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Sierra Club Conservation Policies

Water Commodification and Corporate Privatization of Municipal Water/Sewer Services

Recognizing that water is basic to all life and seeking to ensure sustainability of water resources and natural ecosystems, to protect water quality, to promote environmental justice and democratic decision-making, and to prevent domination of water resources and municipal water/sewer services by transnational corporations and other powerful private interests,


  1. Water is a public resource, not a commodity. Public policy must ensure the sustainability of safe water supplies for the benefit of all people and the natural environment.

  2. All water resources, including the oceans, must be protected as a public trust so that commercial use of water does not diminish public or ecological benefits.

  3. Access to clean, sufficient and affordable drinking water is a human right necessary for human health and survival. This right must be protected by government policies and international agencies, consistent with ensuring access to safe and adequate quantities of water resources for all wildlife on the planet and sustainability of these resources.

Specific Planks:

Water Management - Water withdrawals for commercial use, water diversions and public provision/treatment of water should be managed by accountable, representative, public bodies for public and ecological benefit.

Commercial uses that result in permanent removal of water from a watershed or aquifer should not violate the ecological integrity of the watershed or aquifer or otherwise violate the public trust. Such uses should have thorough environmental and social review with provision for meaningful public input reflecting the economic and social diversity of the impacted communities. Decision making authority should include municipal or other local authorities whose citizens are impacted by the proposed withdrawal. Commercial uses should be given low priority and permitted only if they do not cause ecological harm to the watershed or aquifer.

Commercial Bulk Water Transfers - Commercial bulk water transfer refers to transfers by pipeline, tanker, water bags or other means of moving large quantities of surface or ground water in order to sell the water for a profit. Transfers between countries are exports; transfers within countries are sales.
Bulk Water Exports - Commercial bulk water export should not be allowed due to the serious ecological, trade and human rights ramifications.
Bulk Water Sales - Commercial bulk water sales are a form of water commodification and increase the likelihood of serious ecological impacts and should not be allowed.

Drinking Water - National and local laws, regulations and pricing should be put in place and enforced to ensure sufficient quantities of safe and affordable drinking water for all inhabitants and to ensure the health of the planet's ecological systems.

Adequate national and sub-national funding should be made available to rehabilitate and maintain public water and sanitation infrastructures in order to provide access to clean and affordable drinking water, with incentives to promote the conservation of water, minimize wasteful uses of water, and prevent sprawl.

Government policies regarding water management should ensure that withdrawals of groundwater for other purposes do not deprive households dependent on private wells of access to water.

Privatization of Municipal Water/Sewer Systems - Municipal water/sewer systems are essential public services and should not be privatized by transferring ownership from the public sector to a commercial entity or by allowing extensions of public systems to be owned by a commercial entity.

If a municipality or other government entity considers partial privatization by using private contractors to operate the publicly-owned water/sewer system or any facility within the system or to build and operate any publicly-owned facility, including a desalination facility, any such decision should (a) be preceded by full public disclosure; (b) provide clear evidence that the contracted services could not be provided as cost-effectively by the municipality or other government entity and will not contribute to sprawl, (c) provide for continued public oversight and accountability to safeguard public health and to ensure compliance with environmental laws; (d) give sufficient time and opportunity for public debate; and (e) include a public vote to approve or disapprove the governing body proceeding with a contract pertaining to the municipal system as a whole or to any major facility in the system.

Any contract thus approved should hold the private contractor responsible for strict compliance with environmental laws and regulations; should be in keeping with principles of environmental justice and public trust; should provide for cancellation of the contract without penalty to citizens or communities if contract terms are violated; and should ensure corporate accountability to the people who are served.

Eliminating Bias - Governmental policies should not provide incentives for or otherwise promote the private sector with regard to water supply and services.

International - Recognizing that global trade and investment agreements treat water as a commodity and have rules that favor transnational corporations, water and water services should be excluded from any multinational, regional or bilateral trade and investment agreement to eliminate such bias and to protect water as a natural resource.

International loans and debt reduction programs should not be used to impose privatization of water/sewer services. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and regional development banks should not approve loans that include conditions requiring privatization of public water systems or that requires increases in consumer water fees which make water unaffordable for any segment of the population.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, November 14-15, 2003

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