Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Bad Tide

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry."

-Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia

Thomas Merton opened his 1966 book, Raids on the Unspeakable, with a passing fantasy that rain would one day become a commodity for which we would need to pay. It is simply a matter of controlling supply.

We aren't there -- yet.

We have posted previously in this space about pre-paid water meters in Africa. It is also a problem here, as some municipalities strained for cash are experimenting with leasing public water services to private companies.

Atlanta's experiment did not turn out well: 12% annual rate increases, a workforce reduction of more than 50%, and Atlantans got brown water out of their taps. Citizens complained. The advice they got from their for-profit water company was to boil the water. (The contract was canceled in 2003.)

There was a battle in 2009 over Milwaukee, Wisconsin's drift toward leasing its water for 99 years. The proposal may well return very soon. Over the summer, as the city council considered this move, citizens created KPOW (Keep Public Our Water) which seeks a permanent ban on water privatization.

On the other hand, meet MacArthur fellow and Wisconsinite Will Allen. In short, he is an urban farmer who founded Growing Power in Milwaukee. His work promoting food sovereignty, building local food systems, and teaching young people how to farm (and teaching adults, for that matter) is well worth following.

Returning to water, however: there are battles going on all over the world, including our own country, to turn the most basic elements of human survival and sustenance into a profitable commodity. We cannot depend on governments to shut the door on these efforts. We are fortunate, in our country, as we still have political rights, if seldom exercised. It takes people, and persistence. A certain willingness to be pesky.

And a few people like Will Allen, who remind us that people can build things and care for them.

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