By now, many are familiar with the tragic details of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. But a key chapter in the story is being overlooked.
In February 2015, almost a full year before the news of widespread lead poisoning gained headlines, the world’s largest private water corporation, Veolia, deemed Flint’s water safe. It was hired by the city to assess water that many residents had been complaining about—a General Motors plant had even stopped using Flint’s water because it was rusting car parts.
Veolia, a French transnational corporation, declared Flint’s water to be “in compliance with State and Federal regulations.” While it recommended small changes to improve water color and quality, Veolia’s report didn’t mention lead.
Flint’s water system needs to be fixed today regardless of costs. But one thing should be completely off the table: privatization.
Flint was a failure of government — but it didn’t have to be so. And government wasn’t the root of the problem. It was about the people, and ideas they advocate, who have taken control of governments across the country.
Water is a public good provided by public institutions — i.e. governments. It should be clear now that “running government like a business” (the privatizers trope) means you don’t invest in places that don’t have markets that can afford to buy your products. It didn’t work for Flint and it doesn’t work for America. Government needs to be run like a government — clear about its mission, run by competent people (yes, bureaucrats) committed passionately to the public good.
The tragedy of Flint should never have happened, but at this point, the evidence is undeniable and the suffering is real. Fixing Flint is an urgent priority. Fortunately,
The rural Southwest feels vast and empty. Driving from Los Angeles to New Mexico, my wife Susan and I saw sweeping landscapes of alluvial fans and sheer cliffs, and mesas that stretched as far as we could see. Just the idea that people carved out a way of life on these lands left us in awe of our ancestors and, before them — centuries before them, millennia even — the first people who lived here.
People still live on this arid earthscape. They populate the small towns along the railroad tracks. They dwell in pueblos at the tops of mesas. They survive tucked into corners of cliff sides and in the bottomlands of rivers. Driving through such rugged beauty made us aware of the power of nature and the relative powerlessness of human beings in that kind of environment.
If you take your kids to the beach this summer, expect a gritty ride home. California has turned off most of the showers that people use at state beaches to clean the sand off their kids before the long ride home. Then, of course, you get to clean the sand out of your car. All this aggravation saves about 18 million gallons of water a year, according to the state.
In a drought like this one, it makes sense to conserve as much water as possible, wherever we can. So you would think we would be trying to stop some big water users too. Like Chevron. This mega-corporation sells 21 million gallons of treated polluted water a day to the Cawelo Water District, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, provides water to 90 Kern County farmers.
Where Chevron gets the water,
Now that the L.A. mayoral race is over, its winner, Eric Garcetti, has much to do to help advance an environmental agenda for Los Angeles. He has a strong record of environmental protection and I’m confident that as mayor he can lead the City to a big and bold vision of environmental sustainability. There are several major issues L.A. will need to address during the next four years. A comprehensive report prepared by UCLA serves as a more in depth analysis than this blog can undertake, but here are some of the major issues that Mayor Garcetti should undertake.
This next year is going to be critical to advancing a future that relies less on landfills and more on reducing, reusing and recycling. Of immediate priority, Eric Garcetti needs to push hard with the City Council to vote on the single-use plastic bag ban ordinance,