A small army of water rights advocates is holding a summit on water justice in Blacksburg June 1st and 2nd. They're looking to share skills and bring people together around what they call 'the human right that is water.'
Many communities in far, southwestern Virginia have seen their water contaminated by the fossil fuel industry. Willie Dodson, with the advocacy group, Appalachian Voices, has worked with people who've had their water supplies polluted. He says, a small percentage fought for, and won protection of their water, but many more lost those battles and had to resort to buying it ---or drinking unsafe water.
"I've talked to so many people who've seen their stream run black or see their well sink and they say, 'there's nothing we can do about it, the company is too powerful, the government doesn't care, there's nothing we can do."
But, Dodson says, when they meet other people in the same situation, who are fighting it, "People kind of wake up a little bit and people find hope. And that's when we win, when people find hope."
One irony is that Virginia has a relative abundance of fresh water, compared to other states, but water rights advocates say it also has more than its share of water that's been contaminated by industry.
"And now we're seeing some of the same impacts, particularly with sediment and impacts to surface water, stretching further east into Virginia, through the New River Valley and the Roanoke Valley, thanks to the Mountain Valley Pipeline." says Dodson," and we're seeing communities there organize in similar ways that we, here in the coal mining areas of the state have been organizing. "
Appalachian Voices is one of the groups organizing the Water Justice Summit. It features two days of hands on training in things like water quality monitoring and grassroots community organizing, a panel discussion and an art reception called, The Color of Water. Dodson says participants are coming from seven states to share their stories and strategies.
The groups organized the Water Justice Summit to share skills and "build affinity with one another as one movement for the human right that is water," Dodson explains, "rather than just isolated communities, dealing with our particular back yard travesties."
Activists from seven states are planning to attend the Water Justice Summit. The keynote is a discussion between two indigenous women and two Appalachian women, who are water justice leaders in their communities. That event, and an art exhibit called, "The Color of Water," are open to the public. But workshops, which are also part of the summit, have already filled up.
Reception for “What Color is Water”
FREE and open to the public.
Perspective Gallery in the Squires Student Center at Virginia Tech.
Reception from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Light refreshments will be available.
Kwavol Hi’osik will be speaking at the reception.
The Water Justice Summit is supported by community partners:
Alliance for Appalachia
Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights
Young Appalachian Patriots
Stay Together Appalachian Youth
And also by Virginia Tech partners:
Institute for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention
Appalachian Studies Department
Gloria D. Smith Professorship in Africana Studies
Institute for Policy and Governance