More Information Monday: Water Crisis

More Information Monday: Water Crisis

In honor of Earth Day, this week we will address an environmental issue: The Water Crisis.

 

Whoa!  Water Crisis – that sounds pretty extreme!  What is this crisis you speak of?

Yes – you turn on the sink or the shower, and water comes out.  However, it’s not that the water is coming OUT – it’s what might be IN the water that’s the problem.  Also, how MUCH water is left is a bigger problem.  Yes, Americans have some of the cleanest and safest tap water around the world.  But in 2015, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and USA Today both did studies and found that about 18 million Americans have water systems that fail to meet federal safety standards.  On a global scale, there is also an issue of how much freshwater is actually available for human consumption and for how long – hence, the water crisis.  

(Source 1 and 6)

 

Water is made of 1 hydrogen and 2 oxygen atoms (the only thing I remember from Chemistry).  What else is in there?

Water pollution in homes happens a couple of ways.  Let’s work from the source to your home!  

  1. Your water either comes from surface water (i.e. rivers, lakes, reservoirs) or groundwater (found underground and brought up through wells).  This is the first place it can get polluted.  Runoff from nearby industrial and agricultural operations – chemicals like arson, radon, uranium, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. – can work it’s way into the natural sources  
  2. The water is brought into your local treatment facility where it is filtered and treated with cleaning agents (this would be where you send your water bill payment).  The problem here is that some things aren’t getting completely filtered or cleaned out – such as the aforementioned chemicals or pollutants, and then add in the chemicals that can re-enter the drinking water supply via filtered wastewater – IF it is not treated correctly such as certain pharmaceutical drugs including sex hormones, caffeine, or steroids (don’t panic – this is not what commonly happens!).  
  3. The water travels to your home via underground water main pipes.  The problem here is that until 1986 all the water pipes were made of lead.  Some of those pipes are still in place and are now starting to age, causing them to corrode, and then lead gets into the water supply.  Don’t spit out your water (if you haven’t already) – this is what CAN happen – it does NOT mean it always does.

(Source 1, 2 and 3)

 

Wait, is this like what happened in Flint, Michigan?

This is EXACTLY what happened in Flint, MI. Basically what happened was the town tried to save money by getting their water from the polluted Flint River, instead of buying treated water from Detroit.  To clean it, they had to use more chlorine than normal which then eroded the lead pipes.  Despite the several months of resident complaints over the look, smell, and taste of the water, officials denied that the water was unsafe.  It turned out the residents were consuming significant levels of lead (which in case you didn’t realize is VERY harmful, especially to children).  The publicity from this situation has caused a very public eye to look at water quality because it doesn’t just happen in Flint.

(Source 1 and 2)

 

There has GOT to be someone who watches all of this right?  How is this stuff ending up in the water?

Of course, there are protections in place.  First, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for what is allowable in tap water and requires all public water systems to meet those standards.  Also, states have to identify the risk of contamination from water sources.  Then, local water source operators distribute annual water quality reports. If you go to the website of your water company, you will see their Water Quality Reports – which look a lot like blood work results where there is the result, the normal range and then an indicator if the level is normal or in violation.

(Source 1 and 2)

 

So if these protections are supposedly in place, why I am freaking out over what I know could be in my water?  Why are some places having such issues with their water?

Here are the 4 basic reasons there are problems, which all comes down to money and time:

  • Failing infrastructure – Towns and cities across the U.S. are dealing with failing infrastructure that needs to be upgraded or replaced, at the same time their budgets are shrinking.   Nationally, the federal government spends 48% of their infrastructure budget on highways, 16% to mass transit and railways, and only 5% on water utilities. American Society of Civil Engineering gave the American water infrastructure a D+ and estimated it would cost over $1 trillion dollars to replace and keep up with growth.  So while the “D for Diploma” mantra works in college – it’s not really ideal for our drinking water!  
  • Existing Lead pipes – Officials often know that they have lead pipes in their system, but not always specifically where.  Then when the cost of replacing and repairing these pipes is added in, it is often more than the municipalities can afford.    
  • EPA is Overwhelmed – New pollutants and pharmaceutical compounds slip through municipal water treatment that have never been tested or regulated by the EPA.  The review process by the EPA can take a long time to complete, especially to look at the long term effects of chemicals, while the industrial world creates new chemicals very rapidly.
  • Debate over “Protected” sources – Legislation has gone back and forth over the past 3 years regarding whether the EPA has the right to regulate rivers, streams, ponds and wetlands or whether that over-reaches their authority, so this means sources can get polluted.

(Source 1 and 2)

 

I see the Earth Day connection, but why is this such an issue right now?

President Trump has put forth his budget proposal, and it has big cuts to the EPA – cutting their staff and budget by about 20%.  However, according to the Congressional Digest, improving water infrastructure is something that is important to BOTH Republicans and Democrats which means there will be push back on the proposed cuts in the budget.  (Yes – they can actually both agree on something – hope you were sitting down for that.)  Simple Source Note on the Federal Budget: Congress needs to approve the President’s proposed budget.  Therefore they create budget resolutions and amend it so that it will pass with a vote.  Then, the final budget goes back to the President to either sign or veto.  It’s obviously way more complicated than that, but we like to keep it simple!

(Source:  6 and 7)

 

Can’t we just use bottled water? Isn’t that safer?

Bottled water is convenient, and benefits those who may not have access to safe, running water – like those in Flint, MI or other areas who have water issues.  However, many critics of bottle water point out, it’s not held to the same stringent standards and regulations as tap water.  Many experts agree that bottled water (mineral, artesian or spring) is not that different or healthier than what comes out of the tap in a majority of communities who have safe water coming out of their taps. Also, millions of gallons of oil are required each year to package and ship bottled water.  In addition, what one pays for bottled water is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than tap water.  Especially if you are in an airport, then a bottle of water costs more than a cheap bottle of wine!  

(Source: 3)

 

What is fracking? How does that impact water?

Hydrofracking, or fracking, is a drilling technique used to extract natural gas from deep inside the earth.  Basically they pump millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals thousands of feet down to break up shale formations and that releases natural gas.  It’s good for the U.S. energy supply because we aren’t relying on foreign oil.  However, it’s dangerous to the U.S. water supply where the process can contaminate drinking water for the surrounding communities.

(Source: 2)

 

Ummm, I’m not sure if you’ve seen a globe lately, but it appears to be COVERED in water.  So can we go back to this whole crisis concept?  How could we possibly be running out?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 out of every 10 people on the planet does not have reliable access to uncontaminated drinking water – this is over 780 million people.  Due to changing climate conditions, the freshwater supply is depleting.  So there is a definite need to protect and conserve what fresh water supplies are currently available.  Addressing those large chunks of blue on the globe, that’s all salt water, which is undrinkable.  However, like alternative energy solutions, there are new technologies emerging to make desalination cheaper, but we’re not there yet.  

So while we wait for those options to come available, it’s important to protect what we currently have.  

(Source 2, 4 and 5)

Join us tomorrow to see what the different debates are regarding the Water Crisis on Two-Sided Tuesday!

 

Sources:

1:Adams, Jill U. “Drinking Water Safety.” CQ Researcher 15 July 2016: 577-600. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

2: “Tap Water Quality: Should the federal government more strictly regulate the U.S. water supply?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 12 Feb. 2016, http://0-icof.infobaselearning.com.library.brookdalecc.edu/recordurl.aspx?ID=2067. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.

3: “Bottled Water: Is bottled water a responsible alternative to tap water?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 17 Oct. 2008, http://0-icof.infobaselearning.com.library.brookdalecc.edu/recordurl.aspx?ID=2011. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.

4: Famiglietti, Jay. “The Earth’s Water Supply Is in Grave Danger.” The Environment, edited by Lynn M. Zott, Greenhaven Press, 2014. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010132297/OVIC? u=brookdalecc&xid=0b71e1f5. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017. Originally published as “Can We End the Global Water Crisis?”, 10 June 2013.

5: Lyons, Rob. “The Earth’s Water Supply Is Not in Danger.” The Environment, edited by Lynn M. Zott, Greenhaven Press, 2014. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010132298/OVIC? u=brookdalecc&xid=4f4231c9. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017. Originally published as “We’re Running Out of Water? Get a Grip, Greens,” Spiked, 9 July 2013.

6:”EPA Budget Cuts.” Congressional Digest, vol. 96, no. 4, Apr. 2017, p. 31. EBSCOhost, 0-search.ebscohost.com.library.brookdalecc.edu:80/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=122075183&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

7: Yourish, Karen, and Laura Stanton. “A guide to the federal budget process.” The Washington Postwww.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/federal-budget-process/budgetprocess.pdf. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.