Volume 3, Number 7

October, 2003

Seawater as a Public Resource
This month’s Greenspace Insider focuses on issues facing Cambria regarding the commodification of public trust resources and how this may affect federal, state, and local autonomy and environmental laws. On August 7, 2003, the California Coastal Commission Staff released a draft report entitled Seawater Desalination and the California Coastal Act and solicited comments on the publication. The draft report was sent to interested parties and installed on the Commission’s website, www.coastal.ca.gov. Greenspace made comments on the draft report, which can be viewed on our website, www.greenspacecambria.org or the ECOSLO website, www.ecoslo.org. Of particular note was Chapter 3: “Public Resource Policies of the Coastal Act Related to Desalination”. The discussion ranged from the Public Trust Doctrine to the effect of International Trade Agreements on water services. Converting a non-consumptive resource like seawater into a consumptive resource like desalinated water is fraught with legal challenges and human value shifts. While the commodification of resources is not new, the manner in which they become traded, sold, and otherwise profited from has changed. Fresh air, water, soil, public lands and forests have traditionally been part of the ‘commons’ that humans share, protect, and view as belonging to all because these resources sustain life. As our population increases exponentially, our resources unfortunately do not. Elaborate delivery systems providing essential resources like water to large population centers have largely been the responsibility of government. Corporate globalization, for better or worse, has influenced traditional governmental responsibility by finding ways to profit from privatizing water systems, aided by International Trade agreements like the North Ameri-


Public Versus Private Ownership of Water Services
can Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and General Agreement on Trade Services (GATS). This trend increases the risk to communities like Cambria of losing their autonomy and public control of these resources. Of particular interest is how international trade agreements have the likelihood of unraveling 30 years of local, state, and federal resources protection. If Cambria, for instance, sold our water infrastructure system to a private corporation with links to a multinational corporation that would, in turn, develop a desalination facility and set rates to pay for the acquisition and expenses of new infrastructure, they could very likely be exempt from any environmental review or mitigation. Any harm done to the environment (public resources) would not be mitigated and, of course, money saved by not paying for the destruction of public trust resources would go to the shareholders of the corporation. Under privatization the public would not be able to set water rates based on comDesal Plant in Florida munity reflected values and fairness, such as who pays for what kind of service. Rather, corporate stockholders would drive the criteria that set water rates on their investment which would be tied directly to the return they expect on money invested. Even more interesting is that many corporations are acquired by either friendly or hostile takeovers these days, then stripped of their tangible assets, reorganized (often left in skeletal form), and discarded to sink or swim based on someone else’s financial bottom line. This, of course, can be translated into higher water rates and less service for the public at the receiving end of the water pipeline.

If you are interested in hearing more on desalination and privatization issues please let us know, as many have expressed an interest in attending a forum on this issue. We would ensure a safe venue to express your beliefs and concerns and the forum would be facilitated by a professional. The pros and cons of desal will be addressed by various disciplines and diverse viewpoints. You can contact our office at 927-2866.

Post Office Box 1505 Cambria, California 93428 (805) 927-2866 - Phone (805) 927-7530 - Fax e-mail: rick@GreenspaceCambria.org www.GreenspaceCambria.org

U.S. Standard Rate PAID Permit No. 37 Cambria, CA 93428 Non-Profit Organization

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