Why Is America’s Water Infrastructure Failing?

In early 2016, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration concerning Flint, Michigan’s severely contaminated water supply. The city switched water sources in 2014 from Detroit to the Flint River, and there has since been a massive increase in lead contamination. While the situation in Michigan has received
a lot of attention, it is not the only city with water problems.
So, what’s wrong with America’s water? Well, in 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US’s drinking water a grade of “D plus” in their Infrastructure Report Card. While they admit that US water on average
is actually of a fairly high quality, the infrastructure is nearing the end of it’s service life. Hundreds of thousands of water mains break every year, and in many cases, the pipes connecting the supply, such as in Flint, Michigan, are
old and contaminated with lead.
The American Water Works Association has even predicted it could cost at least $1 trillion dollars to update and replace the US’s aging pipes. Overall, drinking water quality is dictated by state and federal standards, the most important of which is the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. This sets limits to how many microorganisms,
disinfectants, chemicals, and lead are allowed in Public Water Systems, which serve a majority of US citizens.
However, a 2009 report by The New York Times found that a fifth of the public water systems in the US violated the Safe Drinking Water Act. Less than 6% of those violators saw fines or punishment by the Environmental Protection Agency. And across the country, more than a million and a half Americans still don’t have reliable plumbing, with many below the federal poverty level. Although it is

rare in the United States, there are many groups suffering water poverty: an inability to access clean water.

These are predominantly the urban homeless population, migrant workers, unregulated border communities, and portions of Native American reservations. One of the reasons that water quality and supply sees a lack of investment and innovation is that it falls by the wayside in favor of emerging technologies. According to The Atlantic’s Citylab, out of over $4 billion dollars in venture capital clean-tech investment, only about 5% or, $200
million dollars went towards researching and improving water. And with drought in regions like the West Coast, water scarcity and rising costs are making it harder and harder for those without water to access or afford it.
Residents dealing with Flint’s lead contaminated water pay an average of $140 a month for water and sewage, whereas the surrounding county only pays between $50 dollars and $100 dollars a month. Many residents have even received overdue notices for this deadly water. But despite severe issues in water infrastructure, lack of investment, insufficient plumbing and water access, the US does manage to provide clean water and sanitation to most of the country. The real problem is getting it to disadvantaged groups, and making sure that gross violations, like the ones in Flint, are dealt with and rectified.
As a result of Flint’s water crisis, 100,000 Flint residents and counting have been exposed to lead poisoning. Find out how the crisis came to be in the video at the top.

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