The People’s Water Project is a group of organizers, researchers, lawyers, advocates and community members working together to combat water inequities and fight for bold, reparative changes that challenge corporate power and address issues of water affordability and accessibility, water quality and water privatization in low income and BIPOC communities.
Together we can build a movement for water justice where our water infrastructure is fully funded through our government, where our water is truly affordable, and where the water we drink is free from dangerous contaminants. But, in order to truly reach that vision we need you.
Because water is an essential natural resource, we live in a community where every person has free, high quality water in their home and community to meet their needs. Water systems are publicly controlled and decisions are made transparently, with public input. These water systems are supported by modernized infrastructure and fully funded through deeply progressive taxation.
Why Do We Fight
As we work toward our North Star, we must overcome the hurdles standing in the way of our vision for true water justice. Because water is an essential natural resource and public health necessity, no one should have to face the threat of a water shutoff, tax sale, or any other cruel collection mechanisms because they are unable to afford their water bill. No family should have to choose between paying a water bill, buying groceries, being able to afford rent, or their other critical needs. And no one should ever worry whether the water that comes out of their tap is safe for them or their families.
Water is currently seen as a commodity to be bought, sold, or abused by water privateers and Wall Street actors intent on profiting off it instead of a natural and public health resource essential to life. It is these actors, along with historical levels of federal disinvestment in our public water systems, that stand in the way of unlocking this vision. And frontline communities continue to fight for affordable, equitable, and fully funded, public water service regardless of their race, identity, socioeconomic status, and location that hold the key to unlocking this vision.
As urban populations in the U.S. skyrocketed in the 19th century, cities contested with an increase in infectious and waterborne diseases that posed a serious threat to public health. The need to treat our water and sewage and invest in municipal water systems became even more apparent. Local governments and the Committee on Public Health of the American Medical Association determined that “an abundant supply of water is so intimately connected with the health of a city, that the municipal authorities should rank this among the most important of their public duties”.
Today, our systems look very different. Since peaking in 1977, federal funding for water infrastructure has been cut by 82 percent in real dollars. As a result, water utilities are increasingly reliant on rates to generate revenue. In order to raise the funds needed to do necessary infrastructure upgrades to our aging infrastructure, water rates have skyrocketed across the country in recent years.
Many water lines have already reached the end of their usefulness, with much of the rest expected to fail within the next few decades. This poses a danger to the environment and threatens the safety of our drinking water for current and future generations.
These issues have only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, as handwashing is a primary defense against the virus. But for millions of people in this country, this task is not as simple as turning on their tap — because their water has been shut off, their rates are unaffordable, or their water is suffering contamination.
Water utilities should see themselves as vanguards for public health and work to ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable water. Instead, too many utilities see their job as done if the physical infrastructure is in place, and water comes out of the tap when people turn it on. The human impacts of decisions utilities make can’t be overlooked, as water is our most basic necessity.
Corporate actors and Wall Street see opportunity in water. Industries such as mining, fracking, oil, and plastic production, factory farming, paper and power generation, threaten our water supplies through overuse and pollution. This ultimately strips ratepayers and communities both from water itself and the ability to make decisions about how their water is accessed and used.
These corporations and the Wall Street financial firms that prop them up are also known to court cash strapped cities and states with decrepit water infrastructure to convince them to privatize their water systems, in return for a quick influx of cash. Many of these cash strapped, debt ridden governments are in predominantly low income and BIPOC communities. This practice of “Starving the Beast” can have disastrous impacts on communities and our planet alike.
The crisis of water injustice is a confluence of rampant federal disinvestment and predatory deals by Wall Street water barons who shift the public good into the hands of shareholders. But in the end, ratepayers always foot the bill.