IS THE US FAILING WHEN IT COMES TO DRINKING WATER?

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We keep reading about how vital and rare clean water is for the world. That it will become scarcer and scarcer resulting in wars for H2O. Water is so precious, yet it seems so abundant in the US that we often forget about it. It just comes from the faucet. Our water policy has evolved, thanks to some legislation in the 1970s.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) was brought into law by Congress despite the Veto of President Nixon. Our waterways were a mess, there was a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio (it is disputed to what caused the fire but the public took notice). Lake Erie was so polluted it was said to be dying, and human sewage and pollution often killed fish in the nation's rivers and streams. This groundbreaking act (in the 70’s there was more balance between industry, judicial, executive and legislative aspects of our society) started the cleaning of our waterways. The intent of this bill was to eliminate the discharge of untreated wastewater from industrial and municipal sources. 
 
In 1977, the CWA act was strengthen and included funding for the construction of sewage treatment plants. In 1987, additional amendments allow for nonpoint pollution runoff and recognized aquatic treasures; Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. Fast forward to 2010. There is a need to update our approach to ensure people continue to have access to clean water. 
 
What we are finding is our water treatment plants are not designed to eliminate dangerous chemicals that find their way into our aquifers, waterways and in some cases our wells that supply the public drinking supply. In many cases current infrastructure was not designed to serve the number of people as well as rain storm overflow. According to the New York Times, the EPA regulates only 91 contaminants (there are 90,000 chemicals produced every year in this country). It is time for a change on what is regulated. It is time to update our public sewer and water infastructure.
 
I have added links to some informative articles to provide detail.   I want to call out to the New York Times for a series of articles (including some video) that are bringing light to this issue.
 
Reasons to be concerned about our water:
  • There are thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act each year and there is little enforcement by our Government (EPA). (more)
  • 140 million tons of Coal Ash (byproduct from Coal mining) is produced every year and about 80 million tons ends up in landfills where it slowly leaches into ground water supplies. Regulation is up to individual states and this varies greatly. (more)
  • With every big rain storm, millions of gallons of raw sewage is released into our waterways for over 30 years. Here is a sample: February 1, 2010 Greenbelt MD (outside of Washington DC) 100,000 gallons of untreated sewage released into BeaverDam Creek, February 3rd, 2010 34,000 gallons of untreated sewage released into Woodcock creek in Mobile county, Alabama, January 26, 2010 over 830,000 gallons of raw sewage from 47 sources made its way into the San Francisco Bay (add in another 170 million gallons of partially treated waste water), finally on January 26th it was reported that over 3 million gallons of raw sewage overflowed into Macon, Georgia waterways. This happens all the time, the long-term effects cannot be good. (Do a Google news search on raw sewage.)
  • Underground Tritium leaks from a 30 year old Nuclear Power plant in Vermont. Tritium turned up in test wells around the plant which is right next to the Connecticut River. (more)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a 400-page report with incredible findings for the Great Lakes: More than 9 million people who live near polluted harbors and waterways–so-called “areas of concern”–including residents of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, may face increased risks to their health from exposure to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury and other hazardous pollutants. The report stops short of being able to point to direct cause and effect. (more)
  • Coal plants with scrubbers use water to reduce air pollution and here is the kicker water is released in some cases directly into rivers. Did common sense just leave? (more)
After a decade of low activity, the EPA is going after violators (industry, agriculture and municipalities). The arguments presented in 1972. 1977, 1987 and 2010 are the same; new laws and enforcement will cost jobs, inflation will run rampart, government has no business telling industry what to do etc…. I shutter to image what would have happened if Congress in 1972 decided not to begin the process of cleaning up our waterways so future generations of Americans would reap the rewards. Maybe fires on rivers would just be commonplace.