• Follow us on Twitter @buckeyeplanet and @bp_recruiting, like us on Facebook! Enjoy a post or article, recommend it to others! BP is only as strong as its community, and we only promote by word of mouth, so share away!
  • Consider registering! Fewer and higher quality ads, no emails you don't want, access to all the forums, download game torrents, private messages, polls, Sportsbook, etc. Even if you just want to lurk, there are a lot of good reasons to register!


Head Coach
Former Game Champion
  • Drink for thought...

    The New Blue Gold
    By Silja J.A. Talvi, AlterNet
    Posted on June 23, 2004, Printed on June 24, 2004
    There are untold profits to be made from controlling the simplest and
    most vital ingredient of our survival: water.

    The only question, from a profit standpoint, is why it has taken this

    "You can't do anything without water," says Alan Snitow, co-producer
    and co-director of Thirst, a groundbreaking and provocative new film about
    the rush to privatize what the filmmakers rightly define as the very
    "essence of life."

    In their third collaborative documentary film after the successes of
    Blacks and Jews (1997) and Secrets of Silicon Valley (2001), Bay Area-based
    filmmaking duo Deborah Kaufman and Snitow take an unflinching and
    multifaceted look at water privatization in Bolivia, India, Japan and the

    What Kaufman and Snitow find is that the "water rush" is likely
    turn into one of the most volatile and potentially galvanizing issues of the
    21st century.

    "This is an incredible struggle, and yet it's still so far below the
    radar that we're trying to give it a voice," Kaufman says. "People are
    already willing to die for [water], but it's something that many of us still
    take for granted."

    The grab for corporate control of water is indeed already here in our
    own backyards. But the conflict over water supplies perhaps most familiar to
    news-savvy audiences is the place where Thirst goes first: to Cochabamba,
    Bolivia. After the country auctions off the water system of its
    third-largest city to U.S.-based Bechtel Corporation in 1999, residents
    experience water price hikes of 30-300%, and the situation eventually erupts
    in a cross-class protest that makes headline news worldwide.

    By April 2000, the government responds to civil unrest by declaring
    martial law. Shortly thereafter, Victor Hugo Daza, a 17-year-old peaceful
    protester, is shot dead in the streets by a government sniper.

    Daza's death doesn't quell dissent the way it was intended to. In
    fact, protests heat up to the point that water consortium execs beat a hasty
    retreat, and Cochabamba's water system gets handed over to a community-run
    utility. In an unlikely turn of events, the citizens actually get what they
    want; water gets treated like a human right, not as the last frontier of the
    commercialization and privatization of earth's natural resources.

    "They're on the defensive in the global South," Kaufman explains.
    many ways, they're ahead of us responding to what's in the near future for
    all of us."

    In point of fact, American cities and towns are the new staging ground
    for rapid and strategic power plays over who controls water supply. In 2004,
    85% of U.S. municipal water systems are publicly owned, with a shocking 15%
    already in the hands of corporations. Unbeknownst to most residents,
    municipal governments are being heavily courted in the here and now to turn
    over control of their water supply to multinational companies like Suez
    Water, whose U.S. subsidiary took control of Atlanta's water in 1999.

    The incentive for local governments is hard to miss; with an estimated
    cost of a trillion dollars, the prospect of replacing aging pipes and
    improving the condition of public water plants is increasingly seen by city
    leaders as a budgetary drain best dealt with through privatization.

    To exemplify the point, Kaufman and Snitow turn their camera to
    Stockton, California, where a well-run locally controlled water purification
    and distribution system is about to be offered to the highest bidder.
    (Notably, the public utility itself isn't allowed to be one of the bidders.)

    The transfer of power over the water supply is intended to take the
    form of a "public-private partnership," and Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto
    is a
    firm supporter.

    "This can be done for less dollars," as Mayor Podesto says.

    A subsequent, well-orchestrated grassroots mobilization by city
    residents -- baristas, orthodontists, environmentalists, utility employees
    and union members among other unlikely allies -- fails to capture any
    attention from the national media. But Kaufman and Snitow have the instinct
    to jump into the heart of the conflict, meeting and talking with all sides
    of the privatization debate.

    But there is no storybook ending in Thirst where Stockton's citizenry
    are concerned. By February 2003, in fact, the Mayor and a severely divided
    City Council hand over the $600 million, 20-year contract to a two-company
    consortium of corporate water giants: OMI and Thames.

    All along, Stockton residents who did their research were emphatic
    that corporate claims of cost effectiveness, quality and safety had not been
    realized elsewhere.

    In Atlanta's case, for instance, the city's $428 million, 20-year
    contract with Suez-subsidiary United Water Services was cancelled after a
    series of citywide EPA alerts advising residents to boil their tap water
    because of toxic contaminants. Finally, after five such "boil-alerts,"
    cutbacks, leaking water mains, and rising sewer bill costs, city
    administrators yanked back control of the utility.

    Little victories aside, corporate water grab is still fully underway,
    working in collusion with governments and international financial agencies,
    wreaking environmental havoc and inflating water prices all the while. In
    the final analysis, the battle over water, says Kaufman, has more to do with
    democracy than what's coming out of your tap. And it's toward this end, say
    the filmmakers, that they fully intend their documentary to spur further
    activism and to educate audiences about the extent to which water has
    already been commodified.

    As captured in Thirst, John Briscoe, the Senior Water Advisor to The
    World Bank, puts it this way to an assembly at the Third World Water Forum
    in Kyoto, Japan.

    "What does it mean to say that water is a human right?" he asks."
    Those who proclaim it so would say that it is the obligation of
    [governments] to provide free water to everybody. Well, that's a fantasy."

    In touring the U.S. with their film, Kaufman and Snitow have already
    become cautiously optimistic that the tide of privatization can be turned. A
    model ordinance to safeguard water as a public trust has already been
    drafted in concert with Madison, Wisconsin Mayor David Cieslewicz, and will
    be presented at the upcoming 72nd U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston, which
    runs from June 25-29th. (Perhaps not so coincidentally, the conference's
    website is being sponsored by Veolia Water, which has become North America's
    leading private "service provider" for local government water and wastewater

    "It's a festival of privatization," as Snitow says. "But what
    don't yet fully realize is that for many people, water is the final boundary
    that can't be crossed."

    Check local listings for screenings of 'Thirst.' To coincide with the
    U.S. Conference of Mayors, 'Thirst' will show at the Boston Museum of Fine
    Arts on June 26th. It will have its national P.O.V. broadcast premiere on
    PBS stations on Tuesday, July 13th at 10 p.m.

    To learn more about related issues -- and a growing campaign to
    boycott bottled water -- visit

    © 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
    View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/19017/