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.

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.

Some question McCloud’s Squaw Valley Creek study

By Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Area Newspapers
Posted Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:15 AM
Last update Nov 02, 2011 @ 02:21 PM

McCloud, Calif. — Now that a study on the Squaw Valley Creek watershed is complete, members of the McCloud Community Services District and California Trout hope they can keep some of its sensors up and running.

“If we can continue the study, we’d learn more about stream flow,” said Curtis Knight of Cal Trout. “The more information we have, the better.”

In a press release from Nestle Waters North America, who funded the approximately $1 million study after the company halted plans to build a bottling plant in McCloud, the company could have taken as much as 3.2 cubic feet per second of water from the creek without diminishing water quality or harming the ecosystem.

Some in the community, however, believe the study isn’t entirely conclusive because the water diversion study was only conducted over six weeks. (The entire study took two years to complete.) MCSD board member Diane Lowe still believes such water extraction would have negatively impacted the area.   Continue reading

Crystal Geyser cancels plans for Orland bottling plant

By HEATHER HACKING Staff Writer
Posted: 11/08/2011 10:49:13 AM PST
ORLAND – Plans for a Crystal Geyser Sparkling Water Company bottling plant in Orland have been withdrawn.
The company had planned to build a facility at the edge of town, but faced opposition from many citizens who said it wasn’t a good fit for a variety of reasons.
The most vocal opposition was from a group named Save Our Water Resources, which cited traffic, noise, groundwater quality, pollution and storm water and sewer impacts.
Two lawsuits were filed, stating proper procedures were not followed by the city under California Environmental Quality Act guidelines. In August a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the water company needed to go back and conduct an initial study, and after that, it would be decided if a full environmental review was needed.
The water company, in a statement on its website today, crystalgeyserorland.com, stated that the company was impressed by the pool of applicants who had inquired about jobs.
But due to the “uncertain timing of completion of a new Orland plan and the open-ended nature of ongoing legal expenses, it would be best for the company to locate our new facilities in another area.”
The plans for the bottling plant had been in the works for more than two years.

Are Greedy Water Bottlers Siphoning Your City's Drinking Water?

Monday 22 March 2010     Tara Lohan  |  AlterNet

It took six years for residents of tiny McCloud, California, to give Nestle Waters North America its walking papers. The water bottler had hoped to build a 1 million square-foot facility in the town of less than 2,000 and was given a backroom 50-year contract (renewable for an additional 50 years) to annually take 1,250 gallons per minute of delicious spring water from the town, hunkered in the shadow of Mount Shasta, and unlimited groundwater. But after years of opposition from community and environmental groups, Nestle scrapped its plans and left with its tail between its legs. Continue reading

Nestlé Waters appeal filed (Sacramento, CA)

Sacramento Press, Nov. 24, 2009

Save Our Water Sacramento filed an administrative appeal involving the Nestlé water-bottling plant on Monday, Nov. 23.

Davis attorney Don Mooney has agreed to take the case if the issue goes to court. Mooney represented McCloud residents in their six-year fight against a Nestlé Waters North America water-bottling plant near Mt. Shasta. The company abandoned plans for the plant in September.
Continue reading

Nestlé's Backroom Deal? (Sacramento, CA)

Part II- Nestlé at the City Council: Public Discussion or Backroom Deal?
by Evan Tucker, Sacramento Press, November 18, 2009

Who is to Blame?
Nestlé was recruited by the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization and the Economic Development Department, one of a series of bad projects they have brought here that include the municipal waste burning incinerator and the natural gas storage facility beneath homes in South Sacramento.

Continue reading

Revolving-door syndrome (Sacramento, CA)

Sacramento News & Review Editorial, Nov. 16, 2009

It wasn’t all that surprising when one of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s chief volunteer advisers, Michelle Smira, announced a few weeks back that she’d be leaving her city post to work on behalf of Johnson’s “strong mayor” campaign.  Smira, who runs a public-relations business called MMS Strategies, sent her resignation to the mayor to formalize her decision, but she also wrote that she looks forward to working for Johnson again “at a later date.”  OK, no big deal. It stands to reason that accomplished staff volunteers might become candidates for job offers from those they served well.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Heads turned three days later when it was revealed that Smira had also taken a job working as a consultant for Nestlé Waters, the giant water-bottling company now building a bottling plant in south Sacramento.

So, uh … wait a minute.

There’s little doubt that Smira got the Nestlé job at least partially based on her political connections to the mayor. (Interestingly, he’s the one who greenlighted the water plant without a public hearing.) Like lobbyists, public-relations professionals use their connections to help them produce results for whoever they work for. That’s how it works.

But it’s weird to have key staffers (even volunteer ones) consider moving in and out of local public service this way, since a symbiotic relationship can develop between the two roles—and what’s good for the city is often not what’s good for an industry. That’s why there are anti-revolving-doors laws at the state and national level.

As the Smira case illustrates, it’s past time for Sacramento to take the revolving-door syndrome more seriously and strengthen existing laws that keep this tendency in check.