Viewpoints: The Growing Water Crisis in America

According to the EPA, 41 states have reported higher than acceptable levels of lead in drinking water in the last three fiscal years. What this means is that only nine states in the U.S. reported safe lead levels in their water supply: Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee. But that doesn’t ensure that their water is safe.

Americans live under the assumption that water is cheap, pure, and plentiful. But how true is that? has gathered a sampling of recent and not so recent news coverage of the growing water crisis in the United States.

VirginiaAmerican Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 2013: Every 4 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases a Report Card for America’s Infrastructure that depicts the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure in the familiar form of a school report card by assigning letter grades to each type of infrastructure. …The 2013 Report Card for America’s water infrastructure: Grade D. …At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

New, 12/10/14: Public water supplies in 42 U.S. states are contaminated with 141 unregulated chemicals for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has never established safety standards, according to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Another 119 regulated chemicals—a total of 260 contaminants altogether—were found by the environmental group in a two-and-a-half-year analysis of more than 22 million tap water quality tests. … According to a report by the EWG, the top 10 states with the most contaminants in their drinking water were California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois—in that order.

Washington, D.C. Environmental Working Group, 8/20/15: Teflon chemical [PFOA] is harmful at smallest doses. ...EPA's "safe" level is hundreds or thousands of times too weak. ...Every time they drink a glass of tap water, people in the mid-Ohio River Valley of West Virginia and Ohio may be consuming unsafe amounts of an industrial chemical linked to cancer, birth defects, heart disease and other illness. More than a decade after this threat became known, government regulators have failed to set enforceable standards to ensure the water is safe – and now, new science says the danger may be much greater than either residents or regulators thought.

New York – The New York Times, 3/14/16: The number of people found to be drinking water tainted by PFOA is almost certain to grow. PFOA was once used to manufacture a legion of modern conveniences including nonstick pans, microwaveable popcorn wrappers and Gore-Tex boots — practically anything that is non-stick, stain-resistant or water-repellent — but its health effects and the way it spreads are not well understood. But even as the chemical continues to contaminate water across the country, scientists say, government agencies at all levels, from local health departments to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, have yet to grapple with the full extent of the problem, or with what it will take to clean it up.

TexasThe Dallas Morning News, 3/22/16: To put it simply, the national network for providing safe, clean water is falling apart. This state of affairs threatens more than our drinking water supplies. Water is used in every sector of industry, grows our food, affects our health and props up our energy system. …The problem is a result of many factors, including old, leaky pipes; archaic pricing; and a remarkable lack of data about how much water we use. …Wastewater treatment systems are also in serious need of upgrading.

Canada – The Star, 1/15/16: The people of Flint were poisoned by the government. They were deceived for a year and a half. They were told they were hysterical, ignorant, the real liars. Their children will suffer the consequences for their entire lives. The biggest scandal in America, a fiasco staggering in its scope, is unfolding an hour from the Canadian border in a poor city in Michigan. For eighteen months, Flint residents were served toxic lead-filled river water while the authorities at all levels of government told them there was no need to worry.

New York – Time Magazine, 3/22/16: We must be vigilant and rigorous testers of water. The old saying is that “Water is Life.” But water quality is health. …For too long we have taken water for granted. Most Americans don’t know whether their water comes from a lake, groundwater, a reservoir or a river. We seldom realize that a water crisis may be coming soon to a community near us until it does. The intolerable situation in Flint, Mich. that spread neurotoxins throughout an entire city is the most recent prominent illustration but far from the only one.

Florida Miami –, 2015: Over 40 containment’s were found in Miami-Dade tap water significantly higher than the national city average. Sources of the pollutants vary from farm runoff of pesticides, fertilizers and Cyanide to industrial chemicals like uranium and arsenic. The Cyanide levels are disturbing as the national average was between 1-3 (ppb) Miami had 80 (ppb) Over 40 times more than the average city. … A disturbing amount of Monochloroacetic acid over 80 times the national city average has been found in Miami-Dade County tap water. What is important to keep in mind is the legal limits usually exceed the safe health limit, so even if the water is in compliance with the law that does not mean that the water is safe to drink.

Washington, D.C. – Food & Water Watch, 2/11/16: Whether it’s kids poisoned by lead in Flint and other towns, water service shutoffs in Baltimore and Detroit or water contaminated by factory farms in Ohio and Iowa, we face a growing water crisis that requires real, long-term solutions that keep water clean, affordable and democratically controlled. That’s why we need a dedicated funding source for water infrastructure to ensure that communities receive the money they need to protect the health of their residents. Safe water is non-negotiable. Access to affordable service is non-negotiable. Clean drinking water is a human right, and in the United States, people should not have to worry about whether their water is safe to drink.