Monday, March 21, 2011

It's Water Day

Tomorrow is a day set aside as a campaign for water conservation first proposed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. It was subsequently declared as a global event by the UN General Assembly in 1993. The active site for tomorrow's push will be in Cape Town, South Africa. It's joined to the social justice movements globally for lobbying around the issues of industrialization and population growth, in the context of climate change and the impact of natural disasters on a growing human population that is overtaking global resources.

Locally, it hasn't amounted to much. Last year, World Water Day Los Angeles pulled together an event for the public, but it didn't create much participation, and it's absent this year undoubtedly due to budget issues, among other things. As a global public policy movement established by the UN, there hasn't been much traction in the United States due to its focus on perceived third world problems. It's the same issue as the perennial "starving kids in Africa" that our parents used to get us to clean our plates at dinner. Even the kids rolled their eyes at that one. A discussion of actual relevant "peak water" issues as they apply in this country is here.

It's more effective and more politic to focus on local water infrastructure, environmental management and urban solutions to the encroachment of development into riparian areas in the very dry environment of California. Of course, there's the Bay Delta issue and the ongoing water supply debates, but there's also California legislation that's been passed, mandating reduction in water use statewide beginning in 2012. This is in response to the rising pressures of water shortages from climate change as the population grows.

This will have a huge impact on available regional water supplies, the costs of water, and how communities manage their supplies. Going beyond that, there's the issues of the water contracts and the lack of cooperation around the public policy goals of affordable and responsible management of water contracts. The big water conglomerates are promoting "private water" as a solution, but that's been a clear failure both in policy and in water pricing. The example of Cal Am's takeover of Felton's water supply in the Bay Area, and the subsequent issues it has raised for water supply self-management, is a good case. The citizens used eminent domain through their city to take back their water supply. Lessons from the citizen takeover raise many important points in resolving costs and management of water at the local level. These water takeovers raise issues about the government's role in water service, which has diminished tremendously over the years. Corporate encroachment for profit has reduced the sphere of basic public services drastically, this is known as "disaster capitalism".

It would behoove the state to immediately move into a unified water policy that deals with this massively complex system of infrastructure, public policy and water contract management in a way that moves the system beyond the old ag water structure and into a new era of management that includes watershed and estuary restoration to preserve and enhance the natural hydrological cycle before the whole state breaks down under competing stresses. A compilation of essays covering these issues and their possible solutions is available from Alternet.