“ Let the waters under the sky be gathered together in one place and let the
dry land appear” (Gen 1:9).
Our earth, our home, appears covered with immense quantities of water, but in actuality only 2.5% of the earth’s water is fresh and drinkable. And of that, most is locked in icecaps, permafrost, and underground. Usable water is shockingly scarce, and yet no natural resource is more essential to life. How important that we care for it wisely and justly. As Pope Francis has written in Laudato Si, “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right”. Yet, according to the U.N., water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population and is only expected to rise.
Many of us contribute to projects providing safe water and sanitation to those in the third world. But here in CT, water scarcity seems a problem far from us. We open our taps and without a second thought receive high quality, safe, clean water. In the grocery aisles and convenience stores we see an ever increasing array of bottled water advertising its freshness and purity. Yet are there water issues right here in the U.S. and in our home state, which we need to address in order to “care for our common home”? YES.
Across the U.S. “water wars” are breaking out. From California and Oregon to Maine and Florida, for-profit water bottlers have quietly partnered with economic developers to reap profits off municipal water systems and community aquifers. These multinational corporations quietly gain access to community water rights. They mass-produce single serve plastic water bottles from petroleum products in robotic lines each capable of producing 2.5 million bottles/day. The bottles are sent to market in semi-trucks spewing diesel fumes into the air and then marketed as a “superior “ product. Meanwhile, the cost of what is often already-healthy re-processed tap water is marked up exponentially. The $1 spent for a convenience store 16.9 oz brand-name bottled water could buy 281 gallons from a Hartford residential tap. And only about 30% of the bottles are ever recycled. Most wind up strewn as litter, polluting rivers and the oceans, or buried in landfills where they can take 450 years to degrade. A floating patch of plastic garbage the size of Texas now resides in the Pacific Ocean. And by 2050 there will be more plastic, by weight, than fish in our seas.
Sadly, in late 2015, “water wars” came to Bloomfield, CT where an enormous water bottling factory is now under construction. Niagara Bottling of California will use up to 1.8 million gallons of municipal water/day to fill up to 10 million single serve plastic water bottles. Its taxes, water rates, and special sewer service charges have all been discounted. In the exact opposite of conservation pricing, the corporation will be incentivized to use more water by rates that drop once it uses over 500,000gallons/day.
Pope Francis, in Laudato Si, warns us that “the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century”. He also urges that we “counteract the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet”, “limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them”. One simple way of following his wise counsel is to commit to carrying a reusable water bottle and avoid buying bottled water whenever possible. Educate others. Be willing to support public financing that will allow us to replace and repair public water infrastructure, rather than see another Flint, Michigan develop. Help advocate for the completion of the CT state water plan, which will guard the public trust waters of the state, and for legislation which will limit the expansion of water bottling in CT.