to Gualala ... in water bags
PRESS DEMOCRAT December 8, 2002
By MIKE SANDLER and TOBEN DILWORTH
With all the
focus on Iraq and national security, it may be easy to overlook
a different type of national security issue which has come to
town in the form of water bags.
Exports' plan to fill giant bags the size of three football fields
with North Coast river water to sell to San Diego has been a source
of dark humor among environmentalists ever since they first heard
of the plan earlier this year.
passage of legislation mandating that the proposal be studied
before it proceeds (AB 858 by Assemblywoman Pat Wiggins), Alaska
Water Exports continues to pursue its proposal to take 15,000
acre feet of "excess water" from the Gualala and Albion
the Friends of the Gualala River, a watershed protection organization,
has been traveling up and down the coast helping people fill out
official protest forms. At a public forum in Sebastopol in late
October, participants discussed some of the issues raised by the
California's water supply is a Northern California issue. We need
to outline more effective conservation measures to reduce growing
demands on northern water sources. Southern California's population
outnumbers Northern California's, and water politics is majority
are public trust implications. Who owns the Gualala River? Are
North Coast rivers just another resource that taxpayers give away
to corporations for private profit, as with logging in our national
forests and mining on public lands?
is a troubling international component to the water bags. Though
this particular proposal involves shipping water from one California
location to another, minor changes to the proposal would make
Alaska Water Exports an international water exporter.
have said that Alaska Water Exports' ultimate goal is to invoke
World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions to obtain large scale
water rights for corporations throughout the entire state and
perhaps across the globe. If the state Water Board grants the
rights to this "excess" water to an international company,
there could be a question of WTO involvement. Once that door is
opened, California's rivers could be susceptible to the demands
and vulnerabilities of a growing international water market and
subject to the jurisdiction of an unelected body which arguably
favors corporations over citizens.
privatization can carry billion dollar consequences. The WTO and
NAFTA have viewed water as a commodity instead of a human right.
Those trade agreements attempt to override community-based efforts
to maintain local jurisdiction of water. For example, in Cochabamba,
Bolivia, officials privatized the country's water supply, resulting
in a tripling of their normal rates.
There is a
wide range of appropriate community responses based in public
trust doctrine. Among those are:
elected representatives and let them know how you feel about the
Read up on
public trust issues, including an important new book called "Who
Owns the Sky?" by Peter Barnes. Barnes argues that we need
new institutions such as a "Sky Trust" and "Watershed
Trust" which would protect the public's ownership from private
involvement, we can turn the Gualala and Albion river water bags
into a wake-up call to action, and we can look back on it as a
time when we began to make sustainable choices to actively protect
what we hold precious, in this case, our North Coast rivers. It
is in the interest of our national security.
is program coordinator of the Community Clean Water Institute.
Toben Dilworth is program manager of the Town Hall Coalition,
Both non-profit groups are based in Occidental.
A community forum, "Stop Corporate Water Theft," eill
be held at 7 p.m. Monday in the Forum Room at the Sonoma County
Public Library, Third and E streets, Santa Rosa. For more information,
Coastal Commission will hold a public hearing on the water bag
plan at 9 a.m. Friday at the Hyatt Regency-Embarcadero Center
in San Francisco. Call (415) 904-2500 for details.