By Rebecca Martin
As part of our ongoing effort to educate citizens on the upcoming Water Referendum that will appear on the November 3rd ballot, we are happy to present this piece, “In their own words” to share insight from residents who live and work inside and out of the City of Kingston.
Our lives are intimately impacted by the decisions made by our elected and appointed officials on all fronts. In this case, regarding water, by voting ‘YES’ to include the Common Council on all sales of water outside Kingston’s corporate limits, we have a real opportunity to assure better decisions to be made for the betterment of our future on this front.
As we understand it, the referendum language is to be sent to the Board of Elections by October 2nd from the City of Kingston’s Clerk office. We look forward to sharing it in advance with the public when we receive it.
QUESTION: Why do you wish to see the Water Referendum pass through this fall during the general election?
“Our government is based on elected officials representing the people. The fact that there is currently a disconnect and the residents of Kingston have no representation when it comes to selling our most vital resource outside of our community is a dangerous flaw in our charter. Passing this referendum provides a safety net for Kingstonians, so that we can be represented and our voices can be heard if future proposals that may compromise our water supply should occur. I am very proud to have been a part of the solution to keep the Niagara bottling project away from our water, but this referendum is equally important so the future leaders of our city have a system in place to be at the table from the very beginning.”
Bill Carey, Kingston Resident
Ward 5 Alderman
“As Niagara Bottling Company’s recent proposal to begin bottling water from our area highlighted, our water – one of our most precious, shared natural resources – is currently very vulnerable. As the vagaries of climate change increase, water will become even more threatened and precious both in the Hudson Valley and across the world. We cannot afford to leave this essential natural element that literally sustains all of us to be unprotected or privatized. This Water Referendum is a crucial step in the process of ensuring that our water remains available to all residents in our area – in the City of Kingston as well as other municipalities with shared watersheds and water rights – both now and in the future. Requiring Mayoral and Common Council approvals for water sales outside the City of Kingston is a sensible step to improve transparency and sound process – which was lacking with Niagara – to ensure that future water sale proposals are carefully and fully vetted and in the best long term interests of Kingston’s residents and water customers. Cooper Lake & Mink Hollow are the source waters for the City of Kingston’s drinking water supply. Woodstock is Kingston’s watershed community. Woodstock also has shared water rights in Mink Hollow Stream and to the waters flowing from Cooper Lake, should the Town ever need to access them in the future. Residents of the Town of Ulster and Town of Kingston rely on the water supply from Cooper Lake as well, through long-term water purchase contracts with the Kingston Water Department. And Mink Hollow is in the New York City water shed. For all these reasons the Land Conservancy is committed to doing what we can to help protect the long term integrity and viability of these critical natural resources in our community.”
Kevin Smith, Chairman, Woodstock Land Conservancy
Eve Fox, Advisory Council Member, Woodstock Land Conservancy
“Passage of this referendum is important, but not necessarily for me. It is important for my child, and future generations. To insure that our precious, natural resources are not commercialized or squandered should be the top priority of all communities. And it should be up to the entire community to decide how to utilize these resources — and not left to a handful of people behind closed doors to decide. What I learned from the Niagara Bottling Plant proposal and the subsequent community reaction is that the needs of the community should be considered first, and not be trumped by corporate interests. Economic development is much more than job creation, it includes fostering community wellness. That means creating a place to live that is not only safe and has a high quality of life, but has essential services to include abundant and clean water for all residents.”
Arthur Zaczkiewicz, Kingston Resident
“In today’s world water is now a precious commodity and a resource to be protected. We all have read of droughts across certain areas in North America and their communities hunt for clean water along with their ongoing conservation efforts. We here in the City of Kingston are fortunate to have a clean and safe water supply readily available for our citizens. As representatives of the people it makes sense that the Common Council have a say in what companies, who are outside city limits, can purchase the water, for what purpose and how much they purchase. Currently the Council does not have that right based on the charter written almost a hundred years ago. That power was given to members of a Water Board to oversee all water matters which worked for those times. They could never have imagined the future with water being bottled and sold for a profit. It is now time to rectify it. All living creatures, all plants, need water to sustain life and we need to protect our natural resource from abuse or profiteering. It is essential for the life and survival of the City of Kingston and for its future generations. As I have said in the past, Water is now the new “oil”.”
Alderwoman, 9th ward
“Kingston’s water supply is a crucial pillar of our public commons. It’s understanding that we cannot exist apart from the web of nature whose very source is water. So of course, the sale of our water for a commercial purpose threatens our public commons and cannot be allowed.”
David Bruner, Kingston Resident
“Why does the Water Referendum matter? Because when Kingston was faced with a decision last year that would have affected our economic and environmental future, you didn’t have a choice. You didn’t have a voice. The City Charter is Kingston’s “constitution.” It is the fundamental structure of our government. New York State Law says that YOUR VOTE MATTERS on any change to our city charter. The way the Charter is currently structured, the Common Council that YOU elected to represent our community has no say regarding the Water Board’s decision to sell our water. This simply doesn’t make sense. It is not how democracy should work. The Water Board should be accountable to the public and the Council should have the “balance of power” regarding the significant decisions that govern our City’s future. In other words, during the Niagara Bottling proposal last year:
- You had no say about whether to sell our limited supply of safe, high quality drinking water to a billion-dollar corporation for a fraction of the rate you pay.
- You had no say about the use of your tax dollars going toward the attraction of a polluting industry.
- You had no say about how this would limit further residential and commercial development in Kingston.
- You had no say regarding whether this was environmentally detrimental to our community.
If you vote “yes” for the Water Referendum, you will have a say! Say “yes!” to include Council – and the public – in the sale of our precious water.”
Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Kingston Resident
District 7 Ulster County Legislature Democratic Candidate
“I want to see this water referendum pass because the people must have a say about how this most precious resource is used. Water is vital to life, and we are blessed to live in an area that has an abundance of water today. But times are changing, and water shortages are a reality in many parts of the world. We are also vulnerable to that possibility in the future. We need to think carefully – and many generations ahead – about protecting our water for the future. Until now, a small group of appointed (not elected) officials had the power to make all decisions about the water that Kingston citizens depend on. The passing of this referendum will ensure that officials elected by the citizens of Kingston will have a say in what happens to the city’s water supply. And the people should have a say in this important matter. It was only a year ago this month that the citizens of the area found out that the water of Kingston had been offered up for sale to Niagara Bottling Company – these negotiations started in April of 2014 with Kingston’s Water Department and were kept out of the public eye until September! I urge everyone who is eligible to vote to pass this referendum so that in the future the citizens will be aware of – and represented in – all decisions about their water supply.”
Sierra Club and Neetopk Keetopk
“Water is our most important resource. We cannot live without it. Kingston residents, visitors, and businesses all need access to clean, fresh water in times of plentiful rainfall, and in times of drought. We need to protect and conserve our water, and to plan its use wisely. It’s no longer appropriate for decisions about the potential sale of Kingston water to be made by a group of 5 Water Board members, plus the Mayor. A decision to sell our water has far-reaching consequences, and should only be undertaken after informed and careful thought, and only if approved by a majority of Kingston citizens through their representatives on the Common Council.”
Lynn Johnson, Kingston Resident
Democratic Candidate for Alderman, Ward 9
Member, Kingston Conservation Advisory Council
“While I live in Woodstock, I am a KingstonCitizens.org committee Chair, and I have continued to work with this amazing team to so to stay civically engaged in the protection of our collective public safety, way of life, and our water. It is encouraging to see that the Kingston Common Council has taken this action. This Referendum is extremely valuable to the region, because the systems that are in place, in the City of Kingston, for the governance of water that lie in Woodstock township are not currently set up to give the people a voice. Judging by recent events, it is clear that if we do not take the necessary steps to safeguard the community from similar threats, we could find ourselves in the middle of a nightmare we can’t wake up from. About one year ago to the day, I was alerted to the plan to the privatization of a small lake in the Woodstock community. My immediate reaction was “Not in my back yard!!” And then I began to understand that it was far more than just my lake that lie vulnerable. The plan that Niagara Bottling Company, Kingston Water Board and The Town of Ulster Supervisor had for the region was obscenely dangerous to the health and safety of the people in our community and threatened to add billions of gallons of potential waste overtime to the Hudson River via the Esopus Creek and innumerable plastic bottles to the sea of plastic we continue to create and throw “away”. This is not the kind of decision that should be left in the hands of a few people. Public water should be governed with the inclusion of the people whom the sources serve. While the plan was never able to see itself to manifestation, it did shed light on vulnerabilities as well as create stress on inter-municipal relationships, and we have been left with much more than leaky pipes to repair. I see this referendum as the first step of many that can be taken to protect the City of Kingston’s water supply, those who are served by it and those who live in the watershed from which it comes.”
Rachel Marco-Havens, Woodstock Resident
KingstonCitizens.org Communications Committee
Founder, Earth Guardians NY
“Many years ago, I saw a documentary that showed Bolivian people who were facing legal penalties for collecting rainwater–apparently, the water that fell from the sky legally “belonged” to a private corporation and the Bolivian people were accused of stealing their property. This struck me as absurd and monstrous, but the years since I have seen that attitude creeping into the U.S. system. Water should not be treated as a commodity to be traded on Wall Street and owned by private entities. It is a natural resource and a public right. It belongs to all of us, and that’s why it matters deeply to me that the people of Kingston have the final say in how our water is managed.”
Sara Eckel, Kingston Resident
“I would like to see the Water Referendum pass this Fall because it will bring the public’s voice into decisions about Kingston’s most precious natural resource — drinking water. Kingston’s citizens are smart, well informed and ready to help plan for a future of clean, abundant fresh water. The Referendum will help make sure they have the power to do just that.”
Paul Gallay, Executive Director
“I plan to vote in support of the Water Referendum and I urge my fellow Kingstonians to vote “yes” on the water referendum too. The referendum requires Common Council approval on any sale of water rights outside of Kingston’s corporate limits. Currently, the Water Board stands as an independent agency with members appointed for set terms by the Mayor of Kingston. Long ago, those establishing an independent Water Board intended that the agency operate above politics without the potential for graft, cronyism, and the short term thinking often associated with the rough and tumble of policymaking. Yet, an independent agency insulated from and unaccountable to the citizens it represents breeds its own kind of potential problems. Given the way Water Board members are appointed, politics isn’t eliminated from the process. Instead, the politics take place behind closed doors in the Mayor’s office without a transparent, public discussion of the appointee’s values, commitments, and philosophy. A good mayor will seek Board members from a variety of different and competing perspectives. A problematic mayor will stuff the Board with likeminded friends and political allies. The quality of the Board depends upon the ethics of the mayor. In a 21st century full of drought conditions brought on by climate change, water has become a crucial resource. The City of Kingston cannot thrive economically without a stable water supply. The people who, in the final analysis, own that water should make any decision that potentially endangers its watershed. If the referendum passes, the Water Board will retain many of the features that have historically accompanied its independent agency status. It will continue to function the way the progenitors of the Water Board intended – free from the short term compromise and deal making characterizing many political decisions with one crucial exception. When considering whether to sell Kingston’s water outside of our community where the public hasn’t any jurisdiction, the Water Board must seek the approval of the Common Council, the most representative branch of Kingston government. If selling Kingston’s water to a corporation like Niagara Bottling Company is truly in the best interests of the community, surely the people will see the wisdom in such a policy. If the selling of Kingston’s water is detrimental to the community, then the Water Board will have to reconsider whether its commitments align with the public good. “
Lynn Eckert, Kingston Resident
Democratic Candidate for Ward 1 Alderwoman
“Having the Common Council involved in all decisions as important as the sale of our water is critical to Kingston’s future. Hopefully, our next Mayor will observe “transparency, accountability and informed public engagement” in all decision making, but ensuring that all 11 of our elected representatives have the information upon which important decisions are made and and a voice in those decisions is fundamental to protecting the public interest and furthering open government in Kingston.”
Kitty McCullough, Kingston Resident
KingstonCitizens.org Economic Development Committee
“Access to clean water is a precious, life-sustaining human right which we cannot take for granted. Multi-national corporations know that water is the new oil, the new gold, the new hot “commodity”, according to companies like NESTLE and NIAGARA, who are actively engaged in turbo charged water grabs, pollution of streams, rivers, oceans, and the economic exploitation of local water supplies across the country. Ulster County has recently experienced such heinous activities first hand in our victorious fight to prevent NIAGARA plastic water bottling company from setting up shop in our communities. It is vitally important that the Kingston, NY Water Referendum pass on Election Day 2015. We have seen the future and it requires that the citizens of Ulster County protect our water, now and in the long term. If we blink, our water may be compromised. Our relatively pristine watershed provides water to local communities and to New York City. It is beyond valuable. The people of Ulster County deserve the right to protect our water, and the right to determine our watershed’s healthy future. I am forever grateful to the heroic work of all at Kingstoncitizens.org, and everyone involved in making sure that Kingston, NY has the opportunity to vote “YES” on the Water Referendumon on Election Day, November 3, 2015.”
Earth Guardians NY
Kingstoncitizens.org Events Committee
“We need the decision makers to be forward minded people who think about our children’s children and sustainability especially during the times of depleting resources on our planet.”
Lake Hill Resident
KingstonCitizens.org Events Committee
“I was very active with KingstonCitizens.org during the Niagara Bottling proposal crisis. From September 2014 to February 13, 2015, the date when Niagara withdrew their proposal to buy a large portion of our limited municipal water supply, I stopped taking our water for granted. I learned too much to continue to be complacent about our water. I now understand that we, the people, should all be good stewards of our water. I want Kingston’s Water Referendum to pass because I believe that the power to make decisions about selling our municipal water supply should be shared among appointed (Water Department staff/board) and elected officials (our Common Council members), and that any such decisions must be weighted in favor of our common good. The world is a very different place now than it was in 1895, when the City of Kingston’s Charter first defined who had the power and responsibility to protect our municipal water supply. 120 years ago, people could not have imagined plastic water bottling plants or corporate grabs of our natural resources. Today, these are real and present dangers. Amending our City Charter to empower the Common Council to represent the public and to be actively involved in decisions related to water sales outside of the City is the right course to take.”
Debra Bresnan, Kingston Resident
KingstonCitizens.org Communications Committee
Dr. Kathy Nolan