Los Angeles Joins a Global Movement to Protect Human Right to Water

Credit: Council of Canadians

By Vi Bui
OTTAWA, Canada, Nov 15 2019 – On November 6, Los Angeles became the first major city in the United States to earn the designation of “Blue Community” – a bold move that will keep water protected from privatization.

Situated in the heart of the most water stressed region in the country, this is a historic move for LA, and signals the growing movement globally of communities standing up to protect their water.

The Blue Communities Project encourages municipalities and Indigenous communities to support the idea of a water commons framework, recognizing that water is a shared resource for all, by passing resolutions that:

    1. Recognize water and sanitation as human rights.
    2. Ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events.
    3. Promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

Around the world, our water is under threat from over-extraction, pollution, industrial agriculture, and other projects. The looming climate crisis further intensifies all these risks. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that a quarter of the world’s population is facing a looming water crisis.

Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians calls our situation “the myth of abundance.” We take water for granted. Communities are going thirsty due to dried up rivers, lakes are being turned into tailing ponds, oceans are filling up with plastics, and yet governments are welcoming corporations to privatize their water with open arms.

The Blue Communities Project has resonated with water activists and communities across the world. Working to safeguard the human right to water from the ground up, the project promotes the water commons framework, shifting the view of water from a resource to extract and exploit, to a public trust and a commons to protect and promote.

Credit: Council of Canadians

We are fighting everyday against corporate water takings, new pipeline projects, and government austerity. Turning our communities “blue” presents an opportunity to reimagine a different kind of relationship to the resource that nourishes us.

Blue Communities around the world are also inoculating themselves against any risks threatening our water, like privatization, by building community resilience and grassroots power.

That is exactly why Los Angeles becoming a Blue Community was such a historic moment for the global water justice movement. Angelenos, as well as residents of surrounding regions, are no strangers to the water shortage and other threats facing their water.

A hot and dry climate and growing population quickly forced LA to look for other sources of water. Today, its residents get their water from a mix of groundwater, the nearby lakes and rivers, snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, and imported water from the Colorado River through the Colorado River Aqueduct.

The region regularly experiences severe droughts, and access to water source has been a main source of conflict. Climate change has exacerbated the dry conditions through prolonged droughts, reduced rainfalls, and limits to the amount of snowpack available that feeds the many lakes and rivers in the region.

These threats put tremendous pressure on LA’s water and wastewater infrastructure, and putting many residents’ access to safe drinking water and sewer system at risk. Black and Hispanic communities in the Los Angeles – Long Beach area, are more likely to distrust the quality of their drinking water, according to the American Housing Survey in 2015.

Lower income communities are also more likely to experience negative health outcomes due to exposure to poorly treated coastal waters. To receive the Blue Communities designation, the LA Department of Power and Water has committed to assisting residents who need help paying their bill and avoiding shutting off water.

More than that, the city has guaranteed access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation to its most vulnerable communities.

The City of Los Angeles has embraced an integrated water management system, and a mix of public education, innovative water recycling, and new technologies to deliver drinking water to its residents. This complex and vulnerable system requires a publicly owned and operated water and wastewater systems and services to survive crises and make sure it serves the communities first.

Recently, Californians recently got a taste of what its private utility does under a time of crisis during wildfires. The state private utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), was found to have caused past fires and cut off electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes to avoid liability from its equipment as the blazes spread.

PG&E’s many cost-cutting practices have put millions at risk, and reveals the danger of having essential services owned and operated by private companies, which put their shareholders’ interests above the public’s.

When the climate crisis is unravelling, letting corporate control run free could put vulnerable communities at risk. As the call to nationalize PG&E grows, we must work to keep our water and wastewater services public, and in the case of a vulnerable water sphere in Los Angeles, it is critical. Becoming a Blue Community s commits to just that.

Since the Blue Communities Project started in 2009, communities and water justice activists have brought the made-in-Canada vision around the world. Faith-based communities, universities and school boards joined the fight, and the movement has resonated in Europe, a hotbed of privatization and home to many multinational private water companies.

Paris, Berlin, Bern, and Munich have become Blue Communities after decades fighting privatization to solidify their commitment to protect their water in public hands. With Los Angeles on board, 23 million people around the world have embraced the water commons ethics.

As the first major U.S city to turn “blue”, LA is leading by example that protecting our water is a fight anyone can take up. We look forward to many other American communities joining this growing movement.

If you are looking for a handbook of where to start, read Maude Barlow’s latest book, Whose Water Is It Anyway: Keeping Water Protection in Public Hands (ECW Press). You can find out more about our project at www.canadians.org/bluecommunities.

Filed in: Latest World News

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