Thirsty for the truth

People say that the next war will be fought over water. But according to Snitow, Kaufman and Fox, the war has begun and it's on the home front. The central message in Thirst: Fighting the Corporate THEFT of Our Water is that privatization of water in North American cities has taken place on a monstrous scale.

Thirst paints a contemporary landscape where the battle for control of water (from sewage treatment to the water out of our taps) is being fought daily. The book delves into the strategies, initiatives and frightening, back-handed tactics employed by transnational water companies. But it also shows how small and often poorly funded opponents fight with agility and heart to prevent our water from being taken over by big business.

The history of water privatization is fraught with tales of undrinkable and fetid water created by mismanaged waste treatment and handling. In the early 1900s, Aaron Burr's Manhattan Company (later Chase Manhattan) did such a bad job with water treatment and filtration that people chose to drink beer instead of water. That may sound like an excuse but meanwhile, the cholera epidemic of 1832 was completely avoidable. And not much has changed since then.

Thirst outlines how transnational water corporations enter a city, manipulate local policy-makers with unrealistic promises and gain control of the public water infrastructures. To make more profit start, the companies start cutting corners like replacing proper treatment with massive doses of toxic chemicals while also introducing outlandish rate increases. The results are a general reduction in health, water quality and services. Even more disturbing: there are really only three global water corporations: Suez and Veolia from France, and RWE, or Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizäswerk Aktiengesellschaft, from Germany.

"We're only at the beginning of this epic power struggle," the authors write, "which will spread to every corner of North America in the coming decade. Each side is testing tactics and strategies in an effort to control the most valuable natural resource we have." Thirst makes a compelling argument for the need to pay attention and start fighting to preserve our rights to water in our communities.

Thirst: Fighting the Corporate THEFT of Our Water
By Alan Snitow, Deborah Kaufman and Michael Fox
Wiley/Jossey-Bass ISBN 9780787984588, $33.99.