Detroit Water Brigade Fights for Basic Human Right of Clean Drinking Water
There are many variables that factor into water access, including geography, socio-economics, climate change. The fact that water is necessary to sustain human life, however, is undeniable. In 1977 the United Nations Water Conference declared water to be a human right, stating “All peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality equal to their basic need.” The UN has reaffirmed this principle many times in the subsequent decades, and in 2009, concluded, “States have an obligation to address and eliminate discrimination with regard to access to sanitation.”
Despite these resolutions, many people worldwide remain without clean drinking water. Every year, roughly 1.5 million children under the age of five contract illnesses from contaminated drinking water and die. The UN estimates that 1.2 billion people live in geographically water scarce regions, and another 1.6 billion are affected by economic water shortages, meaning their countries “lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers.” This means that for nearly half the world’s population, free access to clean drinking water is a luxury they simply cannot afford. The bottling of water from aquifers in one region to be sold at profit in another region only exacerbates this problem.
The most immediate consequence of this practice is the drop it causes in the aquifer. This means that the wells drilled by local residents are no longer deep enough to reach clean drinking water, leading to contaminated water flowing into the drinking water supply, causing disease. In coastal areas, this can also cause saltwater intrusion, making the water completely undrinkable. Saltwater seeping into wells also has drastic environmental effects, killing agriculture and natural vegetation, as well as fish and other aquatic life. Even without saltwater intrusion, just depleting the aquifer changes the flow of sediment in local streams, disrupting food sources for fish and impacting entire ecosystems. Another huge problem is the infrastructure needed to transport water out of rural areas, leading to issues similar to those seen with fossil fuel extraction and logging. This, combined with the obvious environmental concerns surrounding plastic bottle production, makes water bottling an environmental nightmare.
The most pressing concern for water rights activists is negative health effects caused by the lack of clean drinking water. According to recent reports, Nestle is found to be a primary offender of violating human rights. In places like Pakistan, where clean drinking water is already hard to come by, Nestle is tapping the aquifers, bottling the water and selling it back to the wealthiest residents, while poor villages see their wells run dry because of this practice. Maude Barlow, a former UN chief advisor for water issues, states, “When a company like Nestle comes along and says, ‘Pure Life is the answer, we’re selling you your own ground water while nothing comes out of your faucets anymore or if it does it’s undrinkable’—that’s more than irresponsible, that’s practically a criminal act.”
Water privatization is not just a problem in places like Pakistan, however. It’s happening right here in the U.S. In Fryeburg, ME, Nestle has sought, through their subsidiary, Poland Spring, to extract ground water to be bottled and sold internationally. The local residents there have protested the contract between Poland Spring and Fryeburg Water Company, fighting to stop Nestle from extracting their groundwater at an unsustainable rate.
In Michigan, Nestle is causing more problems. Three Native American tribes filed a lawsuit in 2002 against Perrier’s subsidiary, Great Spring Waters of America and Michigan Governor John Engler. (Because Nestle bought Perrier in 1992, this makes Great Springs part of their portfolio). The Michigan natives claimed that Perrier was violating the 1986 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by extracting water from the Great Lakes Basin to be bottled and resold. The plaintiffs claimed that the practice of pumping out 575,000 gallons per day would lower the water table for the entire Great Lakes region. They went on to predict that this would diminish local rivers and streams, affect navigation on rivers and lakes, and harm the commercial fishing industry. Nestle and the state argued that bottled water is classified as a food product, and therefor exempt from the WRDA. The judge ultimately threw the case out before it saw conclusion, saying the plaintiffs did not have the right to sue under the WRDA. The state of Michigan still has no limits to the amount of water that may be extracted.
Currently in Detroit, MI, residents are facing a water shortage of a different kind. Since May, the Detroit Water Authority has sought to stop service to 3,000 households per week, for being $150 or more delinquent on their bills. In a city where 40 percent of residents are living at or below the poverty level, this translates to the most vulnerable segment of the population being denied a basic necessity.
“It’s been a lot of stress and worry,” says Meeko Williams, spokesperson of the Detroit Water Brigade (DWB), an organization bringing relief to those most affected by the shutoffs. “A lot of seniors are having their pensions snatched away, their healthcare compromised, and now they don’t have any water to drink. Children are being snatched away from their loving families because of their parents’ inability to pay the water bill, and also disabled veterans have been going through much stress and worry … So it’s been just an unfortunate situation, and we’re doing everything we can to try and assist those individuals.”
The Detroit Water Brigade was founded on June 1, in response to the mass shutoffs. Since then a small but growing group of volunteers has been collecting and distributing bottled water, rainwater collection and filtration systems, and other forms of support to families struggling to survive without water. They have also been collaborating with the People’s Water Board and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization to try to get policy changed surrounding water access. Justin Wedes, the other co-founder of the DWB, says that the city is specifically targeting the city’s most defenseless people, while letting big corporate accounts go unpaid.
“The governor, Rick Snyder, through his appointed emergency [city] manager, who has usurped the democratically elected leadership of Detroit, has made it very clear that it’s going to be regular people who are going to pay the price for this deficit.” According to Wedes, roughly a combined $30 million in delinquent water debt is held by corporate and city owned accounts. That’s to say nothing of the numerous abandoned houses that are leaking water, but have not been disconnected by the water company.
“There is, I believe, a double standard in enforcement when it comes to commercial versus residential accounts,” Wedes claims. “The prime example is the Palmer Park golf course … a private golf course, which is now in public ownership … that is over $400,000 delinquent on its water bill. Now, with the oncoming bankruptcy proceedings, we’re going to see again and again, these examples of private debts being socialized, so that regular people are being forced to pay for things like golf courses.” Wedes chuckles at the inherent irony of this situation, and adds, “The citizens of Detroit do not uniformly benefit from the Palmer Park Golf Course.”
Wedes and his fellow activists have been raising their voices with a list of demands, including a moratorium on water shutoffs, as well as the reinstitution of the water affordability plan that was once the law of the land in Detroit. This plan states that citizens should pay no more than 2.5 percent of their pre-tax income on water. As of today, many residents are paying as much as 20 percent of their income, with Detroit water rates at nearly double the national average. In a city with some of the lowest income rates in the country, this prices people out of the water market altogether. The Detroit Water Brigade’s position is that rather than adopt what Wedes calls the “blame the poor mentality” which has been pushed through the local and national media, there is an opportunity to tell a different narrative, one of economic and ecological progress in the city of Detroit.
“Here is an opportunity to look at how we can better manage water in the city of Detroit,” Wedes states. “The storm water and drainage issue is one that we can immediately begin to correct.” With the majority of Detroit’s water debt being held by corporate and public entities, storm water drainage is a huge part of the problem. Companies say they simply can’t afford to pay the drainage fees. According to the DWB, there is a straightforward fix.
“In cities like New York, citizens are offered grants if they can find more cost-effective ways to channel rainwater away from the drainage system,” says Wedes, who spent several years living and volunteering in New York before returning to Detroit. “They’ve taken these grants and built innovative new storm water retention systems; that for example utilize rainwater catchment barrels, storm water runoff gardens, and other green architecture in order to utilize the earth’s inherent capacity to absorb water.”
With this huge chunk of water management out of the way, the city would be able to focus its limited resources on the citizens’ inability to pay. Wedes claims it’s not fair to expect the average Detroit resident to pay for a crisis caused by decades of poor urban planning.
“It’s really only because of the advent of cities that humanity is facing this fabricated crisis of storm water flooding. So the next time your hear about dirty sewage water running off into a stream after a storm, ask yourself, ‘Why are we still thinking about cities in a way that is not in harmony with the water system?’” Wedes laments recent setbacks in Detroit’s environmental policy. The city shot down a proposal to bring goats in to keep overgrown vegetation in check. The state of Michigan also recently banned chickens in urban settings.
“That was done on false pretext,” Wedes claims. The argument for the ban was to protect residents from the sights, smells, and noises of farm animals, but Wedes states, “In reality, it was another handout to large agro-business.” With a situation as serious as Detroit’s water crisis, activists believe desperate measures are warranted. The DWB would like to see rainwater collected and filtered, used to flush toilets and wash clothing at the very least. They are also distributing water purification implements, so as to help residents who have had their water shut off collect rainwater and make it potable.
“These types of alternatives will not only cut down on the cost to the department,” explains Wedes, “but also will decrease the environmental footprint and impact of the department and make for a more sustainable Detroit.”
In order to get some common sense solutions implemented, Detroit activists are going public with their demands by speaking out in the media, and organizing direct actions against water shutoffs.
“I believe it’s going to take people blockading the water shutoff trucks to get even this,” Wedes stated during a meeting at DWB headquarters last week. On Thursday, he made good on that threat, lining up with other activists to stop the trucks and ultimately being arrested. The last person to be removed from the blockade was Baxter Jones, a disabled Detroit resident who refused to move his wheelchair from in front of the truck until Police forcibly pulled him out of the way. At the planning meeting, Jones was fully on board with direct action.
“That’s what needs to happen,” Jones proclaimed. “Because you’re right, they don’t give a doggone, and they’re not going to give a doggone until they are shamed.” Some of the people present at the meeting were hesitant to take direct action, but Meeko Williams agreed wholeheartedly.
“People need to understand that this is a life and death situation,” Williams stated. “It’s hot today. Seniors have heat strokes, dehydration, all these other implications. We sit around here, thinking this is small change, but we need to be shutting down streets and raising hell.” Williams worries that if drastic action isn’t taken to achieve change, desperate citizens will take matters into their own hands.
“They’re fed up,” Williams explains. “People are gonna go downtown, and end up throwing a brick at Dan Gilbert’s buildings and tearing up downtown Detroit.” (Gilbert owns some of the properties delinquent on their water bills.) Members of the DWB claim anti-corporate sentiment is growing among Detroit’s impoverished citizens.
“We are not going to pay for their crisis,” Wedes proclaims. “We are not going to allow the banks and corporations to ruin our country, our neighborhoods, our families, our lives.”
Thankfully, the Detroit Water Brigade is starting to get some help, as awareness surrounding the crisis spreads. In six short weeks, the DWB has gone from a two-man operation to an organization with dozens of volunteers, hundreds of donations, and public support from local politicians like Representative John Conyers.
“Water is a human right; it’s necessary for life,” proclaims Conyers at a joint press conference held at DWB headquarters. Conyers believes there are a variety of factors that led to the water crisis. “In Detroit we have a shrinking population, with high unemployment,” he explains. “We also have an aging infrastructure. And on top of all that, the Department of Water and Sewage of the City of Detroit is understaffed.” Conyers went on to state that he has written to President Obama asking for funds to bail out the citizens of Detroit. He also proposed a sit-down meeting with the water department to broker a solution to the problem, without shutting off water to the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“We’ve got an emergency that demands immediate action,” he says, “regardless of what’s in the constitution.” Due to a law passed by republican-led state legislature, Detroit citizens have no legal recourse to challenge decisions made by emergency manager, Kevin Orr. Conyers says the time for amending the constitution is after the struggling population of Detroit has been restored access to water.
“The thing that bothers me most, is that there are some homes in which there are young people, kids, infants, who are going to be feeling the brunt of this; and I don’t hear anybody speaking out about this.” He went on to state that this is “the most important issue on my agenda,” to which he received a round of applause from the activists surrounding him.
Since the media blitz launched by the DWB and other organizations began, more and more support has started rolling in from across the country, and around the world. Their economic transparency page boasts donations from more than 20 states and several countries. Not-for-profit organizations as well as businesses are getting involved in the fight. A church group from Utah plans to drive a truck full of water to Detroit after collecting it from their local community. A guitar shop on Cleveland’s east side is donating a variety of instruments to be raffled off to benefit the Detroit Water Brigade. Shop owner Jason Falstreau immediately connected with the people being affected by the water crisis.
“This isn’t out of the realm of possibility in Cleveland,” says Falstreau. “This could happen in any poor city in the U.S. These people are our neighbors, and they need our help.”
Erie Street Guitars will be raffling off several guitars in person on July 19, during the Willoughby Arts Fest. They will also be donating a Gibson Les Paul Studio to be raffled online by the Detroit Water Brigade. Donors can purchase tickets for that raffle until Aug. 31. This donation, combined with support shown by many in the arts communities, like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, warms the heart of Danny McGlashing, who has been commuting to Detroit from Boston to help out.
“When a musician creates music, it comes from deep within and must flow freely outward,” says McGlashing. “Equally, water must flow freely if a city is going to thrive. In this, water and music are very much alike; it’s amazing to see the music community step up for Detroit during this water crisis.”
Community members all agree the plentiful water resources of Detroit, a Great Lakes city, should be accessible to all. Alex Hill, who has spent a great deal of time fighting for access to clean drinking water in remote African villages, is astonished it’s come to this in the U.S.
“I was in Ghana and an organization had come in and built a community well, but then the community leadership put a lock on the well and required people to pay in order to access the water, when it was actually meant to be a community resource,” Hill cites. “Obviously those are low-resource settings whereas Detroit is a place of abundance … It’s just odd to have that juxtaposition.” Hill goes on to say that in his international efforts, he has never come across such hesitance to provide residents with clean drinking water as seems to be occurring in Detroit.
“I can’t say there’s ever really been significant resistance to providing people with water,” he says. “Water is a human right, It’s a limited resource on the planet, and it’s going to take everyone to ensure that resource continues to be accessible … that makes it easier to monetize, make it a commodity, and deny it to people who can’t pay,” he laments. “But, from the public health perspective, water is a basic need. If you don’t have water, you’re not going to survive the week. You can’t deny people water.”
The rest of the Detroit Water Brigade hopes that enough people feel the same way, and that the tap will be turned back on to the city’s most vulnerable residents.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
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<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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