Discover the state of America's drinking water infrastructure, what steps the federal gov and local EPA offices have taken and the effect on public health.
Since the major news coverage of the Flint, Michigan tap water public health crisis, many other cities have been coming up in the news questioning their own municipal water supply. With many of America’s water infrastructure systems "coming of age", it’s likely we’ll be hearing more news about water quality. However, due to the outpouring of frustration behind Flint, many other local governments are trying their best to avoid the same negative image in the public’s eyes. Their solution? Underreport and systematically downplay the levels of contaminants in the drinking water such as lead and copper.
Scientists have come forward stating they are seeing blatant "distortion of test data"that makes the water in their cities seem healthier than it really is.
The controversial approach to water testing is so widespread that it occurs in “every major US city east of the Mississippi” according to an anonymous source with extensive knowledge of the lead and copper regulations. “By word of mouth, this has become the thing to do in the water industry. The logical conclusion is that millions of people’s drinking water is potentially unsafe.”
The current state of public water systems
It is hard to believe that Flint, Michigan is a one-off case. There will come a time very soon when our cities’ public water systems have run their course and will need to be updated. Original lead service lines, which have since been banned by Congress, were planned to last between 60 and 95 years. Many of those water systems are overdue for an upgrade.
In August of 2015, the drinking water of Sebring, Ohio showed extreme levels of lead after water treatment workers stopped adding chemicals which in turn caused faster corrosion. It took the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency 5 months to recognize the problem and inform the public of the water quality issue, with officials citing insufficient information received from the water treatment plant. The problem ultimately prompted a water advisory alert for pregnant women and children along with the closure of elementary schools when lead was found in the drinking fountains.
Just last week the city of Los Angeles had to provide bottled water to 5 schools that "mysteriously" were found to have murky water likely linked to the lead service lines.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has regulated the nation’s drinking water supply through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) since 1974. The standards it sets determine the maximum levels of contaminants in drinking water. If there is a serious water quality problem, water suppliers are required to notify consumers as well as the local government along with including details of the infringement in an annual report. However, there is still danger to public health even when the EPA functions as it should.
Rules and science are outdated. The EPA’s trigger level for addressing lead in drinking water — 15 parts per billion — is not based on any health threat; rather, it reflects a calculation that water in at least nine in 10 homes susceptible to lead contamination will fall below that standard.
The federal government’s role in addressing water infrastructure needs
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program assists public water systems by providing financial assistance for drinking water infrastructure projects needed to achieve or maintain compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requirements. This can include financial assistance or federal funds for the treatment of groundwater, wastewater or repairs and updates to wastewater infrastructure, stormwater infrastructure, and, of course, drinking water systems.
It isn’t all bad news, though. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed into effect in November 2021, an allocation of more than $50 billion to the EPA was made to improve the nation’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. This is the single largest investment in water that the federal government has ever made.
According to the EPA, There are still 6 to 10 million lead services lines in cities and towns across the country, many of which are in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. Because of the investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, millions of American families will no longer have to fear the harmful health effects caused by lead and other pollutants in their water. People will be protected from PFAS or “forever chemical” contamination and investing in our water infrastructure will put Americans to work in good-paying jobs.
The allocation of $50 billion dollars more than covers the recommendations of the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2021 Drinking Water Infrastructure Report Card where it was recommended that the gov “triple the amount of annual appropriations to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program and fully fund the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs.”
But will it be enough?
The importance of water infrastructure investment
The nation’s drinking water systems face a substantial water infrastructure investment need over the next several decades. It’s expected that the annual drinking water and wastewater investment gap will grow to over $400 billion in the next decade. If that wasn’t enough, drinking water utilities will lose a significant amount of the current drinking water workforce as the workers with the most institutional knowledge will likely retire in the coming years; with some utilities predicting as much as half of their staff retiring in the next five to ten years.
While the new law is a step in the right direction, it is yet to be seen whether public works partnerships between local and federal governments will be able to rise to the challenge. As the global climate change increases, extreme weather events could lead to sewer overflows, surface water and groundwater contamination, along with many other threats to our water resources beyond the long-neglected drinking water systems and wastewater treatment. Beyond that, local water utilities and their corresponding state EPAs must place public health above scandal avoidance if we are to truly trust their water services.
Ensuring you have clean water for your family
Water quality is an important concern for everyone. Public water supplies are tested regularly to ensure tap water meets the standards set by the EPA, as well as state and local regulations. We at Clearly Filtered have set up a free database that compiles all of these test results to reveal exactly what’s in your water. Simply enter your zip code to see the specific contaminants in your tap water, how they can affect you, and how to best protect yourself and your family.
Our pitcher is one of the few filtered water pitchers that truly removes many of the unhealthy contaminants that we are starting to see pop up in the news. We remove up to 99.9% of harmful contaminants including copper, lead, arsenic, PFAS, as well as hundreds more. There’s a good chance that by the time your city warns you about unsafe drinking water, it may already be too late; so make sure you have the best pitcher on the market.