This website was developed
in May 2004 by students of Geography 378 (International
Environmental Problems and Policy) at the University of Wisconsin-Eau
Claire, to examine global issues of water privatization and commodification.
Our city is named "Eau Claire," which is French for "Clear
Water." Our campus sports teams are called the "Blugolds,"
reminding us that water is "Blue Gold," or a natural resource
that has become more precious than gold. Freshwater accounts for
only 2.4% of the world's water. Only about 13 percent of freshwater
is in liquid form, and nearly all of it is groundwater
in underground aquifers.
Two decades ago, it
was widely assumed that there were enough freshwater
supplies in the world for everyone. Water was viewed as a public
natural resource, available to all on the basis of need, as absolutely
essential to the survival of life on Earth. Bottled water was considered
"yuppie water," viewed mainly as a status symbol.
Yet today, increased
withdrawals of freshwater for industrial,
use has created acute water shortages in some areas of the world.
Increased pumping has caused both surface
water reductions and groundwater
drawdown. The resulting "water stress" has severely
affected human consumption
as well as crops
and other natural species. These shortages are stimulating or
conflicts over water, which has joined oil as a major commodity
triggering or exacerbating wars.
As water shortages and
conflicts increase, water is increasingly being transformed into
a privately owned resource, and a commodity that can be sold and
traded for profit. New international trade
agreements and loan
policies encourage this privatization and commodification of
water resources. Water
companies are privatizing public water utilities around the
world, and setting prices that cannot be afforded by the poor, triggering
the multinational corporations. Water
bottling companies are pumping groundwater, and selling the
water at prices higher than oil. Alarmed by a growing lack of safety
in some municipal
water supplies, many people are drinking bottled water. Yet
many local residents object
when companies such as Perrier try to pump out springs or rural
centers on the diversion of freshwater from regions with plentiful
supplies to semi-arid or desert regions. These bulk
water transfers can be carried out through river diversions,
The Great Lakes
are at especially high risk of these types of diversions, while
U.S. water policy
allows smaller-scale diversions elsewhere. Water is also captured
and used by dams
for irrigation or power.
Solutions to the global
water crisis are being discussed. There are a number of technical
fixes that are too expensive for many countries to afford.
All peoples can look toward traditional methods of water
harvesting and groundwater
replenishment as possible low-technology solutions. Yet no real
solutions are possible that do not start with alternate
directions in policy that put water back under public, democratic
Many thanks to Julia
Lehman of Bringing Instruction in Technology to Students (BITS),
and our guest speakers Hiroshi and Arlene Kanno of the Concerned
Citizens of Newport for their invaluable assistance. (Thanks also
to Winona LaDuke, Al Gedicks, and Claire Schmidt for speaking to
the class on related issues.)
Thanks to previous Geography
378 students who produced the class websites Caspian
Basin Alert (Fall 2002) and Iraq
& Our Energy Future (Spring 2003). Thanks also to the U.W. System's
Teaching Technology Today for printing an article describing
this Geography 378 project: "Class
Websites Contribute to Environmental Awareness."