Why we can’t afford free water from a system that poisons it

Why we can’t afford free water from a system that poisons it January 26, 2016


The more we learn about the Flint water crisis, the more we get angry. The more we should get angry. Governor Snyder’s actions were criminal. The calls for resignation have intensified with even more celebrity voices joining the refrain. Matt Damon, actor and co-founder of the nonprofit Water.org stated:

“At the very least he should resign! At the very least,” Damon told The Daily Beast. “Listen, everybody’s entitled to a fair trial in the United States of America, but that man should get one. And soon. That’s just my personal opinion.”

Damon even acknowledged that race was probably a factor:

“My sincere hope for our country and our world is that this greater connectivity is going to lead to a greater empathy and an awakening to the plight of our fellow citizens,” he said. “These are huge systemic injustices we’re talking about that hopefully everybody is waking up to. The question then is, what do we do about it? It will be interesting to see where we go from here.”

It’s hard to refute. Yes, we believe race was a factor, but not just because those affected were predominantly Black, but because those affected had no power. In a classic case of what happens to the Minority when left unprotected, Snyder showed exactly what the Majority can do when unchecked. We’ve seen this behavior historically, worldwide with indigenous or minority populations that lose rights to government backed corporations or in this case, corporate backed governments. The biggest donations to the Snyder campaign came from the Koch Brothers. The government was complicit.

People are angry, but they’re also rallying behind Flint. Many of these voices have helped bring more attention to the plight resulting in corporate action:

Walmart, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo said Tuesday that they will donate up to 6.5 million bottles of water to schoolchildren in Flint, Mich., to help with the city’s public health crisis over lead-contaminated water.

That works as a short term fix. I applaud them, however for something as fundamental as water, should we really be at the mercy of corporate altruism.  There was little surprise when Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmat during the California water crisis infamously stated, that he did not believe that access to water was a human right. There was immediate backlash, resulting in a very well scripted response clarifying his comment, where he made a very valid point. If we assign no cost to it, treat it as a disposable asset, we forget its value, so I guess since “We the People,” as represented by our Government, assign it no value, they can. And for Nestle Waters, that number is is roughly 4.1 billion dollars annually. In contrast, Governor Snyder stated the goal of the switch was to save $2-5 million dollars, however his emails suggest something entirely different:

“A high-ranking DWSD official told us today that Detroit offered a 50% reduction over what Flint had been paying Detroit. In fact, documents show that DWSD made at least six proposals to Flint, saying “the KWA pipeline can only be attributed to a ‘political’ objective that has nothing to do with the delivery – or the price – of water.”

So it wasn’t about saving, but it was about money.

The prevailing speculation as to why Snyder actually wanted the switch: to expand “fracking”. If that’s true, the Koch ties may be even more problematic for the Snyder administration given the brothers’ beleaguered history in Michigan. In 2013 a three-story pile of petroleum coke, a byproduct of the tar sands drilling in northern Canada, was dumped on Detroit.

Snyder’s initial, claim was veiled in the promise of saving the Government money, while inauspiciously making room for corporations to make their own. And all at the inconsequential cost of the now poisoned voiceless. On top of that, we’re supposed to be ecstatic that the same corporate greed that fueled the poisoning of those masses, now extends its hand in relief?

From Nestlé. It was just a few years ago that a judge had to order a halt to their draining of Mecosta County stream.

A grassroots Michigan group declared victory on behalf of the state’s water resources in July after a protracted nine-year battle with an international corporation’s water bottling operation in West Michigan. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), an MEC member group, stopped Nestlé Waters North America from pumping more water from a stressed stream in Mecosta County as part of a settlement agreement announced July 7, 2009.

Yet, we’re thankful?

Now, back to Snyder’s government.  How is it that a simple water switch from Lake Huron to Flint River caused this catastrophe? Why have we not asked “What’s wrong with Flint River?” Turns out, it’s really corrosive.

Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than the city’s previous source of water.

That’s significant. And according to Marc Edwards, the lead Virginia Tech researcher testing Flint Water, it could’ve been avoided:

Flint officials could have avoided the crisis by adding orthophosphate to neutralize the chloride, says Edwards. Half the water companies in the country add this chemical to community water sources to prevent pipe corrosion, but Flint officials skipped that step (which costs $100 a day).

$100 dollars a day.

Really. The estimates now top 45 million dollars in costs, so far, thousands of lives affected, millions of dollars that will compound for years, and this could’ve been avoided for $100 a day.

We need to get money out of politics, profit out of water, and the poison out of both.

We can’t afford not to.




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