Environment Council of Rhode Island

...building an ecologically healthy future in a sustainable economy

Privatization of Public Water Supplies and Systems

Pub Date: 
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Whereas on our planet, freshwater is finite, representing less than 3% of all water on Earth, including freshwater locked up in glaciers and icecaps, or out of reach in deep underground aquifers, and

Whereas water has intrinsic value that precedes its utilitarian and commercial value, and

Whereas water is a basic right for all peoples, plants, animals and for the maintenance of healthy ecosystems, the global supply of freshwater is a shared legacy, a public trust and the essence of life itself on this planet, and

Whereas during the past 70 years, the world's population ballooned from two to six plus billion, a tripling of human numbers, and over the same period of time, demand for freshwater increased six times, growing twice as fast as the human population, and

Whereas the human population is increasing by approximately 80 million people every year with a projected population of 13 billion in 2050 under current rates, and

Whereas humans use over half of all available freshwater, with the use and misuse of water resources resulting in less, free and clean water to support wildlife, and maintain healthy ecosystems and

Whereas bottled water usage has grown in consumption 84 fold [1million to 84 million liters] in the past 30 years and consumes 1.5 million tons of plastics yearly emitting toxic chemicals when produced; when transported or delivered releases pollutants, lowering air quality or contributing to global warming and many areas do not have effective recycling programs to handle the solid waste generated, and

Whereas water is also an important factor in social, cultural, ecological, health and transportation functions that cannot be fully protected by pure market based forces therefore requiring strong governmental oversight and regulation and application of strong public interest standards, and

Whereas privatization of water resources come in an array of possible management arrangements which may lead to substantive concerns over threats to watersheds, foreign control over our natural resource, inequities in access of social groups to basic water needs, or the exclusion of local communities in decisions on the management, costs and quality of their natural water resources,

Whereas there is a movement in many countries fostered by international aid and international financial institutions, banks and trade advocates requiring the privatization of public water supplies and services as conditions of international loans or restructuring of a country's debts, and

Whereas existing international instruments such as the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], Canadian United States Free Trade Agreement [CUFTA] and the World Trade Organization [WTO] with rules generated through its General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT] or its General Agreement on Trade and Services [GATS] are being employed by some investors and corporations to acquire or access water supplies and services across national boundaries, and

Whereas the forthcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas [FTAA] will be built around the investment rules and principles developed in NAFTA it will further allow corporations to sue governments for regulations the corporations consider "regulatory takings" such as environmental standards or habitat protections, and

Whereas there are several international corporations leading the movement toward privatization of water management systems, such as Vivendi, Suez, and RWE/Thames each with United States subsidiaries.

Now therefore be it resolved that the Environment Council of Rhode Island calls on policy makers to declare the Earth's water supply is now and forever a global commons, to be protected and nurtured by all peoples, and governments of every level; and

Be it further resolved that the Environment Council of RI calls on its state legislators and congressmen to develop water policies that protect water resources in sufficient quantity and quality to support human and ecosystem/watershed health and institute a moratorium on export and diversion of any non-renewable water resources pending the development and implementation of a conservation-based regime governing all potential uses of freshwater, domestic and foreign; and

Be it further resolved water is a right of all peoples and should not be considered a good, service or investment, that it must be exempt for all free trade agreements including the WTO, NAFTA, CUFTA and all bi-lateral investment treaties between nations; nor should water resources be included in upcoming negotiations on services such as GATT and FTAA; and

Be it further resolved that where privatization agreements are considered, government entities will maintain strong oversight and regulatory control while requiring the incorporation of the intrinsic, non-commercial value of water resources in alternative analysis that must be considered by decision-makers before any water can be privatized; and

Be it further resolved that freshwater not be bottled for sale and/or sold without a public process to determine the sustainability of such activity, and the environmental, economic and social consequences; and

Be it further resolved that the Environment Council of RI will work with congressional and administration delegations to ensure that international water strategies throughout the U.S.-Canada-Mexico and elsewhere will be based on sustainable management that will support both human and ecosystem water needs over the long-term by eliminating wasteful and polluting practices and by ensuring equitable access to water; and

Be it further resolved that the United States should follow through on its commitment at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to develop an integrated water resource management and efficiency plan by 2005 for the country and that such plan should be based on the above principles; and

Be it further resolved that President Bush's pledge to increase United States core assistance to developing countries by 50% over the next 3 years, resulting in a $5 billion annual increase over current levels by FY 2006, to be in the form of a new Millennium Challenge Account, as well as existing funding, should contribute to implementing watershed based conservation, water quality improvement policies and equitable access, and not be a vehicle to allow water privatization, moving toward achieving the goals set out in Agenda 21 and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development; and

Be it further resolved that the United States government should support development and implementation of a detailed action plan, with timetables and funding sources, to achieve the goals of Agenda 21 and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.