CNN's Christiane Amanpour talks to Robert Kennedy Jr. about the problems we're facing with the developing crisis with the world's water supply, the co
January 11, 2010

CNN's Christiane Amanpour talks to Robert Kennedy Jr. about the problems we're facing with the developing crisis with the world's water supply, the continued privatization of the commons and the level of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water.

AMANPOUR: So, how should the world deal with this developing crisis? Joining me now is one of the world's leading environmentalists, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who's founder and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.


AMANPOUR (on camera): Welcome to the program.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR: Thanks, Christian.

AMANPOUR: What is the real crux of this matter? We can see that it's fueling all sorts of violence. But there's also contamination and scarcity. What can be done about it?

KENNEDY: Well, generally that's a regional question. And, for example, in the Eastern United States, the big issue is water equality, pollution of water and the destruction of water. This is an issue all over the world, as well.

In the Western United States, the kind of conflicts that you're seeing in the Mid East are happening there, as well. It's over water quantity.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about them.

KENNEDY: Well, it's not a question so much of violence, it's a question of big battles between states and lots of lawyers over diminishing quantities of water in the western states. There's an old expression in the west that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.

And the Colorado River used to supply most of the water needs of the western states. Today, Lake Powell is about 100 feet below its historic levels and soon it's going to be dry.

The other big source of water in the west is the Ogallala Aquifer, which is 10 million years old. It's several hundred feet below its historic levels. And communities like Scottsdale and Phoenix and Las Vegas are continuing to encourage rural development and build golf courses in the desert. And these are huge. These are becoming greater and greater issues.

The Colorado River no longer even reaches the sea. It dries up in the Sonora Desert.

AMANPOUR: Whose responsibility is it to provide water? Is it a basic right?

KENNEDY: Well, if you talk about a right, it's part of the commons so that historically water was governed. Water is part of the commons and so government has a -- it can't be privatized. Government has a responsibility to make sure whether you're rich or poor, humble or noble, black or white, that you have a right to your share of that resource. Everybody has a right to use it. Nobody has a right to use it in a way that will diminish or injure its use and enjoyment by others.

Today, one of the big issues that we're seeing around the world that's causing a lot of conflict is the growing attempt to privatize public water supplies, to hand them over to private corporations.

A few years ago, the Bechtel Corporation took over a public water supply in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and then hiked the rates, which caused riots in the streets. It caused the collapse of the government there.

And this is a bad trend. And it's a trend that I think everybody, you know, decent people who have thought through this issue want to make sure that water stays in the hands of government and the people rather than being allowed to be privatized any more than you would want to privatize the air supply.

AMANPOUR: But what about the issue then of contamination? For instance, I did a report some 10 years ago in Bangladesh about arsenic in the water levels and just a few weeks ago looked to the front of "The New York Times" here in the United States and found that some 20 percent of America, its water supply is contaminated with among other things, arsenic and such things. Forty-nine million people having to suffer levels of bacteria and other such things in the water. How is that possible?

KENNEDY: Well, there's lots of threats to water quality in the United States. One of the threats that isn't receiving increasing attention is the level of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. In New York City, where we are today, has one of the finest drinking water supplies in the world with their 122 sewage treatment plant discharging into the 2,000 square mile reservoirs upstate in the Catskill Mountains and Westchester County. Those sewage treatment plants -- the water that comes to New York City is unfiltered waters. It has to be heavily chlorinated. That creates a class of chemicals called trihalomethanes, which the City of New York doesn't even test for.

In addition to that, there's growing concern about pharmaceuticals in our water supply. About 80 percent of the estrogen in a -- when a woman takes birth control pills, about 80 percent of that estrogen goes through her body and then ends up in either the septic system or the sewage plant, which discharges it into public drinking water. And in addition to that, there's antibiotics. There's anti-depressants in immeasurable amounts in almost every public water supply in our country.


AMANPOUR: That was the environmental activist, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaking to me earlier.

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