If you followed the breadcrumbs it was easy to see why a place like Flint got a water system that went to hell . The poverty-stricken town had a $9 million dollar deficit in its water fund, and the state of Michigan switched the water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure. Normally this would be a suitable solution. However, the state had been breaking the law by refraining from treating the river with an anti-corrosive agent. The mandate came in 2001 when they were ordered to cleanup of 134 polluted waste sites in Flint River watershed. Without proper treatment, lead got into drinking water through decrepit pipes, and the effects are still making people sick.
The public response to this breaking news ranged from sympathy for suffering to rage toward those responsible. In December 2015, the blame formally fell on state regulators, and Dan Wygant, the director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, resigned.
Flint was portrayed as a somewhat isolated issue, but googling "safe drinking water" will yield a plethora of alarming headlines from local newspapers around the country. In Pittsburgh, 350 miles away from Flint, filters are currently being distributed to protect against lead. Oh and by the way, the same private company Veolia was operating in both cities.
In Ketchum,Idaho, residents are being asked to boil their water, even though the city still claims it's safe. Similar stories can be found in other towns in Michigan, Georgia, and Kansas, The list goes on.
A new study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says over 77 million people spread across all 50 states have been drinking from water systems that violate the Safe Drinking Water Act, a regulation that covers a much larger realm of toxic crap than the lead that made Flint sick. The rule was made with the intention to protect against over 100 harmful contaminants including toxic chemicals and bacteria. The results of people drinking contaminated water can range from birth defects, to cancer, to cognitive impairments, like those in Flint who drank water containing lead. Punitive actions as for these violations were squeamishly minimal. Only one in 10 faced any corrective action at all and a mere 3.3 percent faced fines as a consequence for failing to follow the regulations.
According to the NRDC, these states have the most violations:
- New Jersey
According to the report, the types of violations include failing to properly test water for contaminants and failing to report contamination to state authorities or the public. Erik Olson, who co-authored the report says, "The problem is two-fold: there's no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we're living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure."
The report claims that the EPA -- who would be one of Olson's aforementioned cops on the beat -- isn't doing a good enough job monitoring, testing, or enforcing safe water laws. And if you thought Flint was bad, things are on the brink of getting worse everywhere, especially in rural America, where the majority of the discovered violations occur.
Thanks to President Trump's proposed budget cuts, the EPA's funding to address the reported 80,000 violations is about to be slashed by 31 percent. According to a leaked memo, water-related programs and grants at EPA totaling more than $600 million are included in what would be cut. As a result, in the future states would be responsible for doing more work on their own, after already struggling to keep water systems potable with previous financial assistance from the EPA. And the EPA isn't the only area where a budget cut will hurt water systems. The Trump budget also proposes to eliminate all $498 million dollars in funding for rural drinking water and wastewater systems from the Department of Agriculture.
It's a particularly cruel irony that the majority of people living where violations occur are in rural areas of America; those same areas that were largely credited for putting Trump in office. If these budget cuts are approved, those living on the small water systems where the majority of violations occur will be on the wrong end of what is being described as a two-tiered water system.
Mae Wu, Senior Attorney with NDRC's health program told VICE Impact, "The two tiered system is a divide between people who live in cities that can afford modern water treatment systems are those who are living in low income and sparsely populated environments." 70 percent of these violations found in the report occurred in the second tier, and the odds of those violations rising and clean water being less secure are high. Wu adds, "We are at a time when it seems Trump is doing the opposite of we need to be doing, which investing more into our water systems, not taking away imperative funding."
While making sure the water you drink is clean, there's another dark truth lurking about America and water, people can't afford to use it. Since 2014, more 50,000 households in Detroit have lost water service because they can't afford to pay their bills. In Philadelphia, 4 out of 10 household water accounts are past due. A recent study by the University of Michigan claims that household water bills could triple in the next 25 years because of the one trillion dollars that the U.S. needs to spend replacing an antiquated water system that hasn't been updated since World War II, likely multiplying scenarios like Detroit and Philadelphia exponentially.
Flint may have poked a hole in the fabric of America's water crisis, shedding a little light on a serious need for change, but that hole is now widening, revealing a much wider landscape of a nation both not being efficiently protected, and at increasing rates not being able to afford to access clean water period. People are not powerless in protecting their basic human right to clean water, but it takes both the willingness to be informed and take action.
To find out how you can protect yourself and better understand whether the water in your area is safe, you can check on this comprehensive guide . On the legislative front, you can tell Congress to support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act. Introduced by Michigan Congressman John Conyers. This legislation would provide nearly $35 billion to improve water infrastructure by closing corporate loopholes.