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Hullabaloo


Sunday, December 18, 2016

 

Cool clear water

by Tom Sullivan


AQUA America water tank north of Raleigh, NC (from Google Earth).

With all the hot-and-heavy, super-session legislatin' going on in Raleigh, NC this week, I'm just getting around to another issue near and dear to America's Most Avaricious: water.

Something smells foul about the water in Corpus Christi, TX. The BBC:

The contaminant, they say, is Indulin AA-86, an asphalt emulsifier which can burn human skin in concentrated form.

On Wednesday the city of 320,000 people announced that residents should not touch, drink or use the water.

The ban has since been lifted for some city dwellers while officials investigate the origin of the spill.
"Boiling, freezing, filtering, adding chlorine or other disinfectants, or letting the water stand will not make the water safe," officials cautioned. The BBC continued:
City spokeswoman Kim Womack told a local news station that officials had inspected the suspected site of the contamination and had not found a "backflow preventer".

"They're saying there is one and we're telling them 'show us,'" she told KRIS-TV.
This lefty blogger is a piping engineer by trade, kiddies. Backflow preventers are required in city water lines connected to industrial users to prevent this sort of contamination. They are kind of hard to miss:

Here's the latest from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times:

Ergon Asphalt and Emulsions Inc. issued a statement Saturday evening that confirmed Indulin AA-86 and hydrochloric acid did escape the confines of a mixing tank it operates in the industrial district.

"A soap solution, which is comprised of approximately 98 percent water and 2 percent Indulin AA-86 and hydrochloric acid, back flowed into the separate water line within the Valero terminal," the statement read.

The statement did not indicate when the backflow may have occurred, or how much of the chemical is believed to have seeped back into the system.
Nobody knows just what the threshold effects are. The contamination may date back to November 23 and a few people are reporting symptoms of Indulin exposure.

Charlie Pierce writes:
This is the third water crisis for the area in two years. And it will not surprise you at all to learn that there are already lawsuits flying in the direction of Valero, the parent company of the firm in question, Ergon Asphalt and Emulsion of Jackson, Mississippi. The whole country is in the middle of a "backflow incident" right now. I think we're going to wash up, finally, in 1879.
But let's look at another source of fouled drinking water which the residents of Flint, MI might recognize. Some 81,000 homes in Pittsburgh received letters this summer warning of possible lead contamination in their water. Financially stretched public utilities around the nation are turning to the private sector water companies to help out with their aging infrastructure: global water barons such as Nestle and Suez, and smaller for-profit outfits such as Aqua America. Mother Jones from October:
Pittsburgh's utility called in Veolia, a Paris-based company that consults with utilities, promising "customized, cost-effective solutions that reflect best practices, environmental protection and a better quality of life." Veolia consults or manages water, waste, and energy systems in 530 cities in North America, with recent contracts in New York City, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. Last year, the company, which operates in 68 countries, brought in about $27 billion in revenue.
By the end of 2015 "the utility had laid off or fired 23 people—including the safety and water quality managers, and the heads of finance and engineering." Veolia switched from soda ash to a cheaper corrosion inhibitor:
Such a change typically requires a lengthy testing and authorization process with the state's Department of Environmental Protection, but the DEP was never informed of the change. Nearly two years later, as news spread about the disaster in Flint, the utility switched back to soda ash.
After Veolia took control in Pittsburgh, prices went up, billing became erratic, and customers initiated a class action lawsuit over "grossly inaccurate and at times outrageously high bills." Mother Jones reports:
Last December, facing the class-action lawsuit, a state citation for changing corrosion controls, and mounting debt, Pittsburgh terminated its contract with Veolia. All told, PWSA had paid Veolia $11 million over the course of the contract.

Earlier this month, the utility announced it was suing the company. According to a press release, Veolia "grossly mismanaged PWSA's operations, abused its positions of special trust and confidence, and misled and deceived PWSA as part of its efforts to maximize profits for itself to the unfair detriment of PWSA and its customers."
Pittsburgh follows Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Gary, Ind., and Buenos Aires and other international cities that found for-profit water not such a bargain. There's a reason for keeping public utilities public.

I've written plenty about water privatization and our decaying, once great American infrastructure. Our interstate highway system, for example, and other national projects worthy of a great nation. Now we are a country so fixated on the bottom line, we are turning our backs to public oversight, maintenance and capital investment. Wake up and smell the austerity. America can no longer afford Americans.

Mario Piscatella (one damned smart campaign manager) wrote this hours ago on Facebook:
As I come to the end of another cross country journey, my mind is stuck on the audacity of a different generation of political leaders - the Eisenhower interstate system was an unfathomably large undertaking, and any discussion of the cost must have induced gut tightening sticker shock in even the most strident supporters. But programs like the interstate system, the WPA, and so many other things that became the core of America were taken on and achieved before the rise of the self-centered quarterly profits first right.

Those leaders of the middle of last century inspired people to understand that by doing these big things, by investing in our infrastructure and our communities, everyone's lives would improve* and the investments would enable greater opportunity for individual innovation, entrepreneurship, and prosperity. These are the same outcomes falsely promised by trickle-down-greedonomics, but actually realised.

I've been tremendously privileged to see at least some piece of nearly every interstate highway coast to coast. I've seen many national and state parks, as well as forests, monuments, and other landmarks. We have a beautiful country filled with wonderful people.

Over the past few decades, we haven't been without the big ideas, the innovations for national prosperity, but those ideas have consistently been stomped on by those who wish to preserve their wealth and power. They have kept high speed rail offline while allowing our existing public transit systems to decay. They have allowed the state, federal, and municipal buildings built all those decades ago to crumble, giving people the vision that government is old and broken. Those highways and bridges that have powered our economy were consistently underfunded, ratcheting up the costs of repair in an insane fiscally irresponsible manner. They point to the pot holes and tell us it is because government can't do it right.

Then they privatize and pocket the profits... While the quality of service to the end user declines... And the cost escalates uncontrollably.

We don't just need big ideas. We need leaders able to inspire us. We need leaders that can make Americans believe in America again.

* Not really everyone. Communities of black, brown, and poor Americans, and basically everyone else but the wealthy white communities were systematically shafted time and again.
Well said. Somehow I don't think those are the kind of leaders taking over in January, or the kind of greatness they have in mind.