northwest Environmental Advocates to increase regulation of pesticides that can harm salmon and steelhead on the endangered species list.
The commission voted 5-0 to reject the petition from Nina Bell, the environmental group’s director. Among other measures, Bell’s petition would have required significantly increased buffer zones for spraying certain pesticides near streams.
The petition focused on pesticides that the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified as harmful to fish and other aquatic life. The federal reviews indicate that some pesticides are harmful even when used according to label instructions approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, the petition notes.
Farm and forest groups opposed the petition, noting that pending lawsuits have challenged NMFS’ conclusions. Critics say NMFS’ assumptions about pesticide use don’t reflect what’s actually happening on the ground.
DEQ staff also opposed the petition, saying that it hopes to expand voluntary pesticide stewardship partnerships to address pesticide pollution in priority watersheds.
The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing the scientific methods used to assess pesticide risks, DEQ staff noted. EPA will use the academy’s conclusions, due in 2013, to decide how to implement NMFS recommendations for pesticide use.
Bell has filed numerous successful lawsuits on water pollution issues, including the suit that prompted Portland to clean up sewage overflows. After the vote, Bell said she plans no further action in the short term.
But pesticide rules are subject to challenge under the Endangered Species Act: “Eventually,” she said, “that’s certainly something that could come up.”
Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 16, 2012. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is looking to revamp the way it enforces the 1993 Agricultural Water Quality Management Act in order to decrease the amount of pesticides that end up in the state’s waterways from agricultural nonpoint source pollution. The new plan, which was unveiled last December, will work by taking a firmer approach than the current plan, which on sporadic complaints for enforcement and cooperative action by residents through soil and water conservation districts. While a new plan could benefit the health of Oregon residents and its waterways, it is in danger because politicians and some farmers believe it will be overly burdensome and increase costs.
Oregon is no stranger to problems with pesticide contamination of its water. The state of Oregon has a complex and diverse agricultural economy which ranges from forestry products to seed crops. Oregon also has thousands of miles of waterways. Roughly 15,000 miles of these waterways are listed as impaired, and nearly half of the 11,000-plus miles of waterways in Willamette River basin need more streamside plants, according to a 2009 state report. These plants help reduce the amount of run off by reducing the amount of pesticides that can reach water-ways. Zollner creek, which runs through the flatlands below Mt. Angel Abbey in the Willamette Valley, was found to be contaminated with pesticides, including the chemical diuron, which is harmful to fish and aquatic organisms. The stream has registered high levels of pesticides and fertilizers since the mid-1990s, and contamination levels detected in the Zollner and around Oregon are high enough to cause harm to aquatic life, including native salmon and steelhead.
ODA Director Katy Coba and her staff floated the new, firmer approach to water quality late last year: The state would target limited resources to the most polluted streams, ramp up education of landowners and accelerate restoration projects, tapping state and federal subsidies. Over time, trees, shrubs and grasses would shade and cool rivers and filter pesticide and fertilizer runoff, benefiting threatened salmon runs. Before-and-after water monitoring would confirm long-term results. As a last resort, ODA would pursue uncooperative landowners, starting with warnings, instead of relying on outside complaints for enforcement. The department unveiled the proposal in December before the state’s water quality committee, including an aerial photo of the threatened Zollner watershed.
This new plan is seen as an improvement from the old system, which relied on outside complaints and cooperative landowners for improvements, leaving gaps which threatened water quality. An example of the problems this faced was last year Marion County’s soil and water conservation district decided to upgrade water quality along Zollner Creek. Conservation districts are government entities that work with landowners and operators who are willing to help them manage and protect land and water resources on all public and private land. While notices went to 75 farmers and land owners only five responded. Two eventually agreed to soil testing, and “Because of a lack of access on private land and interest by landowners,” the district reported to the state in July, “Efforts would be better spent on other projects.” The patchwork of voluntary projects, and a dearth of river data from years past, make it tough to demonstrate the results that environmentalists, federal regulators – and judges – increasingly demand.
The movement to this new system will be politically challenging for ODA because some farmers and conservation districts see the new proposal as a sign of a more active and intrusive governmental agency. In a January letter, the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts warned that farmers and ranchers might believe districts “are conspiring with ODA to set them up” for water quality violations. ODA, with just six field staff in its water quality program for 38,000 farms needs the conservation districts, which it leans on heavily for information and ground work in order to be successful.
Farmers are also concerned. John Annen, whose family has grown hops for more than a century along Zollner Creek, stated “I’m all for the clean rivers and the fish and all that — they were here before we were…But I don’t want somebody out here telling us what to do.” Farmers were also worried about the cost of creating stronger buffer zones. Federal and state subsidies only cover three-quarters of buffer installation, and while rent payments are supposed to address lost land value, land can range up to $12,000 an acre in the area. However, without proper action, and no matter the cost, pesticide pollution in these streams will affect the health and environment of Oregon residents.
Legislators from both parties are watching ODA closely as the proposal moves forward. If they don’t like what they see, bills to restrict or expand ODA’s authority could pop up in the Legislature next year and the future of this program may be in jeopardy after the November 6th elections.
To eradicate pesticides runoff in our waterways and our environment Beyond Pesticides supports farms that work to transition to organic methods of production. Organic food contributes to better health through reduced pesticide exposure for all and increased nutritional quality. In order to understand the importance of eating organic food from the perspective of toxic pesticide contamination, we need to look at the whole picture —from the farmworkers who do the valuable work of growing food, to the waterways from which we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. Organic food can feed us and keep us healthy without producing the toxic effects of chemical agriculture.
It is important to make your voice heard on organic standards. See Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage for more information on the issues going on right now at the fall NOSB meeting. We will be updating this webpage with our perspectives,, so be sure to check back as new information is added.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
By Gavin Broady
Law360, New York (October 11, 2012, 1:36 PM ET) — Nestle Waters North America Inc. has been selling bottles of municipal tap water and falsely marketing it to consumers as 100 percent natural, spring-sourced water, according to a putative class action removed to Illinois federal court Wednesday.
Plaintiff Chicago Faucet Shoppe Inc. claims that Nestle — which removed the suit to federal court — has falsely represented to consumers that 5-gallon bottles of Ice Mountain water are sourced from springs and contain only naturally occurring minerals, when in fact the bottles are filled with water not from natural springs but from municipal water systems, according to the complaint.
“The Ice Mountain 5-gallon bottles would have cost less and would have been less marketable if there had been a disclosure that the 5-gallon bottles do not contain 100 percent natural spring water but instead contain resold municipal tap water,” the complaint said. “Nestle Waters’ failure to disclose this critical fact caused consumers to purchase 5-gallon jugs that they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased if that fact was known.”
Chicago Faucet is suing on behalf of all persons in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri who purchased the 5-gallon Ice Mountain bottles, claiming unjust enrichment and deceptive trade practices under the Illinois Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and seeking actual and punitive damages, an injunction mandating disclosure and restitution.
Chicago Faucet claims that it began purchasing the 5-gallon jugs — which are sold only over the Internet or by phone, typically to offices or homes — for its Chicago office in 2008.
At an unspecified date thereafter, a Chicago Faucet employee called Nestle to order home delivery of the water and, after talking to several Nestle employees, was informed that the water was not 100 percent spring-sourced, according to the complaint.
Chicago Faucet says Nestle charges a premium for such spring-sourced water and that while bottles of water not advertised as spring-sourced — which are typically presumed to be tap water — have remained stagnant, sales of bottled water from spring sources have grown substantially.
Nestle has marketed the alleged benefits of spring water — including enhanced taste, quality and mineral composition — and has claimed that the springs themselves each have unique “taste fingerprints” in an unscrupulous and unethical manner intended to create demand for the product, according to the complaint.
Nestle Waters is the leading bottled water company in the U.S., with estimated 2010 sales exceeding $4 billion, according to the complaint.
This is not the first time Nestle has been hit with allegations over the sourcing of its bottled water. In 2003, a pair of consumers sued the company in a Connecticut class action over claims that its Poland Spring brand bottled water was falsely marketed as sourced from spring water deep in the woods of Maine when it consisted of tap water. That suit was reportedly settled later that year for a $10 million payout in the form of discounts to consumers and charitable contributions.
Representatives for the parties were not immediately for comment Thursday.
Chicago Faucet is represented by the Law Offices of Michael J. Newman and Cohen & Malad LLP.
The case is The Chicago Faucet Shoppe Inc. v. Nestle Waters North America Inc, case number 1:12-cv-08119, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
–Editing by Lindsay Naylor.
October 19, 2012
GRANTS PASS, Oregon (AP) — The state of Oregon has denied a water permit for an Australian mining company that wants to develop a gravel pit along a tributary of the Rogue River.
The Oregon Department of Water Resources said there is already too much water being taken out of Grave Creek, which flows into the Rogue at the start of the section that is one of Oregon’s most popular whitewater runs.
Water rights program manager Tim Wallin said Grave Creek ranks high on a list of waterways needing more water for salmon, and unless Havilah Resources LLC can secure some other water right to put back in the river, it cannot take out what it needs for mining.
A local representative of Havilah did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.
Conservation groups that had opposed the project praised the decision.
“We commend the Water Resources Department for standing up for one of Oregon’s most special places,” Kimberley Priestley, senior policy analyst for WaterWatch, said in a statement.
The proposed gravel pit would excavate 126 acres (51 hectares) about 12 miles (19 kilometers) upstream of the mouth of Grave Creek, in an area mined heavily for gold since the Gold Rush era.
Havilah proposed drilling 11 wells and pumping 8.5 cubic feet (0.24 cubic meters) per second of the groundwater that feeds the creek. Grave Creek runs from a high of 120 cubic feet (3.4 cubic meters) per second in February to a low of 3.6 cubic feet (0.1 cubic meters) per second in September. After being used in mining operations, water would go through a filtration process and return to the creek.
The water already is too warm to meet state standards for salmon, and withdrawing more water would make things worse, said Wallin. Pumping groundwater would deny water to the creek. The mine would also reduce water flowing downstream to the popular whitewater section of the Rogue.
Havilah has argued in its application that the project would put more water into the creek, and water going into the creek would be carefully filtered
The application denied Oct. 11 was for a temporary permit to allow operations to start prior to securing a permanent permit, Wallin said. The decision on the permanent permit is still pending, but denial of the temporary permit does not bode well for it, he said.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation spokesperson Eriel Deranger speaks out against the oilsands at a recent event in Vancouver.
by David P. Ball
Indian Country Today October 5, 2012
A First Nation whose land sits in the heart of the Alberta oil sands has ramped up its legal battle against the vast industrial development, which has generated controversy because of its massive carbon footprint, untreated tailings ponds and at least three proposed pipelines: Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge‘s Northern Gateway.
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) on October 1 launched a constitutional challenge based in Treaty 8 alleging that the provincial government and the energy giant Shell Canada, which is looking to expand its Jackpine oil sands mine in the band’s traditional territories, have failed to adequately consult them and thus have in effect violated their treaty rights to use their land traditionally.
The challenge, submitted to the review panel that is evaluating the proposal, calls for mandatory consultation with First Nation treaty signatories. It also demands that their right to access their territories for hunting, trapping, harvesting and other traditional uses be honored. The Chipewyan allege that the Jackpine expansion, by damaging the environment, would prevent them from engaging in those activities and resources and thus violate the treaty.
Treaty 8, which forms the basis for ACFN’s constitutional challenge, is a historic agreement between the Crown and indigenous nations that promised aboriginal people the right to use their traditional lands and natural resources, and to self-governance. The ACFN is hoping to ”set new precedents that may mean changes to the regulatory process,” the band said in a statement.
“Consultation and accommodation—and the way it’s being done—has become shady deals, and coercion does not encompass the idea of free, prior and informed consent,” ACFN spokesperson Eriel Deranger told Indian Country Today Media Network. “The communities here have been bullied—by industry, a pro-industry provincial government and a pro-industry federal government—to just shut up and take what we can get out of a deal.”
Shell’s proposal—already facing a separate ACFN lawsuit to halt or alter it—would see the Jackpine project increase production every day by 100,000 barrels. But the company must first complete a review that begins on October 29, and ACFN says that the 31,429-acre disturbance area of the mine would devastate part of the culturally important Muskeg River, which is where the nation conducts most of its traditional hunting, trapping and harvesting activities.
“What are the costs of pushing the industry through?” Deranger asked. “We’re talking about doubling production in the tar sands. We’re already having problems with the current pace of development. Doubling it is psychotic. Some people think the tar sands and First Nations people can coexist, [but] I don’t know how you could possible rip up thousands of kilometers of boreal forest and traditional territories, de-water, poison and contaminate river systems, and consider that a plausible way for coexistence?”
But Shell insisted that it has, in fact, consulted the First Nation repeatedly, and that it does respect ACFN’s treaty rights.
“Shell has engaged extensively with ACFN over the last 15 years,” spokesperson David Williams told The Globe and Mail. “We’re aware of their concerns around Treaty 8, and our door remains open.”
Deranger acknowledged that some aboriginal people are divided over the benefits of the oil sands (or what its opponents call tar sands) in which a thick oil product, bitumen, is extracted from the earth in an energy-intensive mining and refining process.
“There are First Nations who think the tar sands are great,” Deranger admitted. “People have jobs. People now can afford to take their kids to Edmonton to go to the dentist. These are luxuries for people. But we have to start weighing the costs.”
Those costs—hundreds of toxic tailings ponds, open pit mines, significant emissions and polluted rivers across a giant swathe of Alberta—have not been properly addressed with ACFN, Deranger says.
“How will they potentially mitigate the impacts on traditional and treaty rights from their proposed expansion project in the oil sands?” she asked. “Industry isn’t meeting those standards. We’re not going to make any deals with you anymore. We’re going to fight your projects tooth and nail through a process that already exists.”
The basin blossomed with the combination of water, sunny days and a long growing season. Farmers say it’s the best place on the globe to grow irrigated vegetables, and it’s capable of producing even more food for a hungry world.
But it’s also a place where the finger-pointing over Oregon agriculture’s voracious water consumption hits home, and all sides recite the lessons of reckless water use from memory.
Heavy irrigation dropped aquifers by up to 500 feet in a matter of decades, among the steepest declines worldwide. A carbon-dating study showed wells had reached water that had been underground for 27,250 years.
Chinook and coho salmon runs in the Umatilla River were declared dead in 1926 and weren’t restored until 1994. Designation of four “critical groundwater” areas in the basin reduced irrigation rights basin-wide by 67 percent.
Farmers say the economic boom is stalled, and more water — say, 100,000 acre feet from the Columbia River — would allow them to grow more valuable crops. A 2006 study said recharging aquifers with river water would stimulate the basin’s economy by $344 million, create more than 2,000 jobs, increase labor income $72 million and add $5 million annually to state tax revenue.
Call it a push by Big Ag, but that’s not a pejorative out here. For all the glow of Willamette Valley farming, Umatilla and Morrow counties, 175 miles east of Portland, ranked second and third statewide in 2011 with $503 million and $477 million in gross farm and ranch sales, respectively. Agriculture provides more than 14,000 direct and secondary jobs in the basin, and its growers and food processors annually ship products worth more than $1 billion to domestic and international markets.
Umatilla basin farmers have been seeking additional water for more than 20 years. They believe technology and mitigation will allow them to increase their draw from the Columbia, even during spring and summer, without harm to endangered salmon.
They say they’ve learned from past mistakes of over-pumping.
“Sins of our fathers,” acknowledges Craig Reeder, chief operating and financial officer of a large farm along Butter Creek.
Key conservation groups believe he’s sincere, in part because Reeder articulates their views even as he hammers home his own. But they are wary of pumping Columbia River water and the impact on salmon. And they question essentially rewarding the industry that caused the problems. You can see the thought bubble: “These guys drained an aquifer to grow watermelons in the desert, and now they want more?”
Reeder and others understand the concern about an agricultural “water grab.” Agriculture is the state’s largest water user, taking about 85 percent of the water diverted for out-of-stream use.
Gov. John Kitzhaber wants the problem fixed, and designated the basin an “Oregon Solutions” project in April. Recommendations from a 20-member committee of farmers, environmentalists and government regulators are expected by December.
Carefully scripted winter withdrawals from the Columbia — when fish don’t need it and there’s plenty to generate power — might be acceptable to all sides. Farmers hope for a solution that applies only to the Umatilla Basin — one that isn’t opposed by environmentalists because they see it as a troublesome precedent for the rest of the state.
By all accounts, the parties work hard to understand each other.
“We’ve been able to stay at the table,” says Joe Whitworth, president of Portland’s Freshwater Trust. “It hasn’t been the typical greens vs. browns debate.”
Using some of a $2.5 million state grant, Cook’s commission extended a pipeline from a poplar tree farm and last year pumped 2,000 acre feet of Columbia River water and 16,000 acre feet of Umatilla River water to the infiltration test site. An acre foot of water covers an acre of land one-foot deep.
Over months, the water settled and seeped. Fifty-two wells traced its path.
Cook talks about the unknowns. “Storage capacity, where it goes and how long it takes to get there, and the carryover question: If I leave it in the ground one year, will it be there the next?”
The early indication? The test area might be able to store 25,000 acre feet annually, a quarter of what farmers hope to pull from the Columbia. Not a silver bullet, Cook says, but helpful in combination with other projects.
On Butter Creek, to the south, farmers Kent Madison and Mike McCarty hold state permits to do their own, smaller recharges. When the creek runs high, they divert limited amounts of water to a series of laser-leveled fields set at grade, so each is saturated in turn. At an underground collection point, they pump some for irrigation, and also inject water into the deeper basalt aquifer.
The basin’s projects are miniscule compared to Eastern Washington, where farmers also want more Columbia water. In 2006, the Washington Legislature established a $200 million Columbia River Basin Development Account to “aggressively” seek new water sources.
Derek Sandison, state Department of Ecology’s regional point man, says 40 projects are in various stages. On the back burner is a proposal to dam Crab Creek and pump Columbia River water there for storage. It could hold one- to three-million acre feet, but it would likely cost billions and take decades.
Sandison says Eastern Washington’s water shortages also stem from heavy irrigation and over-appropriation of water rights, followed by groundwater declines and a reduction of irrigation rights.
“They put their money where their mouth is,” says J.R. Cook, of the Umatilla Basin.
Wait and see
The first irrigation well in the Butter Creek area was dug in 1925. The first reports of water table decline came in 1958. By 1972 the area had 72 irrigation wells, from 665 to 1,500 feet deep. Butter Creek’s critical groundwater designation came in 1986.
The search for more water has been on ever since.
Oregon administrative rule prohibits direct irrigation with Columbia River from April 15 to Sept. 30. Withdrawal for storage is allowed, but basin farmers say the Columbia often is going full-bore past April, and they believe water can be safely diverted after the cutoff date.
The state Water Resources Department says that’s possible, but the idea needs study.
Taking more water in summer is a different story. “We’d have to be convinced,” says department engineer Barry Norris.
But change may be afoot. The Oregon Solutions has Gov. John Kitzhaber’s support and the attention of Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The Legislature’s involvement may not be necessary, Dingfelder says, if the basin solutions group reaches consensus.
“It’s premature to speculate how it will turn out,” she says.
Numerous complications exist. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla steadfastly pursue a settlement of their treaty rights to Umatilla River water. The impact of climate change on precipitation patterns is unknown.
Whitworth, of the Freshwater Trust, says the balance of fish and farm must be restored. Agriculture is “at once the most destructive and most necessary activity on the face of the earth,” he says.
But if technology and quantified conservation projects put the state in position to make tradeoffs and achieve environmental gain, “We’re all over this,” Whitworth says.
Craig Reeder calls himself a numbers guy, and he lays out the value of water with PowerPoint efficiency.
Dryland wheat, grown without irrigation, produces about $100 an acre, he says. Adding one acre-foot increases that to $500 an acre. A second foot allows the farmer to grow hay and some vegetables at $1,500 an acre.
A third acre-foot of water allows production of potatoes, onions and carrots, which gain value to $5,000 an acre or more with processing and international shipment.
Umatilla Basin farms play in the big leagues. Bud Rich Potato is the national supplier of Wendy’s foil-wrapped baked potatoes. Riverpoint Farms supplies the red onions for Subway sandwiches. JSH Farms produces mint flavoring and spices for Colgate, Wrigley, Proctor & Gamble and McCormick. Madison Farms will supply canola oil to Whole Foods. The bag of frozen corn at Safeway in Hermiston was grown and processed within a 20-minute drive.
Hale Farms on Butter Creek, where Reeder is chief operating and financial officer, grows potatoes that go from harvest to McDonald’s french fries in two hours.
Reeder grew up in the Willamette Valley but spent his summers on an uncle’s farm on the eastern edge of the Umatilla Basin. He studied agriculture business management and finance at Oregon State University. In addition to working for Hale Farms, he grows 1,000 acres of unirrigated wheat and is piecing together ownership of farmland that’s been in the family for five generations.
More water ensures the basin’s arc of prosperity and a future for his son, Reeder says.
He fervently believes more water can be drawn from the Columbia without harm. High-tech pump screens, designed by Hermiston’s IRZ Consulting, prevent fish kill, he says. Irrigators could help pay to repair the Wallowa Lake Dam, increasing storage for release to the Columbia in summer and offsetting some of what basin farmers would draw, he says. Today’s center-pivot irrigation systems are far more efficient than sprinklers used decades ago.
The basin’s economic opportunity doesn’t require drying up the Columbia, Reeder says.
“It’s not about the traditional ‘Give us this water and we’ll put people to work,'” he says. “That’s not the only argument. It won’t work politically and it won’t work socially.
“We get it, now.”
By KIRK JOHNSON New York Times
Published: October 11, 2012
Opponents of a plan to add fluoride to the water supply in Portland filed petitions that could put the issue to a vote. The plan was passed by the City Council last month, set to take effect in 2014, but foes said the idea was rushed and that concerns about fluoride in dental decay prevention are unresolved. A group collecting petitions, Clean Water Portland, said that more than 41,000 signatures were submitted, more than twice the number needed to put the matter on the ballot.
by Shiney Varghese | October 3, 2012
On Wednesday, September 26 Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the bill AB 685, into law, establishing the policy that every person in California has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. This is a historic moment in the U.S. debate over the right to water.(Image: Creative Commons license from Happy Sleepy.)
The U.S. federal government has not recognized water as a human right, but this policy initiative at the state level could become a turning point as far as water policy and politics goes. It is indeed a step in the right direction, given the concerns about “right to water” violations in California which were raised by the U.N. Special Rapporteur Catalina de Albuquerque following her visit to the United States in 2010.
The bill was authored by assembly member Mike Eng (D-Alhambra) and was co-sponsored by Safe Water Alliance, a coalition which includes many of our allies, and has been advocating for right to water in California for several years. The reach of the bill is extensive, and would help address some of the issues raised in the U.N. report, which identified specific cases where people were denied access to water or had to spend a large percentage of their income to secure water for domestic use.
The bill would “require all relevant state agencies, including the Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board, and State Department of Public Health, to employ all reasonable means to implement this state policy. Those state agencies would be required to revise, adopt, or establish policies, regulations and grant criteria to further this state policy, to the extent that those actions do not affect eligibility for federal funds.”
Not surprisingly the bill was opposed by almost all established (and powerful) water interests in the state. These include groups such as Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), which called on the Governor to veto the bill. They were concerned that the bill will prohibit water agencies from turning off the tap of a customer who does not pay the bill, irrespective of her or his ability to pay. Some farm and industrial interests also opposed the bill, fearing that it would add to the regulations with which they have to comply. However, these fears are misplaced, as pointed out by the Safe Water Alliance, “as AB 685 merely underscores what is already required by the” existing “policies and regulations to protect the State’s water resources relied upon as a source of drinking water.”
On World Water Day earlier this year, reflecting on what is at stake in recognizing the right to water, I wrote that “in the absence of effective regulatory frameworks, safeguards and the clear recognition of water as a fundamental human right, corporate interests will continue to supersede marginalized, low-income communities and smallholder farmers.” While the right to water is now enshrined in international law and in the constitution of several countries (including Bolivia, Congo, Ecuador, South Africa, Uganda and Uruguay), and national legislations of many others, we still have a long way to go globally. At the Food + Justice=Democracy conference last week in Minneapolis, local activists from around the country insisted that policies don’t always need to start at the federal level, they can follow a bottom up approach too.
California has created history by becoming the very first state in the U.S. to recognize human right to water; it need not remain the only state to do so. The way is now open for other states to follow suit.
Shiney Varghese is Senior Policy Analyst with IATP. She leads IATP’s work on global water policy, focusing on the water crisis, its impact on water and food security, and possible local solutions that emphasize equity, environmental justice and sustainability.
By Steve Law
The Portland Tribune
Portland City Council’s looming decision to fluoridate water from Bull Run Reservoir could prevent a lot of children from getting holes in their teeth.
But the speedy-quick decision is punching holes in Portland’s relations with Gresham and other communities that buy 40 percent of Portland’s Bull Run water supply.
“We really feel like we got blindsided on this issue,” says Mark Knudson, chief engineer for the Tualatin Valley Water District, the second-largest water utility in Oregon.
The Washington County district, and the dozen other suburban water utilities that depend on Bull Run water, met Aug. 8 with officials from the Portland Water Bureau, Knudson says, and “not a word was said about fluoride.”
They found out about it the next day, when The Oregonian published a story about the stealth lobbying campaign by public health groups to press for fluoridation, and support for the idea from City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who oversees the Portland Water Bureau.
Bad vibes among the 13 suburbs and water districts that buy much of Portland’s water may do little to halt what seems like an inevitable City Council vote Sept. 12 to fluoridate Bull Run water, after a cursory public hearing Sept. 6. But if the public concludes that Portland botched the process — such as by making a decision before taking public testimony or consulting with its largest customers and business partners — that could spur residents to sign petitions to overturn the decision at the ballot box.
Gresham officials are so miffed that they’re threatening to deny their share of the reported $5 million construction cost, plus annual operating expenses, to add fluoride to the water.
“We have been left on the sidelines, learning about the issue in the media, without a viable role in the decision-making process,” Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis wrote in an Aug. 24 letter to Portland Mayor Sam Adams. “Especially given the lack of voice given to the wholesale customers on this issue, I trust that we will not be billed for any expenses associated with this change.”
Talking to customers
West Slope Water District ranks as one of the medium-sized water utilities with long-term contracts to buy Portland water. Yet the suburban Washington County community still serves 14,600 residents and pays $1 million a year to the city, says Jerry Arnold, general manager.
“We’ve always had what I would call a partnership with the city of Portland,” Arnold says. “This certainly runs counter to that. It sure leaves a bad taste in our mouth.”
Leonard says he left it up to Upstream Public Health and other advocates to lobby his peers on the issue, since he has supported fluoridating water since 1975. Then he left for vacation in early August, planning to go public with his support at an Aug. 22 press conference.
“I was going to meet with the wholesale customers before that,” Leonard says. But then the issue got away from him.
“While I was still on vacation,” he says, “the mayor and (City Commissioner) Nick Fish came out and said they would support it.”
That meant the decision was essentially made without so much as a public hearing, or consultation with the other communities that pay $15 million a year for Portland water.
The proposal to fluoridate Portland’s water didn’t come from the Portland Water Bureau, says bureau Administrator David Shaff; it came from the boss who hired him, Leonard. “I wasn’t in a position to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s being talked about,’ “ Shaff says.
Shaff says he first learned about Upstream Public Health’s lobbying effort in February 2011, when fluoride opponents got wind of the underground campaign and appealed to him to oppose it. Charlie White, an opponent of fluoridation who lives in the Tualatin Valley Water District, was the one who approached Shaff.
He assured her his bureau wasn’t pushing fluoridation, White says, but Leonard declined to meet with her.
Leonard and Shaff say the city gets to call the shots on how it runs its water system, under terms of the long-term contracts. The wholesale customers concur, though they say the city consulted them in the past on key policy decisions involving the water system.
“Nobody is contesting the fact that Portland has the power and the ability to pass this,” says Eric Chambers, senior adviser to Gresham Mayor Bemis. “There’s a difference between the ability to do something and the right way to do something. If they were talking to advocacy groups back then, it sure seems like they could have talked to the wholesale customers.”
Leonard says they have a point. “I think they legitimately have an argument they need to know more about what’s going on,” he says.
However, Leonard adds, in the end “they’re going to get fluoride, and that’s part of the cost of delivering the water,” so they must pay for it.
Gresham disagrees. It’s obligated to pay for essential improvements to the water system such as fixing pipes, Chambers says, but adding fluoride is an elective decision. “That would not be covered, we believe, by the terms of the contract,” Chambers says.
Tualatin Valley Water District isn’t as miffed as Gresham. But it may have more issues with its constituents. The district was formed in 1991 by the merger of two smaller water districts.
Voters in the former Wolf Creek Highway Water District, which serves 183,157 citizens in suburban Washington County, voted 60 percent to 40 percent in 1963 to add fluoride to the water supply. But the 19,439 residents of the other part of the district, in the former Metzger Water District, never took such a vote. Ever since the merger in 1991, district leaders have promised they wouldn’t add fluoride to the Metzger part of the district without a public vote.
Now that appears to be a hollow promise.
Leonard says the wholesale customers won’t have a choice of whether or not to fluoridate the water they get from Bull Run. That’s because it’s far cheaper and easier to add the fluoride at the water bureau’s plant at Lusted Hill, soon after the water flows downhill from the Bull Run Reservoir, and where the bureau already adds chlorine to the water.