Water for Peace
Protecting a basic resource as a public trust
By Stan Taylor
It may seem strange to link the words water and peace together, but in reality they are intimately linked. We live in a world in crisis. Not just some time in the future, but today. Water is an indicator of that crisis at every level — global, national and local. Global climate change, overuse and pollution, have made water a scare resource. Control of water has become a source of conflict and a source of power.
At the recent Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, Vandana Shiva said that climate change manifests itself in water disruption. The melting of the Arctic ice cap and of glaciers around the word, the desertification of vast tracks in Sub-Saharan Africa and the southwestern U.S., and the acidification of the world's oceans that is killing coral reefs and disrupting ocean food chains, are clear indications she is right.
Over-use of water, based upon outdated models that privilege industrial agriculture and resource extraction, has led to the extraction of water from aquifers at rates which exceed their ability to replenish — causing massive water shortages.
Studies show that every major waterway and most lakes in the U.S. are polluted with mercury and that all fish in these waterways are contaminated. This is just one indicator of the pollutants dumped into our rivers and lakes that undermine the health of our ecosystem.
As water scarcity increases, extreme measures are taken that pit users against one another. One example is the proposal to raise the height of the Shasta Dam in northern California by 18 feet to store more water for use by industrial agriculture in the central California valley and for suburban Los Angeles. If this happens, the remaining sacred homelands of the Winnemem Wintu tribe will be submerged, striking a severe blow to their culture and history.
The Winnemen Wintu, which means middle water people, are also seeking to restore their sacred salmon to the Mcloud River. The Mcloud salmon were made extinct when the current Shasta Dam was created. Before this extinction occurred, salmon eggs from the Mcloud River were exported to New Zealand and thrived in the Rakaia River. The Maori tribes of New Zealand have re-gifted the salmon to the Winnemem and the salmon are being returned home. The challenge is to rehabilitate the ecosystem so that the salmon may live.
Perhaps the most serious threat to water is privatization. Locally, as EW reporter Camilla Mortensen has documented in her "Freshwater Fisticuffs" series, we have private water developers seeking to gain water rights to Willamette River water. Along the Columbia, Nestl³ Group — a multinational corporation — is seeking to gain rights to put in a water bottling plant at Cascade Locks that would allow it to take water from Oxbow Springs. In other states where Nestl³ has located, water tables have dropped as Nestl³ turns local water into a bottled product sold globally. Communities lose control of their local water.
Water is necessary for all life and for the Earth's ecosystem. It seems obvious that water must be a human and ecosystem right, protected as a public trust for the benefit of all.
On Friday, April 15, the Lane Peace Center is holding its annual peace symposium on "Water for Life, Not for Profit." You are invited to attend. Information about the symposium is available at: www.lanecc.edu/peacecenter or by calling 463-5820.
Stan Taylor is chair of the Lane Peace Center. He teaches peace studies and environmental politics at Lane Community College.