“There is a fish in me,” claimed the poet Carl Sandburg. John Muir said: “Rivers flow not past, but through us." Overly poetic? How about this: “We exist to advance the sources of creation and creativity. Refresh your mind and restore your body. Life. Water. Inspiration.” This message adorns a water bottle – “LIFE WTR” – bottled by PepsiCo and sold for $2 per liter. What runs through us if not “life water”? Our brains and hearts are 75% water. Water isn’t a luxury item. We can survive for only 3-5 days without water. Don’t try this at home.
Over the past year Great Lakes Commons has been working with partners to put together a Charter Toolkit to help communities and individuals protect water as a shared and sacred commons. The Commons Charter inspired the resources developed for the toolkit. The Charter’s themes of personal responsibility, commons governance, water protection, and Indigenous rights (just to name a few) are reflected in this collection of tools.
There is a common concern around water privatization in the Great Lakes. Commercial bottled water is at the heart of this issue but is also involves looking at public water systems, water access and equity, and legal standards. There are also cultural and societal roles involved. It's a complicated matter that experts and advocates are trying to address. Great Lakes Commons helps connect communities around shared water issues like this. We recently hosted a conversation with experts and advocates from Michigan and Ontario. The goal of the meeting was to identify, learn and share key ideas and strategies on how to address bottled water and water privatizations in the Great Lakes region.
On June 21, eight American states that border the Great Lakes agreed to let the City of Waukesha (in Wisconsin) to withdraw water from Lake Michigan. This decision has generated a lot of conversation and concern about the Great Lakes, but what has been missing when we include questions about sewage, bottled water, trade, and the current water agreements responsible for governance?
The Great Lakes bioregion is gifted with 20% of the world's surface freshwater and each day it gives 40 million people their drinking water. How we understand and govern bottled water in this region is critical. This map should not exist. Information on water withdrawals is rarely integrated across political boundaries and is seldom aligned with watershed boundaries. We need to question how this patchwork of data, permits, and politics affects our bond with water.
As the Great Lakes Commons initiative braids public trust and Indigenous laws for protecting water, new ideas are emerging.
Let's look at 2 examples.
Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians are celebrating Nestlé Canada Inc.’s move to back down from a bottled water fight after the groups challenged Nestlé on its attempt to have drought restrictions dropped from one of its water takings in Ontario.