Denise Hart returned home from a meeting where she learned of plans by an out-of-town company to withdraw 400,000 gallons of groundwater a day from the local aquifer, put into plastic bottles, and ship the bottles to Europe for sale. Alarmed, she and about a dozen neighbors started a local group to try to stop the proposal, which threatened the water supply of rural neighbors who depend on wells. Seventy people came to the first public meeting. They thought the effort would last a few weeks.
That was in 2001, and USA Springs has yet to fill a single bottle from wells on the property it owns in Nottingham and Barrington. The organized neighborhood group, Save Our Groundwater (SOG), lives on and celebrated its eleventh anniversary last night at the Community Church of Durham.
Opposition from SOG, local officials, and other grassroots groups helped keep USA Springs’ operation from progressing beyond the shell of a bottling plant one Route 4 in Nottingham. When the economic meltdown dried up their access to credit in 2008, the company declared bankruptcy. Four years later the company’s fate is unresolved. Just last week, Denise said, an anonymous investor apparently appeared with a $7.5 million bid for the assets of USA Springs, which would include whatever permits have not expired.
“It’s always too soon to give up,” said Maude Barlow, an international leader of efforts to stop the corporate takeover of the world’s water, making what I think was her third visit to a SOG event. Maude reported on her fruitful efforts to get the “human right to water” recognized at the United Nations. “Governments are now obliged to see this right to water,” she said.
But we are in a struggle against corporations that want to commodify water everywhere. From their vantage point, we should only have the right to drink as much water as we can purchase. Led by global corporations such as Nestle, Coca Cola, and Pepsi, the $66 billion bottled water industry is now expanding in India and China. If they get their way, Maude warned, water will be traded on the open market “like oil and gas.” And the water companies have international investment and trade agreements at their disposal, she said.
Grassroots groups need the tenacity, vision, and commitment typified by SOG, but we also need to understand what we’re up against, Maude explained. For example, Nestle’s advertising budget is larger than the whole budget of the World Health Organization.
Nevertheless, grassroots efforts are essential. One great example is Devon Schroeder, who led an effort to stop the use of bottled water in Durham schools while he was in middle school. He was presented with an award last night, then proceeded to videotape the rest of the event.
SOG’s celebration drew more than 50 people to the Community Church. In addition to Maude’s talk and Denise’s quick overview of the past 11 years, the audience was treated to music from Carol Coronis and an impromptu dance performance.