Is water a public trust or private property?


Is water a public trust or is it private property? Should bottled water or soda companies be allowed to pump as much water as they want, even during a drought? What protections should the public have that toxins like coal ash aren't dumped into their drinking water? But there's also good news on the water and energy front.

I like water. The way I look at it, the readers of CONTRACTOR move fluids — it could be medical gasses, liquid soap or beer, but my favorite is water, which is why I get riled up over people poisoning our drinking water. I’ve written a lot about coal ash ponds from power plants spilling into rivers in West Virginia and North Carolina.

The first time (Poisoning our water supply is not ok) was about when a storage tank at a company called Freedom Industries holding 48,000-gal. of the coal-washing chemical 4-methylcyclohexene methanol, or MCHM, ruptured right next to the Elk River, less than two miles from the intake to the water treatment plant for Charleston, W.Va.

The second time (‘A poisoned ball spilling a trail of filth’) covered the rupturing of a pipe under a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy, sending 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of tainted water into the Dan River, upstream from Danville, Va. Duke has agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency that it will pay to clean up its mess.

In late August the Associated Press reported that the North Carolina legislature has passed a law regulating coal ash pits. The timeline is long — Duke has 15 years to move the four most troublesome pits. Environmentalists aren’t happy but at least it’s a start.

Now here’s a story that really ticks me off. The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, is reporting that Nestle is pumping water like crazy from land in the Morongo tribe reservation and bottling it under the Arrowhead brand. Because the Morongo tribe is a sovereign nation, they don’t have to report to anyone — local water districts or the State of California — how much water is being pumped and Nestle isn’t talking either. The newspaper reported:

“Separate reports filed by the Morongo tribe with the state show that during 2013, 598 acre-feet of groundwater was pumped in Millard Canyon, and 3 acre-feet of water was diverted. Those amounts translate to about 200 million gallons a year — enough water for about 400 typical homes in the Coachella Valley.”

This is happening while most of California is experiencing a severe drought.

But now for some happy water and energy news.

I invite you to check out the green schools features in the latest issue of Sierra magazine, the publication of the Sierra Club. (I recently joined the Sierra Club because of my concern over irresponsible people poisoning our drinking water supply). It great seeing what these young people are doing to create a more energy- and water-efficient environment; that’s why I love talking with the students at the Solar Decathlon.

Sierra ranked the colleges in nearly 70 categories. Some of them are pretty elementary, almost the baseline — they can score seven points for having a sustainability student group or having a bike-sharing program or planting an organic garden. The big points come from the topics near to the hearts and wallets of readers of this publication, water and energy efficiency.

A school can score 40 points for reducing water consumption. “Institutions earn half of available points by showing a reduction in total water consumption between 2005 and the performance year,” according to the scoring guidelines. “Institutions earn a percentage of the other half based on the percentage of water reduction as compared to the top-reducing school.”

They can also score 40 points for stormwater management. A development policy and an operations policy are specifically required but other stormwater management techniques are up to the imagination of the students and the schools. Use of non-potable water is worth 15 points, with points coming for using non-potable water to begin with and extra points depending on exactly how much of it they use.

Energy conservation in buildings is worth 40 points with the calculation depending on how much the best school reduced its energy use. Say, for example, that the most efficient university reduced its energy use in buildings by 25%. All the other schools earn points based on how close they can get to that achievement.

Renewable energy is a big 45-point category. “Institutions earn one-third of available points by calculating all energy from renewable sources, purchasing renewable energy credits or green power from the electric utility, and/or generating electricity using co-generation technologies,” the scoring guidelines state. “Institutions earn a percentage of the remaining points based on the amount of their total energy consumption that is clean or renewable.”

One of my favorite authors, Jerry Yudelson, has talked about moving to a post-LEED world where building water- and energy-efficient structures is standard operating procedure. The students at these green schools will be the ones leading the way.

Connect with me on Twitter @bobmader. That's especially fun if you're smart and funny.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Sep 9, 2014

nice post...

on Nov 13, 2014

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on Sep 17, 2014

Property, or trust? to a degree, both. If used, or abused to a point of harming the collective community, it becomes an issue. At that point, it is not the water that is the issue, it is the behavior of the offender. In the case of property, yes, my water is mine, no you can not suck my well dry... As such the Ca. Gov. yesterday signed a ground water bill that protects ground water in ca. Now before you say, those "Left coaster" people and their laws, Ca. was the last state to enact such law ! What if Nestle sucked your ground water dry and you could not even get a loan using your home as equity to drill a deeper well because w/o water a property is not able to be used as collateral. If you fear considering water as a common property for the people and everyone has a right to it makes you a socialist and that is not your cup of Tea, pun intended, then give US, pun intended, a break with your image issues and get real about water issues. Water and politics do not belong together, in that way, yet policies need enforcing by everyone understanding the real picture.

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Robert Mader

Bob Mader is the editor of CONTRACTOR magazine, Green Mechanical Contractor magazine, and Radiant Living magazine. He has been writing about plumbing, mechanical, green building and HVACR topics for...
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