3 Ways Access To Safe Water Is Threatened In The U.S.

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by Romain Coetmellec

In the U.S, the promise that everyone should be able to access safe water is being threatened on a daily basis.

World Water Day is a day dedicated to ensuring safe drinking water and sanitation for everyone. Assessing conditions here and around the globe, we are reminded that the fight for safe water is far from over.

Increased Privatization = Decreased Access to Safe Water

Water privatization is when private corporations buy or operate public water utilities. It’s often suggested as a solution to municipal budget challenges and aging infrastructure and water systems. Unfortunately, this more often backfires, leaving communities with higher rates, worse service, job losses and more:

  • Loss of control: water privatization reduces local control and public rights. Nowadays, 35 million Americans receive their water from privately owned for-profit utilities. Because the bottom line of a corporation is to turn profits, providing quality water and service at a fair price takes a back seat, leaving communities to suffer the consequences and financial burden. 
  • High Rates: for the typical household, privately owned water utility service costs 59% more than public water service — about $185 per year. Many communities can’t afford this.
  • Quality of service: privatization can worsen the service. There is ample evidence that maintenance backlogs, wasted water, sewage spills, and worse service often follow privatization.
  • Job loss: privatization often leads to a loss of one in three water jobs.
  • Infrastructure risks: because 70 to 80% of water and sewer assets are underground, a municipality can’t easily monitor a contractor’s performance.

Fracking + PFAS = Water Contamination

Over the past decade, Big Oil & Gas corporations with drilling and fracking operations have pumped “forever chemicals” into the ground. Over time these break into toxic substances known as PFAS.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are toxic, lab-made chemicals. Long term exposure to these PFAS has been associated with health problems including:

  • Thyroid disease 
  • Weakened immunity
  • Cancer

Today, PFAS are everywhere — in our drinking water, our pots and pans, and even our bodies. They simply don’t break down in the environment. Ever.

The EPA has long promised to set safety standards and address the widespread water contamination caused by PFAS. In 2021, they took a step in the right direction, announcing they would start to regulate certain types of these forever chemicals by 2023.

We need strong regulations, comprehensive limits on the full class of PFAS chemicals and adequate funding to help public water providers fully implement critical new PFAS standards. This is how we can make sure everyone has clean, safe water.

Factory Farming = Polluted Waterways

One of the nation’s most serious and persistent threats to clean drinking water is pollution from factory farm runoff.  

The agricultural sector is the greatest source of nutrient pollution to global freshwater supplies. Big Ag and meat facilities use water for everything, from animal feed and production to animal slaughtering and processing.  

Industrial livestock operations produce 1 billion tons of phosphorus and nitrogen-rich waste annually in the U.S. alone. In the U.S., this negatively impacts the water quality of:

  • 145,000 miles of rivers and streams 
  • Nearly 1 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds
  • More than 3000 square miles of bays and estuaries 

How Can We — As Individuals — Help Ensure Safe Water For Everyone?

Every single one of us can play a part! 

Getting ourselves educated about the issues, informing our elected officials, voting and advocating for safe water are all within reach.

Then finally, everyone should support organizations like Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action.

We were among the first to advocate against water shutoffs when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Our work has so far helped protect millions of people.

We fight every day to make sure water remains a right and not a luxury, at the federal, state and local levels.

Are you ready to join the fight for safe water?

Urge your members of Congress to support the WATER Act!

American Rivers Has Named Iowa River ‘Most Endangered’ In The Country

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Our waterways are struggling under the burden of an industry that spews billions of pounds of toxic waste. One river in Iowa that means so much to me is now listed as one of the most endangered in the entire country.

by Emma Schmit

Iowa’s water is in crisis. There are more than 750 hazardous impairments across our state, and most of these impairments can be attributed to one industry. E. coli, MRSA, and toxic levels of nitrates are as much a part of our water in Iowa as hydrogen and oxygen. Where are they coming from? These harmful pathogens and pollutants originate in factory farms. Each year, over 10,000 factory farms across the state produce more than 72 billion pounds of manure. That waste is then spread on acre after acre of cropland, oftentimes in amounts far greater than the soil’s ability to absorb it. From there, the excess runs off into our waters, polluting our drinking water, limiting our ability to recreate on the water, and destroying critical plant and animal habitat.

Today, American Rivers named Iowa’s Raccoon River one of the Most Endangered Rivers in the U.S. The Raccoon River supplies drinking water to over half a million Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, Iowa’s largest water utility, depends on the Raccoon River in order to provide residents of central Iowa with safe drinking water. But industrial agriculture practices are rampant in the watershed. Over 750 factory farms are located in the basin and have put our access to clean water at risk. In order to provide safe drinking water to residents in Iowa’s capital city of Des Moines, the Des Moines Water Works was forced to invest in one of the world’s most expensive nitrate removal systems — a cost borne by ratepayers, not the corporate agribusiness entities responsible for the pollution.

TAKE ACTION NOW

I’ve lived in the Raccoon River Watershed for my entire life. As a child, I fished on the river. As a teenager, I swam in the river. But as an adult, I mourn the river. The memories I hold dear from my own childhood are not experiences I can now share with my child. She can’t catch a fish from a river loaded with harmful pathogens and bacteria. She can’t swim in a river that reeks with the odor of hog manure or that harbors potentially deadly algal outbreaks. The state of Iowa has traded our quality of life, our traditions, and our drinking water for Big Ag’s profit margin. While massive corporations like Tyson rake in billions of dollars by extracting our resources, hollowing out our communities, and influencing our elected officials, the residents of Iowa are left trying to hold the ramshackle pieces of our state together.

This is not what Iowa is meant to be. Our state motto proclaims, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” Where are our liberties when we can’t even step outside without being assaulted by the noxious odor of hog manure? Where are our rights when we glorify the destruction of our water, communities, and climate for the sake of corporate profit? The state of Iowa has failed us. 

But the people of Iowa haven’t. We might not have bank accounts the size of Big Ag’s. We aren’t able to buy goodwill with community pork loin giveaways. We probably can’t auction off time with the governor. But the power of the people is with us, and we will keep fighting until we win.

For too long, Iowa has turned a blind eye to the impacts of Big Ag. Today, we’re calling on the EPA to address the impacts of factory farm pollution on Iowa’s water. EPA has delegated authority to regulate the state’s factory farms to Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources, but IDNR has clearly failed us. EPA must step in to reduce the harms the factory farm industry has on the Raccoon River and all of Iowa’s waterways. Join us in the fight for clean water by urging the EPA to address the impacts of factory farm pollution on Iowa’s water.

URGE THE EPA!