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Water Pressure

Apr 22, 2009
After oxygen, the first requirement for the sustenance of life is fresh water. It is a finite resource for which there is no substitute, and water is coming under dangerously high levels of competitive pressure, driven by increasing population and international development efforts. Seventy percent of fresh water is used for agricultural irrigation—at the front of the food chain, in other words, and in a position, should supplies fall, of directly impacting our ability to feed a population expected to grow from six to nine billion between 2000 and 2050. We have seen steep price increases in food in recent years, driven by population and development pressures, as well as the biofuel initiative, which is alone responsible for as much as 70 percent of the increase in corn prices.

Although we are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of clean drinking water for 90 percent of the world’s population by 2015, we are far behind on the goal to provide basic sanitation services, also heavily dependent on water. In this regard, 2.4 billion people—a third of the world’s population—are expected to be without access to basic sanitation in 2015. The economic and security ramifications of this are enormous.

Pressures such as these on a finite resource spell trouble. Get the full picture of where we are today and where we are going, in The 3rd United Nations World Water Development Report: Water in a Changing World. It is not a pretty picture, and if we don’t soon stop spending trillions to blow each other up and turn our attention and our resources to managing the basic water-related needs of the world, conflicts will arise in the next 50 years that will make the present hot spots around the world seem like friendly family squabbles.

For a look at the domestic scene, see Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It (.pdf, 2.1Mb, 44 pages), produced by a consortium of environmental groups.
tags: Water

We’ll Drink to That!

Nov 08, 2008
The Southeast is experiencing a profound and extended drought, and the situation is not likely to improve. With a growing population and the impact of global warming on communities and their rivers, policymakers need to get clever about assuring a supply of clean water to present and future generations. After all, they aren’t building any new rivers, and rainfall has become quite erratic around the world.

This is one area where conservation will play a key role. Hidden Reservoir: Why Water Efficiency is the Best Solution for the Southeast, by Jenny Hoffner, from American Rivers, argues that water efficiency, rather than more dams and other costly alternatives, can assure cost-effective water supply to the Southeast. Their nine-point efficiency plan is one that should be considered nationwide:

  • Stop leaks. Fourteen percent of total water use is lost every day through leaks.
  • Price water right. A fraction of a penny per gallon increase in price can yield a 15 percent drop in consumption. Charge more to those who use above-average amounts of water.
  • Meter all water use. We can’t charge for consumption if we don’t know how much is being consumed.
  • Retrofit old buildings. If all U.S. households had water-efficient appliances, enough water would be saved to supply all eight southeastern states with their entire water supply. Rebates, free audits, and, if necessary, mandates can speed the process along.
  • Landscape to minimize water waste. Homes in the Southeast consume 30 percent of their water outdoors watering lawns and plants. Tampa Bay has reduced outdoor water use by 25 percent and can show the way.
  • Increase public understanding. We know nothing about our water. Such ignorance is a luxury we can no longer afford.
  • Build smart for the future. Half the homes that will exist in 2030 have not yet been built. As they are, enact new provisions that will make better use of water, including “dual plumbing” that will promote use of varying qualities of available water. Why spend a lot of money purifying water for drinking if it is just going down the toilet?
  • Return water to the river. There is a sustainable level of withdrawal from rivers; exceed it and the life and health of the river is threatened. Some water efficiency savings should be given back.
  • Involve water users in decisionmaking. Working together is the best way to insure the development of fair and effective water policy.
Water is the elemental resource and no power on earth can create more of it than there is. Efficient use is the key to water sustainability. Lose the key, and you open the door to resource wars, dried-up riverbeds, and disease.
tags: Water

No Swimming, No Fishing, No Drinking

Oct 29, 2008
The Clean Water Act is 36 years old this month. For those Americans who want government to get out of their faces, take note:

  • In 1972, only a third of our nation’s waters were considered swimmable, fishable, or drinkable. Today, two thirds are.
  • In 1968, sewage treatment facilities served 140 million Americans; today over 207 million are served by them.
  • In 1972, we were losing wetlands at the rate of 450,000 acres a year; in the 1990s those losses had slowed to one-fourth that rate.
However, the Bush 2 administration has done all it could to undermine the Clean Water Act and to reverse its successes:
  • The entirety of the Clean Water Act has been thrown into chaos through a pair of confusing, badly divided Supreme Court decisions.
  • The Bush administration has taken advantage of these decisions by issuing new regulations inconsistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act.
  • Despite the fact that the EPA and others estimate infrastructure repairs amounting to $200 to $300 billion are required in the next 20 years, Bush has requested annual cuts of 40 percent to the program that funds these repairs. For 2009, he has made the lowest request ever—only $555 million.
  • Through actions too numerous to mention here, the Bush administration has sought to undermine and reverse the efforts and successes of the last 36 years of the Clean Water Act.
Further details on this portentous anniversary and on Bush’s reckless acts of sabotage, may be found in Stagnant Waters: 2008 Clean Water Act Report, by the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

When asked by Bob Woodward how history would judge his role in starting the Iraq war, Bush replied “History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”1 We don’t think so. We think history will hop to it a bit more smartly than that, to relate the tale of an arrogant, ignorant, out-of-control administration and its all-out assault on America, its wealth, its stature, its promise. In fact, history’s first draft has already been written in a thousand op-ed pieces and scores of books.

History is now, and it has spoken.
1 We’ll All Be Dead, by Dr. Gerry Lower, citing “Woodward Shares War Secrets,” CBS News, 60 Minutes, April 18, 2004 (Accessed October 22, 2008)
tags: Water

Water, Water, Anywhere?

Aug 28, 2008
If I were King of the Forest, the first thing I would do is to make sure everyone had a clean drink of water when they wanted one. After water comes enough to eat and after that comes an education sufficient to provide each of us with the tools and the maturity to be all that we want to be.

But first comes water, a top priority for just about all life on the planet. And the fact that 2.5 billion people—almost half the population—do not have access to clean water is a disgrace to our species. Over a sixth of the world’s population still defecate in the open—the riskiest sanitation practice of all.

A million and a half children die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, directly attributable to a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation.

In this International Year of Sanitation, two reports on the state of the world’s water make stark reading.

Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation (zipped .pdf)
This report, a joint effort of UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), details global progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for drinking water and sanitation. Only 62 percent of the world’s population have access to a level of sanitation that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. It looks now like we will miss the MDG sanitation goal for 2015 by over 700 million people.
Climate Change and Water (.pdf)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which brought us the painstakingly scientific assessment reports on global warming, produced this report on the relationship between climate change and freshwater resources. In brief, as we continue to drag our feet on mitigation of the former, our freshwater resources will continue to deterioriate, often in unpredictable ways. Precipitation is growing in higher latitudes and shrinking in areas surrounding the equator. In the former, heavier rainfalls will increase flooding and, in the latter, droughts will become more common. As the climate warms, glaciers melt, raising sea levels, and there is less seasonal runoff from shrinking snow caps at high elevations, threatening the fresh water supply for the more than one-sixth of the world population who live there. A disrupted global water system will impact many other areas, including energy, health, food security, and nature conservation. Water disputes, internal and international, which are already common, could easily turn into wars.
Water is the “stuff” of life. “River” and “Rivalry” share the same root, and geography teaches us that freedom and its most cherished attributes flourish best where clean water is plentiful.1

Water: First. Water: Clean. Water: Now.
1Water dispute, in Wikipedia (Accessed August 23, 2008)
tags: Water

Read WHO’s Press Release on Its Report

Nor Any Drop to Drink

Jul 13, 2008
Millions of people die every year from preventable causes related to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient hygiene. Most of them are children under five. They die by contracting diarrhoea (1.5 million deaths each year), through malnutrition (860,000 deaths), and a variety of others ailments and afflictions such as intestinal infections. It is estimated that improving water, sanitation, and hygiene has the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the disease burden of the world.

This report, from the World Health Organization, entitled “Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, Benefits and Sustainability of Interventions to Protect and Promote Health,” contains an especially interesting section on the benefit-cost ratio—how much benefit the world will realize from how much cost. Providing universal access to improved water and improved sanitation and water disinfected at the point of use by 2015 would result in annual benefits of over $344 billion, at a benefit-cost ratio of 12 to 1. One trillion dollars every three years for one-twelfth the cost—now that's a benefit. What are we waiting for?
tags: Water

Read the Abstract and Download the Report

Water, Incorporated

Jul 06, 2008
Formula for making a lot of money: Get elected to a position of public responsibility, and collude with your fellow elected officials to neglect your responsibility until the disasters begin to mount, meanwhile investing in the private companies which will ultimately clean up your mess to their own—and your—very tidy profit.

Some services belong in the public sector, and none more so than the provision of clean water and wastewater disposal. That provision is threatened, however, as our aging and neglected national infrastructure deteriorates and industry pushes in to take over the costly task of restoring it. It is estimated we will have to spend up to $1 trillion between 2002 and 2019 to upgrade and repair 1.5 million miles of piping and treatment plants.1

In a report by the Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and food, entitled “Costly Returns,” the group warns that “corporate advocates are deceitfully using the costliness of those [infrastructure] upgrades as ammunition to push elected officials into privatizing their water and sewer systems.” Many of those elected officials don't need much pushing, since they believe everything from Social Security to our armed forces should be privatized, the better to enrich themselves and their cronies.

The report shows in stark terms how undercutting the public good in the management of water services enhances corporate profits at the expense of the environment and the consumer. When the profit motive is substituted for the public good—whether in schools, prisons, libraries, or the delivery of essential public services—you can bet the public good is going to suffer. Profit and public services are incompatible and when they are brought together, the services will suffer for the benefit of the profits. We have seen it happen time and again; the present report documents several instances where large municipalities have rued the day they turned their water management over to the private sector, and have cancelled their contracts.

Our water is one of our collective responsibilities, and the public sector exists to fulfill those responsibilities, notwithstanding the cupidity of many of our current elected officials.

And if you can't drink to that, look for many a dry season ahead.

1 “Future Investment in Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure.” Congressional Budget Office, Washington, D.C., November 2002, p.8.
tags: Water

Download the Report

Weather Report

Jul 03, 2008

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The CEC was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law. The Agreement complements the environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
What? There are environmental provisions in NAFTA? All right, strike the cynicism.

CEC has produced a useful and timely (and beautiful) overview of 14 key concerns regarding the North American environment:
  1. Climate Change
  2. Ground-Level Ozone
  3. Particulate Matter
  4. Stratospheric Ozone
  5. Land Use
  6. Oceans and Coasts
  7. Invasive Species
  8. Species of Common Conservation Concern
  9. Acid Deposition
  10. Industrial Pollution and Waste
  11. Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic Substances
  12. Water Quality
  13. Water Quantity and Use
  14. Shared Water Resources
It's a comprehensive, well-reasoned summary of the challenges which must be faced and conquered—now—if we are not to undergo substantive and significant degradation in our standard of living.
tags: Water

Download the Report

In the Drink

Jun 03, 2008
In 2004, federal, state, local, tribal, and private interests put their heads together over the potential devastation facing the Great Lakes and, working together despite often conflicting goals, their Great Lakes Coalition devised "a comprehensive strategy for restoring the Great Lakes and ensuring their long-term viability."

Their plan is laid out in a report released in May, entitled "Great Lakes Restoration & The Threat of Global Warming." Fifteen hundred individuals and eight strategy teams developed plans, including cost estimates, that address all aspects of the problem, plans which will now go before Congress. The estimated bottom line? $26 billion, to gain an estimated $80 to $100 billion in long- and short-term economic benefits.

We honor this effort—just the sort of collaborative initiative we are advocating—and will monitor its future progress through Congress.
tags: Water

Go to Report (.pdf)

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