Stop These Thirst Traps...
Elected Officials Need To Stop Doing This Same Water Stunt. It Doesn't Work.
Is there a secret handbook for elected officials going through a water crisis?
If there were, it would look something like this. Residents report cloudy, brown, smelly, foul-tasting water. Instead of doing the hard work to fix the problem, officials simply drink the water on camera and tell residents it’s safe to drink. Then, residents get angrier and feel even more scared about their water safety.
Let’s look at a timeline of the water issues at Jacob Riis Houses in New York City, which reported arsenic in the drinking water, and then later stated that the initial test results indicating unsafe levels of arsenic in the water were false. Yikes!
Thursday Aug. 4: NYCHA officials are alerted about cloudy water conditions at the houses, but do not order testing until eight days later, The City reported.
Friday Aug. 12: NYCHA has the Department of Environmental Protection test for e-coli and chlorine.
Tuesday Aug. 16 NYCHA announces that it’s OK to drink the tap water.
Friday Sept. 2: New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams holds a press conference at the Jacob Riis Houses to release a report documenting deplorable conditions at several NYCHA complexes across the city, including mold, pests, service outages and public safety issues.
Friday Sept. 2: New York City Mayor Eric Adams distributes bottled water to residents after 10 p.m., though the public was not yet aware the water supply at Jacob Riis was contaminated with arsenic.
Friday Sept. 2: After 11 p.m., city officials warn residents not to drink or cook with the tap water because it had tested positive for arsenic. The City reports that officials had known about the arsenic for two weeks.
Saturday Sept. 3: At an emergency meeting, residents express outrage that they had been kept in the dark about the water conditions.
Saturday Sept. 3: Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine assures East Village residents there is no evidence of arsenic contamination in the surrounding neighborhood.
Saturday Sept. 3: The federal monitor appointed to oversee NYCHA in 2016, Bart Schwartz, announces a probe into the water conditions.
Sunday Sept. 4: Officials release results of water tests conducted a day prior that showed no elevated arsenic levels.
Monday Sept. 5: Additional testing finds no arsenic, though the mayor’s office still advises residents not to use the water as it awaits test results on 100 additional samples. City officials speculate that the plumbing system, rather than the water supply, could be the source of the contaminant. The initial positive tests were taken at high-rise buildings where the water is routed to a roof tank; the new negative samples were taken from low-rise buildings.
Monday Sept. 5: Residents are instructed to help flush out the system by letting their faucets run for three hours at a time on three consecutive floors.
Monday Sept. 5: The federal monitor orders the city to preserve all documents related to the water quality issues at the complex.
Thursday Sept. 8: City officials said subsequent tests showed Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires Disease – in the water, but cast doubt on the findings, both because no cases of the disease had been detected.
Saturday Sept. 10: Adams declares the water at the housing complex was never unsafe to drink and blames Illinois-based Environmental Monitoring and Technologies for introducing arsenic into the samples.
On that same day we get this:
Mr. Mayor, do you not remember Flint, Michigan?
Lead was leaching into the water supply for almost two years, and public officials said everything was fine. Former Flint mayor Dayne Walling went as far as to drink the contaminated water on local TV to assure residents it was safe to drink. He also tweeted that he and his family were drinking the water every day.
In Newark, New Jersey, top officials for nearly a year and a half denied that their water system had a widespread lead problem, despite ample evidence that the city was facing a public health crisis. Officials declared on their website, “NEWARK’S WATER IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO DRINK.”
No more mayors on TV telling their constituents the water is safe to drink. No more governors ignoring the crisis, just as former Florida governor Rick Scott did for years in Florida, causing toxic algae blooms to harm the water, the wildlife, and the people.
It’s time to storm these local offices, flood them with calls, and fund more independent research and testing so that we can work toward solutions to these issues.
On September 12, reports came out that a number of Jacob Riis Houses tenants have filed a lawsuit against NYCHA over the arsenic water scare.
After a week of being told not to drink the water when initial lab tests came back saying there were traces of arsenic in the water, the Mayor then said the results came back faulty from the lab.
“We don’t know if the water is good or if it's bad,” Civil rights activist Rev. Kevin McCall, founder of the Crisis Action Center said. “We don't know....there's trust issues between the Mayor, NYCHA and the residents. We don't know who to believe.”
When these incidents happen, trust gets diluted. People wake up to how little they know about their water system and are left wondering who is helping protect them and their health.
Who can you turn to for accurate information about your drinking water? You can start by trusting yourselves to get more involved. This is the message I’ve been spreading for more than 20 years.
I’m not just calling on young people or those living in communities already affected.
I’m calling on heads of industry, mayors and senators, moms and dads, scientists, students, real estate agents, healthcare workers, water utility operators, veterans, and more.
Ultimately, our community drinking water systems belong to us. We pay for the water and without us, these systems can’t continue. We need to step up and take an interest in our drinking water systems, our infrastructure, our government, and our regulatory agencies.
Utility and treatment managers along with city officials need to learn how to properly address water contamination issues, listen to their constituents, and work to rebuild trust in communities.
Safe drinking water needs to be an issue on everyone’s minds, not an afterthought during a crisis.
Superman's Not Coming made it to the Best Environmental Policy Books of All Time
I'm happy to announce that my book, Superman's Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It, made it to BookAuthority's Best Environmental Policy Books of All Time.
BookAuthority collects and ranks the best books in the world, and it is a great honor to get this kind of recognition. Thank you for all your support! The book is available for purchase on Amazon.
What do you think about the water scare at Jacob Riis Houses? Sound off in the comments below!