Friday, September 5, 2008

Gold and Water in Them Thar Hills

A new video called Flow, about to be released should shake things up a bit.

It' s aimed at the bottled water companies, primarily.

But it also covers the World Bank deals which are forcing privatized water systems in urban areas, where there's lots of people to complain about the high costs and profits going to the corporations that own these water delivery systems.

In my last post, I told the story of the wealthy gold miner who owned the private water company that served water to the port city of San Francisco until 1930, when the City "municipalized" the private company and combined it with the new Hetch Hetchy water project and formed the SF Public Utilities Commission.

San Jose and much of Silicon Valley has gone in almost the opposite direction, although the public is still a strong partner with our local private water companies. In the local cities that have a municipal, rather than an investor-owned private water company, are those cities that wanted to contract for Hetch Hetchy water from the SFPUC. This arrangement was mandated by the Federal legislation, called the Raker Act, which authorized the construction of the dam in Yosemite National Park. Since San Francisco had long battled in court with the private Spring Valley Water Company, it was amenable to a requirement that none of the water or power from the Hetch Hetchy Project could be sold to any private company for resale. Municipal water and sometimes power companies were formed in the Peninsula and the South Bay cities of San Jose, Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Palo Alto and Mountain View. In some cases like Mountain View and San Jose, investor-owned companies serve some if not most of the water to the residents and business in those cities.

According to their website, San Jose Water Company (SJW) was founded in 1866. SJW is an investor-owned public utility, and is one of the largest urban water system in the United States, serving over 1 million people in the greater San Jose metropolitan area. In the 1970's, the privately-owned Campbell Water Company was acquired by SJW, followed soon after by assuming the management of the municipally-owned Cupertino Water system. Most recently, San Jose Water Corp. has acquired the Canyon Lake Water Service Company in the state of Texas.

Recently, Rich Roth, the President of San Jose Water gave an address to the San Jose Rotary Club which naturally praised the benefits of investor-owned water system ownership, while pointing to many of the problems in the water supply situation we are facing in the coming years. Most of those problems are the result of the very conservative approach the leaders of this valley adopted for the last five decades, opting to obtain half our current water supplies from the State and Federal aqueduct systems, which draws all of its supplies through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Now that the Delta is in ecological collapse and threatened to be destroyed completely by sea level rise from global warming, all that supply is at risk and the $30 million per year mortgage payments for the construction costs of the two aqueducts are still due and payable by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

But scarier than losing the Delta supply, which is water of marginal quality, is the ever-present threat that San Jose Water Company could be sold to an even larger conglomerate and business decisions could move out of their local Board Room to anywhere on the planet. This threat became very real just a few years ago when American Water Company made a buyout offer for SJW. While the deal was not closed, American Water Company now has three directors from the German company RWE AG, which now owns controllingr interest in American Water Company. These directors are the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Counsel and the head of their mergers and acquisitions unit of RWE AG.

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor poses the Question: Is Water Becoming the New Oil?
Of course, almost everyone agrees, people can learn to live without oil, but not without water. If water is managed strictly as a profit center for investor-owned corporations, many fear that water will not be considered part of the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For a entertaining scenario of life with very little water, I recommend the hilarious musical stage play Urinetown.


Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

I sent this letter to American Water Company after reading their press release about the Un-Privatizing of the Town of Felton's water system:
Many residents of San Jose and throughout the world will be rejoicing that the small community of Felton has taken back local control of its water system. Please forget the way to San Jose. Any further attempts to remove local control here will be met wiith a similar public takeover of San Jose Water. All politics is local, and control of our water is at the top of the list. Read more at my blog:

Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

This comment was posted in response to the Christian Science Monitor article" Is water the New Oil?"
32. Uncle B | 06.15.08

Society is funny. First we were trapped on the family farm, traded our brawn, morality and beauty for jobs with the ‘man’, now we are headed back to an organic-agricultural life. We will bring with us all that modern technology has to offer, and probably will have a more comfortable and healthier time of it. The ‘Man’ will try to follow us there with taxes for him to pay for his wild dreams, but this time, he will have to back down because we are educated enough to not be taken advantage of, and numerous enough to out vote his lunacies. Once the migration is underway, oil prices will fall since less will be burnt, the rains will return, global warming will retreat, the whore-houses of the ‘man’ will die off, and humanity will return from extreme consumerism to a more humble and sustainable reality. Many will die off, mostly those who do not or can not adjust, those who survive will never forget the lesson taught to mankind about the evils of forming corporations. A new chapter to the ‘Book’ will be written, and a new more humane, gentle respectful life will continue. We are at the end of a horrible exploitation. We will go through a fiery cleansing into a new enlightened world. We are not short of water or oil, we are short of knowledge and we will be taught by mother Nature

Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

My friend Bahman Sheikh wrote this review of Urinetown:

URINETOWN, The Musical—A water resources engineer’s review

By Bahman Sheikh, Ph. D., P.E., Water Reuse Consultant

“Urinetown, The Musical” is a must-see entertainment triumph, especially for anyone whose life’s work brings him/her close to issues of water supply, public health, sanitation, water shortage, and the role of public institutions in rendering water and sewerage—and recycled water—services.

The play is based on the imaginary City of Urinetown. One is led to wonder—with some horror—throughout the play where the City is and if one will ever be given a glimpse of it. A severe water shortage, a corrupt government, and a greedy corporation have conspired to bilk the public for services as essential as using public toilets to urinate. Set in a spectacular parody of the Broadway musical style, the story is told in catchy song and beautiful dance—with occasional whimsical clues given to the audience as to the direction of the story.

While providing enormous fun and pure entertainment value, Urinetown, The Musical delves deeply (subversively, even) into issues such as privatization of essential public services, corruption of the democratic process with huge campaign contributions by corporate giants, and class warfare between the haves and the have-nots. The play is, at its heart, a strong plea for a more sustainable way to deal with limited water resources and essential sanitation issues.

The play, and its popularity among mass audiences, is bound to engender greater consciousness in broad segments of the population toward the need for conservation and wise use of water resources, and public maintenance of wastewater management systems. That someone has to pay for these services comes across quite clearly—as does the fact that people feel they must be able to urinate for free!

It is expected to come to a (live) theater near you in the future. Don’t miss it.