Getting Soaked

Corporations seek control of the water supply - here and around the world

| November / December 2002

THE PRIVATIZATION of water supplies has gotten a lot of media attention recently as another example of greedy globalization—poor peasants in Bolivia and elsewhere being screwed by transnational corporations. But as populist commentator Jim Hightower notes in his Hightower Lowdown newsletter (July 24, 2002), corporate takeovers of water systems are happening right here in the United States—with disastrous consequences.

In Atlanta, Jersey City, and Jacksonville, Florida, the public’s water supply system has fallen under the control of United Water Resources, the "second-largest corporate water fiefdom in the U.S." The results include "skyrocketing bills, foul water, lousy service, nonfunctioning fire hydrants

—and no control over the culprits," writes Hightower. The company, which is also bidding on New Orleans’ water system, even had the nerve to fend off responsibility for the problems by routing complaints to municipal employees.

The World Bank forecasts a water shortage for two-thirds of the globe in the next 20 years, a warning that Hightower argues is falling on deaf ears everywhere except in the executive suites of the new global water companies. "You might think that the sheer scariness of this scarcity would prompt policy makers to focus on such goals as protecting the purity of the aqua we have, pushing rational conservation, and promoting the long-term public interest in this irreplaceable resource," Hightower muses. "Whoa there, Pollyanna! You forget greed."

Indeed, with Congress considering the pro-privatization Water Investment Act of 2002 and obscure provisions of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Bush administration wants to expand beyond Canada, Mexico, and the United States, water may be on its way to becoming a luxury of the future.

CAFE UTNE: Discuss Water in the Globe forum at cafe.utne.com