By and large, Americans are blessed with clean, safe, plentiful and mostly free drinking water sources. The Flint, Michigan contaminated drinking water scandal was a wakeup call for many that drinking water sources we depend upon may not be as reliable, stable, or even as affordable as we think.
On December 19, 2016, Reuters released a startling report about the quality of America’s drinking water. Reuters' investigation found that at least 3,000 water supplies in the U.S. were contaminated with lead at levels at least double the rates detected in Flint’s drinking water. In addition, 1,100 of these communities had rates of elevated lead in blood tests at least four times higher. Reuters concluded that Flint’s water crisis doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in the U.S. Like Flint, however, many of the other localities are plagued by legacy lead: crumbling paint, plumbing, or industrial wastes left behind. Unlike Flint, many have received little attention or funding to combat poisoning.
Another critical issue looming on the horizon for many will be the affordability of water. A new Michigan State University (MSU) report recently concluded that a variety of compounding factors in the U.S. could easily push large portions of the population out of the financial range to even afford water in the future. The MSU report concludes:
A variety of pressures ranging from climate change, to sanitation and water quality, to infrastructure upgrades, are placing increasing strain on water prices. Estimates of the costs to replace aging infrastructure in the U.S. alone project over $1 trillion dollars are needed in the next 25 years to replace systems built circa World War II, which could triple the cost of household water bills…. Over the next few decades, water prices are anticipated to increase four times current levels. Prices could go higher if cities look to private providers for water services, who have a tendency to charge higher rates than public providers.
The MSU report concludes that 36% of households will be unable to afford water within five years. The highest risk areas in the U.S. are in the South, with the most at-risk communities in Mississippi. The MSU report noted that Ohio is 9th on the list, followed by Michigan at 12th.
Water risks come in many forms and include not only sufficient quantities and acceptable quality, but also affordability. The latter issue has not been addressed in a meaningful manner in the U.S. and will become a growing concern as water risks of all kinds increase in number and scope.