head of the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest public advocacy organization, and founder of the Blue Planet Project. She is the author of sixteen books, including Blue Gold. Her latest is Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. She is a recipient of Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, known as the "Alternative Nobel."
award-winning filmmaker. She is the director of FLOW.
FLOW: For Love of Water is a new documentary premiering in New York and Los Angeles today that takes on the global water crisis. We speak with filmmaker Irena Salina and water rights activist, Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, founder of the Blue Planet Project and author of several books, including Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Democratic and Republican conventions were a two-week advertisement for soft drink giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola. At the Democratic convention in Denver, Coke signed on as one of the sponsors of the delegate gift bags, its logo emblazoned in large red letters on the side. Those bags were being hauled around by delegates as they convened in — that’s right, the Pepsi Center. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola was named the official recycler for both the Democratic and Republican conventions. Its logo was emblazoned on both sides of the gift bags at that convention.
AMY GOODMAN: While both companies are globally recognized for their soft drinks, many people don’t realize Coke and Pepsi are also making a fortune in bottled water. Coca-Cola has its Dasani brand; Pepsi, Aquafina. Last year, Pepsi was forced to make an embarrassing admission, that Aquafina is nothing more than tap water.
Well, the admission came amidst a national campaign to raise awareness about the economic and environmental costs of the billion-dollar bottled water industry. A new documentary premiering tonight in New York examines the global water crisis and takes on the issue of bottled water. It’s called FLOW: For Love of Water. This is an excerpt.
ERIK D. OLSON: Bottled water is used by millions of people around the world, because they think it’s safer than tap water. There is less than one person, according to the Food and Drug Administration, regulating the entire multibillion-dollar bottled water industry in the United States. That means that that poor person does multiple things, and one of them is water. The Food and Drug Administration, if you ask them what’s in any brand of bottled water, they’ll say, “We have no idea.”
PENN GILLETTE: It’s so stupid. Why would people pay such a premium for bottled water? To find out, we took over a very trendy California restaurant. We printed our own elegant water menus with phony imported waters costing as much as $7 per bottle. Our water steward gives our first lucky couple our special water list.
CUSTOMER 1: I guess we’ll get the l’eau du robinet.
WATER STEWARD: The l’eau du robinet?
CUSTOMER 1: Yeah.
WATER STEWARD: Oh, fantastic!
PENN GILLETTE: It’s French for “tap water.”
CUSTOMER 1: Cheers! Yeah, it tastes clean.
CUSTOMER 2: It has a flavor to it.
WATER STEWARD: How would you compare it to tap water?
CUSTOMER 2: Oh, yeah, definitely better than tap water.
PENN GILLETTE: What was the actual source of these chic waters? A garden hose on the restaurant patio.
LEE JORDAN: Three-out-of-four Americans drink bottled water, and one-in-five will only drink bottled water. And water is something we already pay for.
UNIDENTIFIED: Leading brands are basically tap water, often sold for more than the cost of gasoline.
AMY GOODMAN: FLOW: For Love of Water, an excerpt of the new documentary premiering tonight both here in New York, as well as in Los Angeles.
Irena Salina is the director of FLOW. She joins us in our firehouse studio, along with Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, founder of the Blue Planet Project, author of sixteen books, including Blue Gold. Her latest is called Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Before we deal specifically with the movie, Maude Barlow, this issue of the conventions, talking about what is and what is not talked about. The Democratic and Republican conventions, brought to you by Pepsi and Coke. Pepsi Center is where the coronation for the Democrats took place, and Coca-Cola was everywhere on those delegate bags.
MAUDE BARLOW: Yeah, and at the recent Olympics, you know, as well, in China. Coca-Cola was one of the official sponsors, and you couldn’t bring water, even your own bottled water, in. You had to only — you could only get Coca-Cola water. I would love to know how many bottles of Coke water were thrown away and to add to the pollution in China.
You know, this is part of what I call the movement towards creating a global cartel of water, kind of like we have a global cartel of energy, where, you know, the day may come — and we’re resisting it very hard, so it may not; we hope it won’t, but that every drop of water will be spoken for privately by a corporation, whether it’s bottled water, utilities, you know, the service of, delivery of your water, recycling, desalination — nanotechnology is the latest. At every phase, water will be corporately owned, because we are a planet running out of fresh, clean water, which doesn’t sound right, because we all learned back in grade six that can’t happen, but it is happening. And the demand’s going like that, and the supply’s going like that, down.
And if we don’t understand this really soon, we’re going to find that corporations understand it much better than we do. They’re moving in to take control of water. Coke and Pepsi, by the way, are under a great deal of criticism and resistance around the world, and so they’re trying very hard to build their name through things like the two conventions, through giving money to schools and that kind of thing, through building pipes in Africa so poor people can access water, because, really, their story is one of going into communities around the world with Nestle, which is the other big bottled water conglomerate, and just removing people’s water rights. So they’re fighting back.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what share of the market — because they’re mostly associated in people’s minds with beverages.
MAUDE BARLOW: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of bottled water, how much do they control?
MAUDE BARLOW: Bottled water is where they’re both making money now, because there’s a real move by parents in schools against sugar water — you know, pop — and so, they’re saying, OK, well, then the new beverage of choice is bottled water. And now, of course, they’re selling water to kids through these kids’ bottles and the tradable bottles that you can get back and forth.
Last year, we put something like 50 billion gallons of water in plastic bottles around the world. Almost all of it, all but about five percent, did not get recycled around the world. So these companies have a lot to answer for.
AMY GOODMAN: And Senator Obama’s major speech at the Invesco Stadium — not to be confused with the Pepsi Center — as you walked in, there were all these Coke stations, and they were handing out bottled water.
MAUDE BARLOW: Yeah, it’s just — you know, it shows how out of touch even in-touch people like Barack Obama are with an issue that is changing. And if you go anywhere in North America or Europe now — it’s beginning to spread to other parts of the world —- there is an anti-bottled water movement, and it’s a very powerful movement. We’re getting restaurants and city councils. In my country, Canada, we’ve got a raft of municipalities and school boards passing, you know, anti— or bottled-water-free zones. And it’s because —-
AMY GOODMAN: Why? Why is bottled water so bad?
MAUDE BARLOW: Because it’s -— first of all, it’s the corporate takeover of water, and it makes people think that what comes out of their tap doesn’t matter. So you’re not going to be prepared to keep your taxes going for infrastructure repair. And that’s the most important thing, is clean, accessible, safe public water.
Secondly, it’s polluting. Massive amounts of plastic, massive amounts of energy used in the creation and transportation of bottled water, CO2 emissions. And it’s also quite poisonous. I mean, the plastic itself leaks chemicals. People say to me, “Well, I got a great deal at Wal-Mart on my water.” “Why do you think you got a great deal? It’s been sitting there for six months. You should not be drinking it.”
When you have a different view of bottled water, you actually look at that and think, I wouldn’t put that stuff in my mouth. I would not. And it’s unregulated. And it’s less safe than your good, clean, safe tap water, which is what needs to be the goal here.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Irena Salina, you were telling us before we went on camera about New Yorkers, the role that New Yorkers are playing in this crisis.
IRENA SALINA: Yeah, I saw recently a quote that said basically that if New Yorkers were to quit bottle of water for one week, they would save 24 million bottle of plastic in landfills. Just to give you a perspective, I mean, that’s —
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about For Love of Water.
IRENA SALINA: FLOW
. FLOW is a journey. I mean, we started — it started from an article that I read in The Nation in 2001. It basically said, “Who owns water?” It implied, is water going to be the next oil of the twenty-first century? And Maude and Tony Clarke had written the article.
And I, shortly after that, started exploring pollution, the have and the have-not, who owns water around the world, and as well as what I called transparent pollution, which is things in our water that we absolutely have no idea about it, just like an herbicide, for example, in the United States that is spread all over the Corn Belt that is called atrazine, and that has been banned for approximately ten years all over Europe — not just one little village in Europe, all over Europe. They have found that it changes — you know, it’s an endocrine disruptor. Some cancers are close to it. And even though it’s been banned in Europe for ten years, they still find traces of it in the water ten years later.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Who makes it?
IRENA SALINA: Syngenta. Syngenta is a Swiss company. And they’re one of the leaders now in ethanol. So it gives you an idea of — it’s not just the United States, where it’s going; it’s worldwide.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the US is one of the only countries that has not banned it, or is it also being used in the third world?
IRENA SALINA: I think it’s being spread in forests in Australia. I read a big movement against that. In South Africa, it was used, I think, but they phased out of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Maude Barlow, you’re just back from Australia?
MAUDE BARLOW: Yeah, and I want to tell Americans the story of another so-called first world country that — because we know about thirst and drought and dying and death in the Global South, but this is a first world country running out of water. And I want to tell that story to Americans, because, as Irena shows so brilliantly in her film, that the notion here that there’s unlimited amounts of water is absolutely false.
And what they’ve done there is everything wrong. And what I see happening here is just a repeat — it’s about maybe ten years behind — with removal of water from watersheds, the continued pollution, not putting money into infrastructure, privatization of water into this — a private right, so that they — what they call unbundled water from the land. And you can actually sell the water away from the land, which is exactly the wrong thing to be doing. And now big pools of international investors are coming along and buying up water rights, happening here with T. Boone Pickens and others in Texas and California, where the notion of water as a property, as a private commodity, is allowing people to buy it, horde it, sell it, even bequeath it. And it’s a mistake. And I want to tell that story here, because I see what happened there. I see they’ve hit the water wall. There are going to be refugees from Australia going to New Zealand and North America and so on.
AMY GOODMAN: What does T. Boone Pickens have to do with this?
MAUDE BARLOW: He didn’t make enough money, I guess, out of energy, so he’s now buying up water rights, and he is going to build a pipeline and is buying up the property that he will need for this pipeline to transport water that he’s going to sell. And he’s holding onto it until it’s worth even more money than it’s worth now, so when blue gold may be blue platinum — I don’t what we’d call it next.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And he’s also advertising heavily now on television for his supposed wind power projects.
MAUDE BARLOW: Wind. Yeah, but it’s all connected, because the wind project is very connected to his water pipeline that he wants to build. And he’s trying to green himself, but you can’t green yourself by privatizing water.
AMY GOODMAN: What is it, Irena, that’s being banned from the water? Atravine — what?
IRENA SALINA: Atrazine.
AMY GOODMAN: Atrazine, where?
IRENA SALINA: Atrazine, oh, all over Europe, not just one place in Europe, everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is it?
IRENA SALINA: It’s an herbicide. It’s an herbicide that is spread on corn field and I think on soy field, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Tonight, the film opens in New York and Los Angeles. It’s called FLOW, which stands for “For Love of Water.” I want to thank you both for being with us, Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians. And thank you very much, Irena Salina, for being there.