The Last Drop 

Doesn't water belong to everyone? Think again.

There are lots of shocking revelations in the recent documentary The Corporation, but probably the biggest gasp from the audience comes from the report that a private company -- the Bay Area's very own Bechtel -- now owns all the water available to a community in Bolivia, including the rain from the sky.

That kind of news takes some getting used to, but it should surprise no one to learn that several large corporations are well on the road to cornering the world's water supplies, effectively transforming what was once a gift of nature into a commodity. Here in the western United States, you don't have to be too old to remember drought years. According to the folks at the nonprofit consumer advocacy org Public Citizen, future droughts could result from someone turning off the tap -- the same way electrical utilities withheld the juice from California in the early 2000s. People are losing ownership and control of water around the world, Public Citizen warns. What was once a human right is increasingly up for sale. And it starts with that bottle of designer water in your hand.

"These companies are very sophisticated," explains Juliette Beck of Public Citizen's Water for All campaign, whose talk, Who Owns Water?, happens Thursday, August 19, at Berkeley's Ecology Center (2530 San Pablo Ave., 7 p.m.). In industrialized consumer societies, the marketing of name-brand water is part of a campaign to get people used to buying it in bottles -- the leading edge of commodification. Meanwhile, agribusiness companies and transnational firms such as Vivendi and RWE are already selling bulk water in the driest parts of the world. Thanks to globalization, they can make more money selling "blue gold" than by growing crops. It's happening here, too. "The sad reality of water in California is that agribusiness controls eighty percent of the state's water supplies," Beck claims.

The Public Citizen Web site ( is full of frightening privatization scenarios, but Beck suggests a few ways to address the threat: Boycott bottled water. Run for your local water board. See the documentary Thirst (available from Public Citizen). And basically, don't take water for granted. More info: 510-548-2220 ex. 233.


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