World’s Groundwater Supplies Draining Fast, NASA Study Says

June 17, 2015

Using a new approach — employing satellite data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) — NASA researchers concluded that 21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted faster than they can recharge, posing a long-term threat to the world’s freshwater supply, according to the study released Tuesday.

Areas with aquifers under the most stress include India, northern China, the Middle East, Saharan Africa, and California’s Central Valley.

“Most of those aquifers are the ones that support the world’s major food production,” Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the ground water study, told ABC News.

Researchers blame agriculture, population growth, climate change and water-intensive industries such as mining, for the alarming rates of groundwater depletion seen during the decade-long study period.

“Humanity has done a terrible job with groundwater stewardship,” Famiglietti said.

Groundwater is the primary source of freshwater for approximately two billion people worldwide, supplying 35 percent of the water used by humans, according to the NASA report. Underground aquifers come under increased stress during drought periods.

“Because of climate change, we will be seeing even less replenishment of those aquifers,” Famiglietti said.

As the world’s middle latitudes become drier, their aquifers will replenish less often, Famiglietti said. Combine that with an increasing demand for groundwater as the world population grows, and there may be a serious problem.

“It really paints a compelling picture for the problems of the future,” Famiglietti said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Environmental assessment reveals true costs of Shasta Dam raise

A Water Resources Investigation Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SLWRI DEIS) released by the United States Bureau of Reclamation can not hide the destructive impacts of the proposed increase in the height of the Shasta Dam, argues Friends of the River in a recent briefing. These include the threats it poses to the Winnemem Wintu Homeland for a second time.

The Bureau claims that spending more than a billion dollars to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet will provide additional water that will be used to provide cold water downstream for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

The report ignores the history of the Sacramento River salmon that only began their downward spiral towards extinction when Shasta Dam was completed in 1945, thereby blocking the river’s historic spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead.

It is also contradicted by research, referenced in the DEIS, by a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that states unequivocally that raising the dam will have negligible benefits for endangered fish. According to the USFWS, the raised dam will provide no fishery benefits 90% of the time. That’s because dams don’t produce water, they simply capture it when rain falls from the sky and flows downhill. If the rain doesn’t fall (as often happens during California’s chronic drought periods), there will be little or no additional water stored behind the raised dam to benefit salmon.

Friends of the River also note that the report reveals the real reason for the dam raise – “every extra drop of water stored behind the raised dam will be sold to federal water contractors downstream, with 77% of the water sold for export south of the Delta.” Which means the Shasta Dam raise is directly tied the proposal by water contractors and Governor Jerry Brown to build enormous twin tunnels under the Delta, which will divert large amounts of fresh water from the Sacramento River (much of it stored upstream behind Shasta Dam) for export to large corporate farms in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.

The Winnemem Wintu tribe lost both their villages and many sacred sites when the Shasta Dam was erected. A dam raise of about 18-feet would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end their ability to practice their culture and religion.

Maine: Talking points for Town Meeting on RBOs

Q: What is a sustainable energy system?


According to the definition of “unsustainable infrastructure” in the ordinance, the criteria for a “sustainable” infrastructure system is one that is does not threaten rights and is under COMMUNITY CONTROL.


Town residents – not permitting agencies – will choose which projects are acceptable.


Q: What is the prohibition?


Land acquisition for the purpose of siting and constructing the E/W within the town is illegal.


Corporations in violation of the ordinance cannot use their constitutional protections to override the rights and protections guaranteed to real people within the town.


The state cannot preempt the ordinance unless to provide greater rights protections to people.


Q: Is the ordinance “legal”?


The RBO recognizes a higher law – one of RIGHTS.


Lower law is regulatory law.


The definition of “self-government” – According to the Maine State Constitution, Article 1 Section 2. Power inherent in people. All power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.


Article I Section 24. Other rights not impaired. The enumeration of certain rights shall not impair nor deny others retained by the people.


So, if we believe we govern by consent, then the RBO is legitimate law-making that marks the beginning of a new civil rights movement.


It is our duty to correct government that denies rights and change it to protect rights.


Law is not meant to be static, it adapts to societal views.


At one time people were considered property under the Law ” (civil rights movement/suffragists).


What’s “legal” is not always “legitimate.


Q: Will the town get sued?


Anyone can sue anyone for anything. The ordinance does nothing to change that.


What the ordinance does change is the political relationship between the town and corporations who operate within the town. If a commercial interest attempts to exercise power over local decision-making, the ordinance recognizes that kind of power as “illegitimate and illegal”.


Q: Does the state preempt all decisions about energy and transportation – in fact, aren’t those federal issues?


Congress controls commerce – energy and transportation are part of federal policy, regulated at the federal and state levels.


State regulatory agencies (DOT, DEP) control the permitting process at the state level to implement federal policy.


Once a corporation fills out a permit application that is accepted by regulatory agencies as “administratively complete”, the decision is non-discretionary and the permit issues BY RIGHT.


If the Town does not want 135 foot towers on ridgelines, or a highway running over 400 year old farms, too bad.


According to regulatory law: What the state permits, the municipality cannot prohibit.


Would the state and federal government come in on behalf of corporations to control what happens in our town? Yes, the way the legal structure currently operates, corporations, backed up by the state through the chartering process, have more decision-making authority in the town about whether or not the E/W gets to site here, than we do.


Q: Will the selectmen be liable for an ordinance passed at town meeting?


It is common practice for corporations in charge of siting commercial and industrial projects that harm the health and safety of residents and damage the environment to threaten elected officials. They do this because they are hoping the elected officials will crumble out of fear of being sued and surrender any local control to decide what happens to the townspeople, abandoning the very people who elected them and surrendering their rights even before the case is brought to court. Surrendering in fear eliminates the trouble of preparing arguments that might portray the corporation in a bad light when their lawyers make the argument that “of course corporations have more power in your community than you do- it’s the Law”


The selectmen have indemnification protection. Insurance for actions taken while in office.


Selectmen also have the support of the community behind them. This demonstrates service and responsibility to the people, not the opposite.


Q: The state has our best interests at heart, surely they would not issue a permit for a project that would hurt residents, would they? Regulatory agencies protect us, right?


All regulatory agencies serve the same purpose – to facilitate the permitting of business and industry.


Q: How much will a legal battle cost, if we try to say “no” to the E/W?


No one can predict the cost of a lawsuit. In general, comparing a lawsuit brought using a regulatory argument and one that reframes the argument to one of rights, the latter argument is not as costly to defend.


Q: Why pass an ordinance that the lawyer says is illegal?


Law is not meant to be static – it has to change when it denies rights.


The town lawyer’s job is protecting the financial interests of the municipal corporation (our town) not protecting the people who live here.


The RBO challenges the idea that corporations, supported by the state, can harm the community without liability. Permits legalize rape, in other words.


Current law protects corporations – municipal corporations and private corporations – not the people and certainly not the environment.


The Community Bill of Rights Ordinance drives rights of real people – the residents of the town – into Law.


Educational pamphlet for more information contact: Gail Darrell CELDF gail(at)celdf(dot)org 603.269.8542

What the Rights Based Ordinance (RBO) Does

The ordinance makes a fundamental change in the way our town handles state and federal regulatory procedures. It involves the claim that we have the right to a final say over what corporate infrastructure projects are located here. It is a very logical argument.


The way it is now


• Regulatory procedure does not recognize the town’s existing codes, policies, zoning rules and other local ordinances. This is called the doctrine of “preemption.”


• Preemption allows permits given by state or federal authorities to override local control.


• Example: Our town has a land use ordinance. All of us who live here have to respect it when we build, or try for a variance from our local Zoning Board if we want to get a variance. A corporation such as Cianbro does not have to respect our local land use ordinances once they receive a state permit.


The RBO does three major things to change the way it is now


• It claims the right of the citizens of our town to community self-government, based on the Maine Constitution’s guarantee of consent of the governed. In this way it challenges the doctrine of preemption because we assert our legal standing in regulatory matters. If we do not claim this right, we cannot challenge preemption.


• It declares that corporations shall not have the rights of persons under either the US or the Maine Constitution, and removes corporations’ power to use state or federal preemptive law, including eminent domain, in our town without our consent.


• It claims the right of the citizens of our town to determine our own future, rather than sacrificing parts of our town to infrastructure projects forced upon us by someone else.


How the ordinance works


• Declares a bill of rights including self-governance, the right to sustainable infrastructure projects, the right to use and enjoy land, the right to preserve the aesthetic values and environment of our town.


• It is based on the argument we reject the (Plunder Road/East-West Trespass/ E/W ______) project and any other future infrastructure projects that we expect will come along, on the basis of being unsustainable (unsupported by and unsupportive of the town) which is why sustainability is a focus of the ordinance.


• The way that our town works toward a more sustainable future is left for us to determine, through our own decision-making, to be approved by popular vote. The ordinance offers a sweeping definition of what can be considered “unsustainable.” It leaves it to us to determine what we will permit or not as we move toward a more sustainable future. For example, we could exclude roadways, pipelines and power lines that damage our natural beauty, which is included in the definition of unsustainable infrastructure systems in the ordinance.


• The key point here: THIS IS UP TO US, not an outside permitting authority.

for more information contact: Gail Darrell CELDF gail(at)celdf(dot)org 603.269.8542

Democracy School in Dover-Foxcroft

This democracy school by CELDF was brought to Dover-Foxcroft by members of Stop the East-West Corridor.  There will be another school on April 5 and 6th, followed by a rights-based-ordinance workshop on April 7th.  Visit our calendar for details.

Citizens and Activists Learn About U.S. Government System

by WABI-TV5 News Desk | March 8th 2013

View Original Article.

Dover-Foxcroft – Concerned citizens and activists had a chance to learn more about the United States government system.

The Daniel Pennock Democracy School was held at the Congregational Church in Dover-Foxcroft earlier this week.

This was the third time the course has been taught in the area by members of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

“Folks come here to learn about the legal structure. How it’s set up and what they can to do to actually take local democracy back and actually make those decisions for themselves”
“It’s about giving them an avenue to follow to be able to get that kind of community established and in place.”

Nat Pop: “So were going actually move now and take a look at the constitution of the United States of America.”

Participant Matthew Newman was paying close attention throughout the session.

“I came here specifically to learn how to write legislation or ordinances for towns along the route so that they can self govern”

In particular, he is concerned with the East West Corridor proposal.

“we should have the right as the community to to say as a community that we don’t want this”

But not everyone is here for the same reason as Matthew,

“We’ve had elected officials folks from all different political backgrounds. Folks come to this school when they either would like to say no to something coming into their community that they don’t want to see that’s going to harm…Or they would actually like to implement a positive policy ”
“I very rarely know what political leanings the people who participate in these democracy schools are. I seldom ask and I seldom find out. It’s really about those members of the communities who see that they perhaps are somehow being restricted from really obtaining the goals they have for their children or their grandchildren”

Caitlin Burchill. WABI TV 5 News. Dover-Foxcroft.

A way to go: Plenty of hurdles left to clear before bottling plant gets off the ground

Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.

Posted: Sunday, December 9, 2012 2:05 am | Updated: 10:28 pm, Sat Dec 8, 2012.

By Mark Stayton

At least one crucial deadline has been met.

But developers of a proposed 1 million-square-foot bottled beverage manufacturing plant in Anacortes have plenty of other hoops to jump through before the project gets up and running.

Tethys Enterprises, Inc. met a Dec. 1 deadline to acquire property rights to at least 30 acres within city limits. That deadline was set by the city of Anacortes as part of a contract between Tethys and the city that would move the project forward.

The contract, signed in 2010, states that the city would sell the company 5 million gallons of water through 2035, with the option to extend through 2040, if the company could secure the rights to at least 30 acres of land with rail access within the city limits or an area that could be annexed.

On Nov. 29, the company identified a 30.3-acre parcel on the southwest intersection of Highway 20 and Reservation Road, where Sunland Bark & Topsoils now operates.

Tethys CEO Steve Winter said his company has been in negotiations to secure a suitable piece of land.

“We’re at the end of the beginning,” he said.

Anacortes Public Works Director Fred Buckenmeyer said the company still must meet several other deadlines and requirements before the city can sell water to the plant.

Tethys has two years to submit a building application — including environmental and traffic impact reviews — and the plant must be ready to start production two years after that, Buckenmeyer said. Tethys also will be responsible for upgrading the pumps at the city’s approximately $1 million new water treatment plant, Buckenmeyer said.

Anacortes currently has uninterpretable rights to 55 million gallons of water per day from the Skagit River, of which it uses approximately 21 million gallons.

The project has been controversial since it was proposed two years ago, dividing the city between those who say a new bottling plant could create hundreds of new jobs and become an economic boon, and others who contend the city has no business selling a public resource to a private business.

Critics quickly chided city officials — particularly Mayor Dean Maxwell — for not allowing more public comment about the proposal and the contract before the city agreed to sign it. Some argued that city leaders should have been discussing the proposal more in public.

Several recent City Council meetings were the scene of even more heated discussion over the plant, as Anacortes signed off on a petition to expand the city’s urban growth area — ostensibly to provide land for the plant — without the City Council’s prior approval. Maxwell said signing the application was legal and within his jurisdiction.

For his part, Winter said his proposal represents a new level of efficiency, scale and environmentally friendly practices in the beverage world and would diversify the county’s economy with a recession-resistant industry. He said the project is put forth by local business people who want to capitalize on what the Northwest has to offer.

“We are, you know, local guys who have developed a partnership, that have a commitment to area and have a dream, you know, the typical entrepreneurial dream,” Winter said during a recent interview with the Skagit Valley Herald. “That we saw an opportunity in an industry that was not being filled, with a very creative idea, and we want to pursue that creative idea to fill that market opportunity.”

Meet the 13-Year-Old Taking On Bottled Water

AlterNet/By Maude Barlow, published Sept. 6, 2012

We should be encouraging the youth in our society to do exactly what Robyn is doing — engaging in local politics, acting to protect the environment and questioning the world around her.
In the last year, municipalities across Ontario and the rest of the country have begun taking a much-needed stand to protect local water sources. Since  World Water Day  in 2011, nine municipalities across Canada have become Blue Communities with many well on their way.

Blue Communities  are municipalities that adopt a water commons framework by: banning the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events, recognizing water as a human right, and promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and waste-water services.

The success of the Blue Communities project in Ontario can be mainly attributed to Robyn Hamlyn who has met with 18 mayors and councillors. She talks about the environmental impacts of bottled water, the preposterous amount of profit bottled water companies make off communities’ lakes and streams and the stricter standards with which tap water is regulated. People who hear Hamlyn speak are captivated by her charm, passion and foresight to think long term about our water sources. And the incredible part of this success story is that Hamlyn is only  13 years old .

Her success has not only caught the attention of mayors, city councillors, environmentalists and media but it has also caught the attention of industry and organizations that believe water should be sold for profit. Hamlyn’s determination and effectiveness has provoked responses from Nestlé and Enviroment Probe, an organization that promotes the sale of water as a commodity.

John Challinor, Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestlé, has written letters to local newspapers saying there are other initiatives that the 13-year-old and others “can and should focus on to help preserve, protect and strengthen our water systems that are more effective than targeting bottled water.” More recently, Essie Solomon, an intern for  Environment Probe , wrote an article in the  Financial Post , chiding municipalities for taking “their advice from a 13-year-old.” It was shocking to read Environment Probe’s attack on Hamlyn who has been volunteering her free time to meet with municipal councils across Ontario to talk about the impact of bottled water on current water sources, climate change and social justice.

We should be encouraging the youth in our society to do exactly what Robyn is doing — engaging in local politics, acting to protect the environment and questioning the world around her. Solomon, whose article is condescendingly titled ” Don’t bottle 13-year-old’s water wisdom ,” would do well to pay attention to Hamlyn’s work rather than toe the line of an organization that promotes the sale of water for profit.

It’s also insulting to mayors and councillors to imply they do not examine critically the information presented to them. Not only is Hamlyn dispelling important myths about bottled water but she is also raising important issues that Canada is facing.

We believe municipal governments and other public bodies should not spend public funds providing bottled water at meetings or events, when a cheaper and more sustainable public alternative is readily available on tap. It simply doesn’t make financial or environmental sense.

Municipalities are at a crossroads and face pressing infrastructure needs in the wake of budget cuts and conditional funding from the Harper government. The Harper government is targeting water and wastewater services for privatization. PPP Canada explicitly promotes privatization of public services by only allocating the $1.2 billion under the P3 Canada Fund to municipalities that let corporations deliver water and wastewater, transportation and communications services on a for-profit basis.

The Harper government has shut down public debate on many critical water issues and amended environmental legislation that will reverberate for generations to come. So we are heartened to see municipalities take on critical water issues and provide forums for much needed debate and it is in them that we place our hope.

The Blue Communities Project is a joint initiative of the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). This project builds on a decade of Water Watch work in coalition with many other groups to protect public water services and challenge the bottled water industry.  Click here  to learn more about the Blue Communities Project.

California Makes History on the Right to Water

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.

© 2012 Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Shiney Varghese

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.