Water Activists Exposed

  Critics of the private water industry like to describe themselves as charities, consumer advocates, and water policy experts. In reality, these organizations are extremely well funded and internationally connected advocacy groups without water service or water policy expertise. Unfortunately, these activists are not focused on what’s best for a local community.These activist groups share significant financial and personnel connections with like-minded national and international groups. They rely on misleading information from these partner organizations, while ignoring independent sources. Their funders are often anonymous and do not represent the voices of local concerned citizens. They cannot and should not be looked to as independent experts on a community’s water needs.

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Public Citizen
Founded by Ralph Nader in 1971, Public Citizen is a Washington, D.C., based advocacy group that aims to increase corporate regulation and to influence federal government decision-makers. In 2005, Public Citizen spun off Food & Water Watch to focus on more specific issues, including anti-private water efforts. 1
In the Public Interest
In the Public Interest tries to serve as an online resource to provide the public with “high-quality” and “accurate” information on issues pertaining to privatization and contracting. However, In the Public Interest takes an openly biased stance on private water, often sharing Food & Water Watch research that is both misleading and unsupported. In the Public Interest provides visitors to their website with a skewed picture of private water, something that is not at all “in the public interest.” 2
WaterJustice.org was created at the World Social Forum in 2004 – an international meeting of social groups opposed to globalization – to fight private water. Groups including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the Council of Canadians and the Transnational Institute all played a major role in its creation. Water Justice has essentially created a forum for water activists to collaborate and share biased information and research on private water’s real track record. Content from Food & Water Watch is regularly featured on the site. 3
Alliance for Democracy
Described as a populist movement, Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy believes the American economy, government, culture, media, and environment are monopolized by corporate America. The Alliance for Democracy’s agenda is fueled by an Occupy Wall Street-style anti-corporate ideology that believes that all private markets are bad and that businesses cannot be trusted. 4
Food & Water Watch
Food & Water Watch (FWW), launched in 2005 as a spin-off from Ralph Nader’s activist group Public Citizen, is an advocacy and lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. With an agenda supported by mostly anonymous donations, FWW’s team of supposed experts on water policy includes not a single employee with a water-focused post-graduate degree or with professional experience in water delivery. FWW positions itself as an independent public resource on water, but in reality, the organization and its international allies push ideologically driven arguments and routinely get basic facts wrong. FWW’s materials repeatedly rely on biased evidence, misrepresent events, and ignore key facts. These shortcomings render FWW case studies and reports essentially useless as a tool for evaluating private water delivery services in local communities nationwide. In fact, FWW even opposed a water bond measure in California to help the state deal with its dire drought conditions, a ballot measure supported by two-third of Californians and more than 98 percent of state legislators from both political parties.5
Corporate Accountability International
Founded in 1977 as the Infant Formula Action Group, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has evolved into a larger effort against corporations in the areas of public health, human rights, and the environment. More recently, CAI launched Public Water Works, a campaign to fight private water. In an effort to discredit private water providers, CAI often releases reports and collaborates with groups like Food & Water Watch and the research arms of global trade unions to make unsupported claims about water privatization. CAI researchers rarely cite sources or experts aside from themselves or likeminded groups, and reports are full of inaccuracies and misleading claims. 6
Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), funded by a global confederation of trade unions, was established in 1998 to focus on research to support anti-globalization and anti-privatization initiatives. PSIRU has collaborated with Food & Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and the Transnational Institute on recent anti-private water research and publications. In one recent report released in collaboration with CAI the lead PSIRU researcher argued against private water by citing his own work 115 times, seemingly finding very few independent studies or empirical evidence to support his ideological views. 7
Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) tries to function as the face of local opposition against water privatization. Local FLOW groups take on responsibility for attacking potential and existing water arrangements in their areas through petitions and public opposition at city council meetings and in the news. While FLOW groups often position themselves as a grassroots movement, many of these “local” groups are closely linked to Food & Water Watch, often teaming up to create research reports and coordinate on efforts against local privatization initiatives.8
Anonymous Donors

Food & Water Watch and other likeminded anti-privatization groups are funded by a network of foundation money and anonymous donations, making it nearly impossible to decipher whose interests are actually behind the anti-private water agenda being advanced. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, over 75 percent of FWW’s revenue – more than $52 million in total – came from anonymous sources. 9

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  1. “About Us,” Citizen.org website; Biography of Ralph Nader, Nader.org; “About Us,” Food & Water Watch website
  2. “About Us,” In the Public Interest website; “Water and Sewer,” In the Public Interest website
  3. About the website,” WaterJustice.org website
  4. “About AfD,” The Alliance for Democracy Website website
  5. “About Food & Water Watch,” Food & Water Watch website; Food & Water Watch IRS 990, 2011; Food & Water Watch IRS 990, 2012; “Staff” Food and & Watch website; “Building Grassroots Pressure: How To Collect Petition Signatures,” Food & Water Watch website; “California Water Bond Wins Passage,” Sacramento Bee, 11/4/14; AB 1471, Passed CA. House 77-2-0, 8/13/14; AB 1471, Passed CA. Senate 37-0-3, 8/13/14
  6. “About Us,” Corporate Accountability International website; “Public Water Works!” Corporate Accountability International website; “New Report Highlights the Case for Public Water,” Public Water Works! Blog, Nov. 2014
  7. “About Us,” Public Services International Research Unit website; Emanuele Lobina, “Troubled Waters: Misleading industry PR and the case for public water,” Public Services International Research Unit, Nov. 2014.
  8. “Felton Water System,” In the Public Interest website
  9. Foundation Directory Online (FDO) accessed April 23, 2017; FWW IRS 990s, 2011-2015; SVCF Grantee Lists; Tides Foundation Grantee Lists; Grants were verified by IRS 990s of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Columbus Foundation, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the National Philanthropic Trust, and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment.