The Water Front: What Happens When Water Is for Profit? [Video]

"What if you lived by the largest body of fresh water in the world but could no longer afford to use it?" The Water Front, a documentary film by Liz Miller, is the story of one community's determined resistance to water privatization.

Highland Park, Michigan, was once the center of the early 20th century's booming automobile industry -- the location of the first assembly line implemented by the Ford Motor Company, enabling mass production. Now, the post-industrial city is in financial crisis and the state of Michigan has appointed an Emergency Financial Manager, with the same power as an elected mayor, to sort it out. Seeing the municipal water plant as a potential source of revenue, the manager raises the water rates to impossible levels, with some residents receiving water bills as high as $10,000. If they are unable to pay, the water is shut off. Highland Park's residents, who are mostly poor or low-income and people of color, have organized a campaign to prevent the water plant from impending privatization, and to assert water, an essential life resource, as a human right.

The fight for water in Highland Park mirrors water justice struggles around the world. As activist and resident Marian Kramer notes in the film, "The fight in Highland Park is the fight in ... Detroit, in Flint, in Johannesburg, South Africa, in China -- in all the places when it comes to the question of water -- it becomes a global problem."

The Water Front also touches upon the growing bottled water industry and its critical connection with water privatization including that of municipal water systems, like the water plant in Highland Park. The marketing of bottled water, which the industry claims is a healthier, purer, and more convenient product, has lead to a distrust of public tap water systems. This is despite the fact that tap water is subject to more stringent regulations, is far cheaper, more widely available and environmentally sustainable, particularly when considering the pollution caused by plastic bottles and the manufacturing, transportation and disposal of bottled water.

In addition, the shift towards bottled water helps deflect from the need to call for increased funding and prioritization of safe public water services, leaving the door open for neglectful governments keen on transferring public service costs over to the private sector. Therefore, bottled water sets the stage for water privatization -- a trend that communities, students, labour and environmental groups, continue to resist!

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