Daily Herald: Taking stock of our drinking water on World Water Day
This artilce appered in the Chicago Daily Herald on MArch 22, 2016. You can view the article here.
By Brittany King and Mike Quigley
In America, most of us are lucky enough to take our clean drinking water for granted. We think of contaminated drinking water as a problem that happens to other people in remote parts of the world. However, the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, has forced us to recognize that these problems can also crop up close to home. As we celebrate World Water Day today, let's consider the threat our aging water infrastructure poses to our clean drinking water right here at home, and what we can do about it.
Flint has become the poster child for the kind of devastation drinking water contamination can have on a community. Thousands of children in the city have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, and their water is still not safe to drink. This problem is not only happening in Flint, but also Sebring, Ohio, Jackson, Mississippi, Binghamton, New York, Newark, New Jersey, and other communities across the country that, like Chicago, still have lead pipes in place.
So how did we get here? To begin with, Congress has not reauthorized the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) in 20 years. This is part of a multi-decade trend of divestment and neglect of our water infrastructure by Congress. During that time, funding has been flat but the needs have continued to grow. Congress has neglected its duty to be a partner to state and local governments trying to maintain this critical infrastructure. There is no excuse for the actions taken by public officials to cut costs at the expense of public health, a decision which will harm a generation of children in Flint.Since the time of Roman aqueducts, water infrastructure has been a hallmark of advanced civilization. Yet we have let our public drinking water systems decay in neglect. While there is an awareness of our crumbling roads and bridges, underground water systems are out of sight and not receiving the attention they deserve. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that communities across the country face a $384 billion backlog to repair drinking water infrastructure. And in 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's drinking water infrastructure a grade of D.
Thankfully, Congress' eyes have finally been opened with the introduction of the AQUA Act -- a bill that reauthorizes the Drinking Water SRF for five years at much higher levels in order to meet the growing needs gap. The bill also includes provisions to address drought, climate change, and lead service line replacement, and puts a higher priority on the affordability and sustainability of drinking water systems while making much needed federal investments.
We believe all Americans deserve safe drinking water. And we know what it will take to achieve this vision. We must stand for reliable, affordable, and sustainable drinking water infrastructure. Our communities' public health, safety, and economic growth depend on it.
On this World Water Day, let us vow to keep drinking water on the forefront of our minds even long after stories of Flint have left the front pages of our papers.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, of Chicago, represents the 5th District of Congress. Brittany King is a campaign organizer for Environment Illinois, a citizen-based environmental advocacy project.