The Legislative Solution On The Table

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Is Largest Investment In Clean Drinking Water Ever, But Is It Enough?

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Water infrastructure is not equal for all. Just ask folks in Jackson, Mississippi.

Earlier this year, we covered their ongoing water crisis. Residents went weeks without water when extreme winter weather hit the state along with Texas and Louisiana, putting stress on aging pipes and quickly depleting water reserves.

Decades of neglected maintenance inevitably produced a failing water system. The city requested $47 million from the state for water repairs but only received $3 million. For years, homes and businesses throughout Jackson have reported low pressure, water outages, and murky water.

Low-income residents and communities of color are more severely impacted by water issues in this country. Pollution problems are rampant, but so is access to drinking water in general.

More than one million mostly low-income Californians lack access to safe drinking water.

Nearly 40 percent of the homes in the Navajo Nation lack running water or sanitation and more than 500 sites polluted by radioactive waste and materials are located there.

Researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson and King’s College London in the United Kingdom published a study in 2020 showing that households without running water were more likely to include people of color or to live in mobile homes or rented accommodations.

“Without tap water, how do you wash your hands?” write the study’s authors. “In a global health pandemic such as COVID-19, the difference between secure and insecure water access—starting with those 65,000 unplumbed New Yorkers—is a matter of life and death.”

That’s right, they found 65,000 people in the New York metropolitan area without piped water access. Additionally, the Los Angeles metropolitan area has 44,200 people and the San Francisco metropolitan area has about 27,400 people.

The Solution We’ve Got

The infrastructure bill scheduled for a vote in the U.S. House tomorrow would be the largest federal investment in clean drinking water ever. It was created by a bipartisan committee, as it should be. Everyone needs access to clean water. Water issues are never red or blue.

Unfortunately, politics can get messy. It’s not always about doing the right thing, but doing the thing we can afford or that has the most people supporting it.

Infrastructure funding is needed now more than ever. Contamination clean-up, lead pipe removal, water treatment and sewage system updates are sorely needed.  

“In the midst of this ongoing global pandemic and economic and social turmoil—we cannot forget that this country is facing a clean drinking water crisis,” said Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell in a statement released last week. “My home state is suffering—from Flint to Dearborn to Benton Harbor—and still there are millions of people across the country that don’t even know if they are drinking lead.”

Benton Harbor, a low-income, predominantly Black community in southwest Michigan, recently made headlines for lead contamination in the drinking water. Tap water samples from 2018 showed lead levels of 22 parts per billion, but for the last three years, the city, the county, and the state have dragged their feet to fix the problem.

At least 22 million people get their drinking water from systems supplied by lead pipes, and millions more rely on systems that already violate safe water standards.

“Unfortunately, the whole issue of water infrastructure has been out of sight and out of mind,” Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council told NPR in August. “We have got water systems all over the country that are falling apart, that are aging, many of them 50 to 100 years old. So it's a huge problem nationwide in all 50 states.”

This infrastructure bill addresses some of our biggest water concerns including lead pipes and contamination clean-up. It could help fund struggling municipalities across the country with big dreams for water infrastructure updates.

The bill puts $55 billion toward clean drinking water initiatives, including $15 billion to replace lead service lines. It also puts $10 billion toward filtering PFAS out of drinking water.

Failing water infrastructure is a public health crisis. It’s a crime we’ve let so many communities get to this point. I receive messages every day from people across the country affected by these issues. I hope our government can do the right thing and get these funds to those most in need.

The EPA estimates that $472.6 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s drinking water infrastructure in the next 20 years. We’ve gotta start somewhere.

Wanna stay more connected to what legislators are voting on? Use this tool: Dome Watch for the U.S. House. And try this link for the U.S. Senate.

Get To Know Your Water Infrastructure

Ever wondered why we have water towers? Yes, they help store extra water, but they also help pressurize water for distribution. Water towers help ensure you get a good flow of pressure when you turn on your tap. Learn more in the video below.

Have thoughts on the infrastructure bill? Let us know in the comments below.