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S³ Sustainable Strategies Segment: LEECHES, LEAKS, and LESSONS LEARNED -

When we think about the beautiful places to go and spend time, relaxing, vacationing, and simply partaking of the comfort we seek, most of the time it involves water. Many of us have a daily routine of making coffee or tea, brushing our teeth, bathing, and getting our 1 gallon of water consumption without any thought about the source of the water we use.

Last week I had the privilege of participating in the River Rally 2017 conference as one of the workshop speakers. The event was held in the beautiful city of Grand Rapids, MI, and the hotel where the event was held was directly across from the Grand River of Michigan. This event was an eye-opening experience that has influenced the focus of this blog. Themes centered on affordability, accessibility, water crises around the nation, and water equity, connect with my focus on sustainability and ethics. I'd like to take advantage of this opportunity to share some insights that I hope will cause you to think about the value and the ethical implications of your drinking water.


Clean drinking water is a human right and should be regulated for quality and made accessible to all..., right? What happens when our water is inadequately monitored? When is it acceptable for the quality of our drinking water to be privatized for efficiency and cost savings? Here is where the ethical aspects of clean water accessibility and affordability become a threat to human rights. The leeching opportunities come to the forefront when privatization is a consideration. Opening the opportunity for corporations to take control of the water can have a backlash on those who have the least income and political influence. Water is more than an environmental issue; it's a political issue and it's also an economics issue.


At the River Rally, a plenary panel of advocates and experts discussed the connection of "Affordability, Equity, and Drinking Water." The panelists boldly discussed the importance of knowing who truly holds the power of our drinking water. Water as an inclusionary resource for all living beings was continuously emphasized by these panelists. Here are some key nuggets:

  • Angela Rosser, West Virginia, made a profound statement when she responded to the question concerning the issues of water and the importance of inclusion, diversity and equity. Ms. Rosser shared a revealing reality about how many who live in rural West Virginia are dealing with the phenomena of invisibility. Ms. Rosser, Executive Director of West Virginia River Coalition, discussed that when water is addressed as only an environmental issue, it's a low concern on the totem pole, however "the vibration" of water concerns changes when it becomes a public health issue, a human rights issue, or an equity issue.

  • Simone Lightfoot, Director of National Urban Initiatives at the National Wildlife Federation, talked about how when serving in the air force, she learned how everyone was mission essential. She said, "we all are mission essential and must learn how to lean in." Ms. Lightfoot, also an elected official serving on the Ann Arbor Public School Board, explained "when the narrative is so controlled," it's difficult for elected official to rally behind activist issues. "Their allegiance (the elected officials) is to the office, not the people." She helped many of us understand that as activists, we have to hold elected officials accountable to issues that matter to us, but it requires fortitude. Activists, mission essential practitioners, must keep these issues, this means water issues, before their faces.

  • As is the case in most states, when it comes to policies that are pushed through and executed, there is a polarization between jobs and the economy, and the environment, as is the situation in West Virginia. The chemical spill that caused the water crisis in 2014, triggered the needed response from elected officials, especially when over 300,000 people were affected. Ms. Rosser said failing to protect the water was an economic issue and the outcome created policies which were "the most protected water reform seen in this generation." However, one year later, officials began to reassess the budget and reduced regulations on the premise of insufficient funds to maintain the high-level protection needed. Policymakers will respond when lots of people are hurt, sick, and are rallying in outrage. However, policies are subject to change, supporting issues that are the low hanging fruit and that are in the best interest of those who made the greatest financial contributions that got the officials into office.

  • More than ever, people are now paying attention to where their water is coming from

  • When we talk about ethics, we have to look at governance and how it's structured. Monica Lewis-Patrick, "The Water Warrior," and CEO of We the People of Detroit, highlighted the inequities of how urgent issues were handled and continue to be handled in Michigan. She reminded us that Detroit is the blackest city in America. Although many communities in Michigan met the requirements to be placed under emergency management, because many of these communities were predominantly white, were not placed under emergency management. Fifty-three percent (53%) of the African-American population in the state of Michigan have been under state emergency. According to Ms. Lewis - Patrick, the reason Flint's water was "poisoned," (I call the permitted leak,) and the reason Detroit experienced a"grand theft" of pensions, was because of the haste of policymakers, millionaires and billionaires, to seize key assets, i.e. waterways, and land. Discussions are taking place now about DWSD (Detroit Water and Sewage Dept.) becoming privatized and the DeVos family, (Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education's family) is a major player in pushing this effort. Again, one of the biggest risks in privatizing water is the quality of care diminishing and costs increasing, further plundering the urban core areas where many of the disenfranchised residents live. A cold message Ms. Lewis-Patrick left us with was this, "shutting off water is an act of war." Citizens of Detroit are paying some of the highest rates for water they can't consume.

  • When we are talking about water, we must continue to keep the light on Flint. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African-Americans make up 55% of the population of Flint and 41% are below the poverty line.

  • The passing of time tends to reduce the urgency of outstanding issues, like the water crisis of Flint, even when the need is still great.

Wow.... there was so much more. The workshop where I was one of three

speakers was titled, "Can A Drinking Water Crisis Awaken Transformation?" My colleagues and I shared our personal stories of what happened when our cities experienced a water crisis and how our cities took initiatives to correct and monitor the issue. My city, Toledo, had a horrific algal bloom episode in August 2014. I talked about how this upset affected the residents living in the urban center of Toledo. I then lead over 25 workshop participants in an exercise where they began to examine their own organizations in their respective cities. They were asked to do a SWOT analysis of their water related programs and discussed the necessary changes they need to make to become a more impactful agency as it pertains to communicating the importance of caring for our water sources, that is our rivers and lakes.

The issue of water ethics and CSR will be discussed in the next blog. I am now getting ready for the Sustainable Brands Conference, Sustainable Brands Detroit, "Redefining the Good Life." Live 4 Change, LLC will be part of the Energy Pavilion Innovation Lab Leadership team. Stay tuned for more!

To learn more about this amazing conference, go to:

I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or email me @ You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, and Periscope. My handle is @ Live 4 Change, LLC.

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