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Whose Water? The Struggle for Public Ownership of Freshwater


Walloon Lake - Aerial View

Northern Michigan's Walloon Lake. (Creative Commons photo by Odalaigh via Flickr)

With the world’s clean drinking water supply dwindling, struggles over freshwater are taking place all over the globe. Rivers, lakes and streams are seen as commodities for profit, not as natural resources to sustain. But whose water is it to begin with? And who gets to manage and distribute this most precious of resources?

On this edition, we go to Michigan, where from the city of Detroit, to the farmlands and countryside, citizens are battling to gain greater control over the bounty of the great lakes.

This show was made possible in part by the Park Foundation.


Gwendolyn Gaines, Detroit People’s Water Board Commissioner, Ann Rall,  Michigan Welfare Rights Organization volunteer; Charity Hicks, Detroit People’s Water Board Commissioner At Large, Lou Novak, Detroit Greens Treasurer, Marcella Olivera, Red Vida Co-Coordinator, Don Coe, Black Star Farms Managing Partner; Jay Peasley, White River Watershed Partnership and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation member; Dan Scripps, Michigan State Representative; Jim Olson, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation Attorney; Ray Franz, well owner; Eric Neubecker, Ramer Well Drilling Company Geologist.

Contributing Producer: Rachel Zurer

Michigan Debates Putting Groundwater into a Public Trust

Michigan is one of several states that are considering laws to put their groundwater into a public trust – its an idea designed to prevent private interests from profiting off water, at the community’s expense.  But some Michiganers are worried that the proposal would threaten their use of the water beneath their own land—an important benefit of living in a state with so much water under the ground. Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer has the story.

The Detroit Peoples Water Board is Born

The city of Detroit sits at the tip of Lake Erie, and is a few miles downriver from Lake St Clair, a smaller, but substantial freshwater source in itself.  But despite all that water, some Detroit residents are facing a water crisis of their own.   For the past decade the price of water has been steadily climbing higher — so high that for some, it’s out of reach.  Because the water and sewerage department wasn’t responding to the community’s needs, a coalition of environmental groups, labor unions, and social activists has come together to try and claim a stake in managing the water supply they need to survive.  Making Contact correspondent Rachel Zurer reports how their group, the Detroit People’s Water Board, is pushing to create a system in which everyone has access to clean, affordable water.

To learn more about the Detroit People’s Water board, check out this article in the Progressive magazine.

For More Information:

American Rivers

Detroit Greens

Detroit Peoples Water Board

Flow for Water

Food and Water Watch

Washington, DC

Great Lakes Water Law Blog

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation

Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

Pacific Institute

Oakland, CA

Red Vida

White River Watershed Partnership

The Freshwater Trust

Will Copeland’s Water Warriors

Black Star Farms

Videos, Blogs, Articles, Links:

All Bottled Up: Nestlé’s Pursuit of Community Water

Changing the Flow: Water Movements in Latin America

Cities that have banned bottled water

Communities Demand Bottling Giant Nestle Stop Undermining Local Control of Water

Detroit Peoples Water Board Protest

‘Liquid Assets’ series: Nestle eyes the White River

US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change on the Great Lakes


“Water Warriors” poem by Will Copeland, video directed by Isabelle Carbonell

“Quillawañuy” (Aire de Cueca) by Ch’uwa Yacu

“Purple Nurple” by Alex Beroza

Author: Sabine Blaizin

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