Photo Credit: Carlos Osorio

Water is the most vital resource for maintaining human life. We humans can survive for more than three weeks without food, but can only survive three days without water. The entire agriculture industry depends on clean water in order to be sustained. Plants require water to grow and livestock depend on grain and grass for feed. Water is used every day for basic tasks such as cleaning and cooking. Considering how important this fundamental resource is, it would be reasonable to expect every human to have a basic right to their local water source, but this is not the case. Communities around the globe are being deprived of water because large corporations have rights that allow them to pump inordinate amounts of water for commercial use.

 

One case that has recently come into the spotlight is the story of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a small mountain town in Chiapas, Mexico. The New York Times published an article drawing attention to the neighboring Coca-Cola bottling plant, which is permitted to withdraw 300,000 gallons of water a day from the local water source. The company pumps water at a rate of 10 cents per 260 gallons, which is part of a decades long deal with the federal government. Some neighborhoods of San Cristóbal only have access to running water a few times a week, but it is not properly treated and therefore too contaminated to drink. Some residents buy extra water from tanker trucks, but most people simply drink Coca-Cola because it is readily available and relatively cheap. On average residents drink more than two liters a day, which has has caused the town’s diabetes and obesity rates to skyrocket “When you see that institutions aren’t providing something as basic as water and sanitation, but you have this company with secure access to one of the best water sources, of course it gives you a shock,” said Fermin Reygadas, the director of a nonprofit that provides clean water to rural communities. Growing tension between residents and the federal government lead to protests in 2017 demanding the plant shut down.

 

A similar situation is occurring on American land with the bottled water industry, where 55% of the water is spring water and the remaining 45% comes from the municipal water supply. Nestlé, a Swiss company, currently pumps water from White Pine Spring, a well near Evart, Michigan. In April earlier this year, Nestlé was approved to pump an additional 60% from the spring, bumping up its total withdraw from 130 millions gallons to over 200 million gallons a year. Besides a one-time $5,000 application fee, Nestlé is only required to pay the state $200 in annual administrative fees for this increase. There has been an immense amount of backlash from the residents of Michigan, who pay more for water every month than Nestlé does in a year. Nestlé’s approval happened the same month that the state announced it will no longer be supplying Flint, Michigan with free bottled water. Flint has been dealing with chronic water contamination and has not had clean water since April 2014. One of the biggest debates that has come from Nestlé’s pumping rights is that the company extracts water at a very low cost, only for the state to buy it back and give to Flint residents.

 

Water is the most fundamental element needed to sustain life. Considering how important this precious resource is, it should be treated as a right, but instead is treated as a commodity and auctioned off to the biggest player. State and federal morals must be questioned when corporate needs are put before those of everyday citizens. The government is responsible for the well-being of its people, but this obligation is being swept to the side for the benefit of business.