Water Wars Hit Home

Four months ago, citizens of the 8 member towns that receive their public water from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a public, non-profit corporation that supplies water and sewer services in the Hartford, CT area, (where I live), learned that a secret deal had been made between the Niagara Bottling Company and the MDC itself, affecting the future of the public water supply.  The MDC has agreed to provide Niagara Bottling with up to 1.8 MILLION gallons of water a day at rates that are less than what public consumers currently pay and did so without public input. The water purchased from the MDC by Niagara will be bottled in a plant they are currently building in the town of Bloomfield and ultimately sold all over the country at a profit of billions of dollars/year.

When they learned about the MDC’s deal with the Niagara Bottling company, Hartford area residents in two citizen action groups, West Hartford Concerned Citizens and BloomfieldCitizens.org (and later, Save Our Water CT), mounted an enormous effort to protest the proposed water sale. At the heart of the ensuing debates were the fundamental questions, “Who ultimately owns the public’s water supply and who gets to decide how that water is allocated?”

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At a time when water has become a most precious commodity, these are questions that are currently being addressed all over the world. In his April, 2015 article in Time Magazine entitled, “The World Will Soon Be at War Over Water,” James Fergusson identifies 7 locations in Iraq, Turkey, China, The Congo, Afghanistan, India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine already engaged in serious conflicts over water. On April 25, 2016, just one year later, Sarah Ferris and Peter Sullivan reported in The Hill in an article entitled, “Clean Water Crisis Threatens US,” that “The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to national security alongside terrorism” and that “Hundreds of cities and towns are at risk of sudden and severe shortages, either because water is not safe to drink or because there simply isn’t enough.”

What enraged and motivated the citizens in the Greater Hartford, CT area to protest the sale of such a large volume of its water supply was what Bloomfiled resident Brad Klein, called “the commodification of a resource that has become a profitable industry,” without regard for the needs of the local population in times of drought, which, in an era of climate change, are becoming more and more inevitable. Partnering with other CT environmental groups, Save Our Water CT, worked with State Senator Beth Bye to introduce SB 422, a bill that would place the needs of local residents first in times of water emergencies and would prohibit the sale of local water to other industrial clients at a marked discount.

On Wednesday, April 27, Elena and I joined their effort by installing thousands of pieces of The Wave from 20 previous sites all over the Northeast in the shape of a reservoir on the grounds of the CT State Capitol. Legislators and visitors entering the building were confronted by a brilliant body of ‘Waves’ representing in a powerful and visceral way how we are all connected by our fundamental need for water.

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 Citizens at the CT State Capitol 'Making a Wave" April 27, 2016


Citizens at the CT State Capitol ‘Making a Wave”
April 27, 2016

 State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016


State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016

Although it passed in the Senate, SB 422 did not ultimately receive enough support to be voted upon in the House before the end of the session. Paid lobbyists hired by Niagara and by the MDC overpowered the citizen effort. Save Our Water CT is not going away, though. They are determined to come back in 2017 with another bill and stronger ranks. Regardless of the outcome of SB 422, their voices emphasized how important a thoughtful state water plan, currently under development, will be to the security and well-being of CT.

For information on the latest news concerning water in the Greater Hartford, CT area, please visit BloomfieldCitizens.org.

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