More than food, guns, or energy, the control of water has defined the structure of civilizations. Ruling classes have always been water rulers, and cities and farms can exist only to the extent that they control their water resources.
For thousands of years, the conflicts between towns and countries have been defined by the battle over who gets to use the stream. The words ‘rival’ and ‘river’ have the same root. Water is not merely a medium of conflict, it is also a purifying, regenerative, and hallowed element. The essential nature of water is sanctified in Christian baptism and Hindu submersion in the holy waters of the Ganges River. Muslims and Hopis have their sacred water rituals, as does virtually every spiritual group. The water crisis is already here, and that means clean, fresh water can command ever higher prices. Eager investors are bidding up water-industry stocks and lining up at industry-sponsored forums to get into the "water business." But because governments own most water services, investors have few choices. "How do we take some of the market share away from the government?" asked the vice chair of Southwest Water at an investors' conference. The water industry's answer is to ally with the financial industry, which also wants to open up the market. "It sounds like an exciting opportunity," an investment adviser told Bloomberg News, "but you have to have viable vehicles with which people can buy into the asset". Corporations hope to fill the void primarily by privatizing urban water systems, either by outright purchase or by operating them under long-term contracts euphemistically called "public-private partnerships." The aim in both cases is to siphon profits from the flow. Water is fast becoming a commodity to be bought and sold, rather than the medium through which a community maintains its identity and asserts its values. (Authors: A. Snitow, D. Kaufman, M. Fox)