Protect Our Water

At a recent meeting in Ellsworth’s City Hall sponsored by the Lamoine Conservation Commission, a 2009 film called “Tapped,” about huge problems with bottled water, was shown. Concerned with the stubbornness of corporations in our daily lives, I was worried that a big company could drain “my aquifer” and leave me wicked thirsty. I learned enough to make me wicked worried!

Three big American corporations make huge profits with bottled water: Coke, Pepsi and Nestle. These corporations can buy land anywhere, drill a well, and suck out as much water as they can sell, with very little recourse from area folks sharing the same water. They know well that there is less and less clean fresh water on this planet, which means, as our global population grows, Maine’s currently adequate water supplies quickly will become very valuable. So, I wanted to know what we could do to protect our water. Apparently very little that will be simple and straightforward!

The biggest problem is trade agreements like NAFTA.   Remember all those folks protesting in Seattle and getting beaten and tear gassed? There’s a real issue here. A corporation can sue for current profits and future profits – without recourse through the regular courts! If Nestle, for example, drills a well in your town and starts pumping out water and if you folks find a way to stop Nestle from making their profit, they can sue for that profit for this year and years into the future. In short, it’s currently very difficult to stop these big corporations from sucking your water table to nasty depths. Lamoine is particularly worried because they are a peninsula surrounded by ocean. As their water table falls, it will be replaced by salt water!

I’m not even talking about the problems with drinking water from plastic bottles nor most especially for what becomes of those water bottles. Only six states currently require refunds to encourage recycling bottles from bottled water! The film shows a beach in southern California made of disintegrated plastic more than sand as well as gyros of circulating ocean currents also crammed with plastic water bottles disintegrating into a plastic soup where plastic pieces are now more plentiful than the plankton the sea creatures are trying to eat. I’m not even talking about the issue of whether the government checks the water quality of bottled water. . . .

Nope, it’s NAFTA and similar trade agreements that are the biggest problem. Maine’s Representative Mike Michaud is a sponsor of legislation called The Trade Act to begin moving toward correcting some of these problems. We were urged [at the meeting] to communicate with our representatives in Washington to support overhaul of our trade agreements. However, most of us want to feel informed when we communicate with our representatives. Perhaps “Tapped” is available through NetFlix or your library. A related film,  “Flow,” is also available. Talk with your selectmen: What is being done in your community to protect your water from being sucked dry by the long straws of corporations making huge profits selling nasty bottles to an extremely thirsty world??? A crucial aspect of all this is whether water is a public resource or whether water is a commodity to be hoarded and sold for the highest profit. Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations explores this question of common sharing of basic resources, a cultural common-sense practice of most Native Americans, but seemingly illegal and perhaps unconstitutional for all of us via sneaky trade agreements.

Emily Posner [a member of Defending Water for Life and a panel member at the meeting in Ellsworth], just back from a conference on water in Bolivia, insists we must listen to the indigenous Global South. We need to know the details of the confrontations of native Bolivians against global water corporations. When asked whether Mainers have any recourse, she responded: a) Don’t let the corporations rob you of your creativity!, b) Seriously consider the need for new Constitutions where the people will regain necessary control over the corporations, c) In the meantime, use existing powers to take the charters away from particularly misbehaved corporations, d) Make organizing our community fun.

So, how do we start? First, read the recent special issue of National Geographic devoted to global water issues. Second, find an effective way to communicate with our Washington representatives about re-writing our trade agreements. Third, encourage your local media to give you information about the unreasonable powers of these large corporations. Fourth, like Lamoine, start local learning groups.

Chuck Boothby, Waldoboro

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