Tap dreams - Page 9

Who controls what we drink? Corporate water comes to (and from) San Francisco
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Environmental groups rallied, writing editorials, flooding public meetings, and asserting a different vision of the Bay Area's water future and stewardship of its primary, pristine water resource.

And it worked. "We got about 95 percent of everything we wanted out of the WSIP process," said Jessie Raeder of the Tuolumne River Trust. "We do consider the WSIP a huge win for the environmental community ... because we were able to organize and get a seat at the table and discuss this with the PUC." She said the Bay Area Water Stewards, a coalition of environmental groups, met with the PUC nearly every month and slowly the initial additional river diversions were pared down to a possible 2 million gallons. Also, a cap has been placed on any diversions until 2018, which gives agencies time to implement conservation and efficiency measures.

The SFPUC feels positive about it, too. "We are really thrilled that the program EIR was approved by the Planning Commission, approved by the PUC, and not appealed," said spokesperson Tony Winnicker. He said there were really controversial elements and the trick was balancing the competing interests of wholesale customers and environmental groups. "It took a really hard-nosed look at our demand projections and what we could really do for conservation." He concedes there are still controversies, in particular over the Calaveras Dam, which the Alameda Creek Alliance opposes. "It would be hubris for us to say it's been a complete success."

"This is a process that would only occur through a public agency," Winnicker added.

"What we saw with the WSIP was a solution where everything was fully transparent," Raider added. "It was all a public process, and there was plenty of opportunity for public input."

Which is really what a public water utility should be doing. "When you're talking about public water, it isn't them, it's us," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch. "A public water system is only as good as the people involved with it."

DRINK LOCALLY

"This conference isn't a public event," organizer Andrew Slavin told the Guardian when we tried to gain admittance to the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. While water activists rallied outside deriding the corporations inside for greenwashing their images, Slavin said that the fact that the conference wasn't open to the public proved that the corporations weren't trying to do environmental PR. "If they're trying to do greenwashing this isn't the place to do it. The aim is to try to share information."

Slavin pointed to representatives speaking from the Environmental Protection Agency, the SFPUC, and NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund. From an environmental perspective, if these companies are going to be using water, isn't it worth working with them to reduce their impacts?

"There are companies I call water hunters," explained Maude Barlow. "They destroy water to make their products and profit. Unfortunately, some of the companies that are leading this conference are bottled water companies. I don't know how you can become 'water neutral' if your life's work is draining aquifers."

Many water activists consider bottled water the low-hanging fruit as far as getting people to change behaviors. San Francisco banned the use of tax dollars to buy it, and the SFPUC has been promoting its pristine Hetch Hetchy tap water, gravity-fed from Yosemite National Park. "Bottled water companies are basically engaged in a multiyear campaign. Their marketing approach is you can't trust the tap, your public water isn't safe," Winnicker said.

Slavin said he thought it was weird to protest the conference, because the corporations are genuinely trying to avoid conflicts.