U.S. Needs National Coordination on Water Infrastructure
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates there are 6.1 million lead‐containing service lines present in community water systems (2016 study).
Drinking lead contaminated water can cause numerous problems: birth defects, development and learning disabilities among children, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases among adults. And these are just some of the problems. High profile contaminated water cases have been brought to national attention in Flint, MI and Newark, NJ, but this is not an isolated problem and needs greater national attention.
Overall, the general response has been to monitor and limit lead contamination in water, but significant reinvestment to replace these service lines is needed. Some states and localities have started to move forward on their own, but greater federal funding and oversight is needed.
New York’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 established a Lead Service Line Replacement Program (LSLRP). The Act determined which municipalities can participate and allows them to coordinate the replacement of lead service lines and submit project related vouchers/invoices to the State for reimbursement.
While New York is moving on its own to prevent a future health crisis, other areas are not as fortunate.
The Chicago Tribune analyzed the city’s drinking water and discovered that 30 percent of 2,797 homes where tap water was sampled had lead concentrations higher than the USDA’s allowable limit in bottled water. There is also a problem in city parks, where the parks department has continuously run fountains to flush out the lead and turned off other fountains. Pro tip -- if you’re in a Chicago park and see a continuously running fountain, don’t drink from it.
While progress had been made over the years to bring these levels down, the presence of lead contaminated service lines is a national problem. Not to mention that there are too often boil-water advisories across the country for various reasons.
The Biden Infrastructure plan calls for doubling federal investments in clean drinking water and water infrastructure. The plan also calls to reduce the matching funds required of local governments that do not have the taxbase to afford borrowing to repair their water systems.
Investing in water also creates jobs and is a sizable economic opportunity. According to the Brookings Institute,
Water occupations not only tend to pay more on average compared to all occupations nationally, but also pay up to 50 percent more to workers at lower ends of the income scale.
Communities should not have to choose between clean drinking water and other services. Clean drinking water should be guaranteed for everyone. Dedicated investment now will make people healthier, safer, and prevent another community crisis.
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