30 November

Water under siege: the fight for equitable access and good quality


The increasing control of water resources by corporate entities, supported by governmental policies, is transforming water into an economic commodity rather than a fundamental human right, which has significant negative implications for water accessibility and quality, especially for marginalized and Native American communities.

In his essay, Water Under Siege: An Essay - Corporate Control vs. Community Rights: The Economics of Water Access, Jef Teugels advocates for comprehensive, equitable, and sustainable water management policies that prioritize public welfare and recognize the cultural significance of water for indigenous communities.

Jef Teugels

To download the full essay, click below.

Jef Teugels describes himself as a planet- and people-first solution designer who is driven by a thorough understanding of environmental and human needs.

“I advise businesses on implementing sustainable practices,” says Jef, “prioritizing their customers, and reducing their environmental impact, maximizing the long-term value for all stakeholders. I provide cutting-edge, long-term solutions that put people and the planet first. With my clients, I brainstorm fresh approaches to problems of the present while anticipating those of the future, and I assist companies in making a positive impact by developing sustainable products and services and adopting circular economy practices.”

Water access for Native American communities

Corporate control and government policies significantly affect water access for Native American communities in various ways. They create a situation where access to clean and affordable water is contested, with Native American communities often finding themselves at the mercy of decisions made with little consideration for their rights and needs.

Government policies should ideally provide checks and balances against corporate overreach. However, this is not often the case. Sometimes, corporate agendas bolster the commodification trend or lead to ineffective regulation, further complicating access to clean and affordable water for marginalized communities. Native American tribes, in particular, face compounded challenges due to historical and ongoing struggles for water rights and sovereignty.

The corporate model of water management often overlooks traditional water-usage practices and the cultural significance of water, leading to conflicts and further marginalization. It often prioritizes water as a commodity to be traded and profited from, rather than as a basic human right. This can lead to higher water costs, disproportionately burdening low-income households. Disparities in water accessibility and quality under corporate control reflect broader social and economic inequities, and a one-size-fits-all corporate approach often fails to consider the unique needs and challenges of the communities they are meant to serve. Also, corporate control can result in selective service provision, favoring more profitable urban and wealthier regions, while neglecting rural or impoverished areas where many Native American communities are located.

Flint Water Crisis and Native American water rights: challenges and implications

Policy decisions driven by cost-saving measures rather than public welfare led to a public health disaster that became known as the Flint Water Crisis. The switch to a cheaper water source without proper treatment resulted in lead contamination, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority communities. This crisis highlighted the need for robust regulatory frameworks, transparency, and accountability in water management, as well as the importance of prioritizing public health and safety in policymaking.

For Native American communities, the challenges are rooted in a historical context where treaties and legal battles have shaped their water rights. Despite legal precedents like the Winters Doctrine affirming Native American water rights, these communities continue to face legal and policy challenges. Government policies have often failed to honor treaties and have neglected the cultural and spiritual significance of water to Native American tribes, leading to ongoing conflicts and disputes over water usage.

Both cases illustrate the need:

  • for equitable and sustainable management of water resources
  • to balance immediate economic benefits with long-term sustainability to prevent the overuse and depletion of water resources
  • to integrate cultural and historical rights into water policies to avoid legal conflicts and the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities

The Flint Water Crisis and the struggles of Native American tribes underscore the complexities of environmental justice and equity. They demonstrate the challenges of intergovernmental coordination and the crucial role of community activism in advocating for safe water and holding officials accountable. These cases serve as cautionary tales about the potential consequences of economizing on essential services and the importance of infrastructure investment, regulatory vigilance, and community empowerment in decision-making processes.

The Flint Water Crisis and the struggles of Native American tribes underscore the complexities of environmental justice and equity.

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Recognizing water as a fundamental human right

Jef Teugels' essay calls for a collaborative and sustainable approach to water management that prioritizes equitable access and responsible usage of water resources. It emphasizes the need for a comprehensive strategy that involves various stakeholders—including advocacy groups, academia, international organizations, media, technological developers, financial institutions, and policy experts—in addressing the challenges posed by corporate control, government policies, and the assertion of water rights by Native American tribes.

It further advocates for a shift away from viewing water merely as an economic commodity and towards recognizing it as a fundamental human right. It underscores the importance of integrating traditional knowledge with modern policy solutions, balancing corporate efficiency with public welfare, and ensuring that water services are managed in a way that is equitable and sustainable for all communities, especially marginalized and indigenous populations.

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