Clean Water, Air, Healthy and Affordable Food, and Nature

In a nod to the environmental movement of the 70s, the Green New Deal has as a goal the delivery of clean water and air, healthy and affordable food and what I presume to mean access to nature.

Again, due to the length of the posts, we will have to deal with these one at a time. Today we’ll talk about clean water.

The Environmental Protection Agency is budgeted at about $8.9 billion a year at present. About 52% of that goes to improving water quality. About half that amount (45%) is in the form of grants to cities and states for specific projects. It could be more.

Tainted tap water isn’t just a problem in Flint, Michigan. In any given year from 1982 to 2015, somewhere between 9 million and 45 million Americans got their drinking water from a source that was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

… In general, “the U.S. has really safe water,” says Maura Allaire, a water economist at the University of California, Irvine. Still, problems with drinking water crop up every year, and in some municipalities, year after year. The contaminants in the water can cause stomach flu or “more chronic conditions including a variety of cancers and neurological disorders,” she says. Allaire and her colleagues found that during the Flint water crisis in 2015, nearly 21 million Americans—about 6%—were getting water from systems that violated health standards.

“When treating water, some communities are dealt a bad hand to start with because of dirty source water—especially in southern states such as Oklahoma and Texas, where hot summer temperatures create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. That’s why it’s important to prevent contaminants from getting into the source water in the first place, for instance by installing wood chip bioreactors on farms to reduce nitrates in runoff water, says Michelle Soupir, a water quality engineer at Iowa State University in Ames. We’d “have a better, safer drinking water supply and take some of the burden off the water treatment.”

Another idea is to merge “teeny water systems” with larger systems, says Erik Olson, a policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. We can’t have these rural providers “continuing to serve bad water,” he says.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) writes, “The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. If you are among the 286 million Americans that get their water from a community water system (1), your tap water is regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Drinking water varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn and the treatment it receives, but it must meet EPA regulations.

Even though our tap water supplies are considered to be one of the safest in the world, water contamination can still occur. There are many sources of contamination, including:

  • Sewage releases
  • Naturally occurring chemicals and minerals (for example, arsenic, radon, uranium)
  • Local land use practices (for example, fertilizers, pesticides, livestock, concentrated feeding operations)
  • Manufacturing processes (for example, heavy metals, cyanide)
  • Malfunctioning on-site wastewater treatment systems (for example, septic systems)

In addition, drinking water that is not properly treated or which travels through an improperly maintained distribution system (for example, the piping system) may also create an environment for contamination.”

Their policy recommendations lean towards specifics–testing well water, Improving Detection, Investigation, and Reporting of Waterborne Disease Outbreaks  , etc.

If clean water is, as they say, the norm and not the exception, it should be easy and inexpensive to provide remedies in those locations that fall short. And indeed, in 2017 the EPA announced “The 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act) addresses, supports and improves America’s drinking water infrastructure.  Included in the WIIN Act are three new drinking water grants that promote public health and the protection of the environment.” As the funding is $20 million a year for five years, the EPA clearly doesn’t consider it a high priority.

However, the American Society of Civil Engineers has a different take on things. They write, “Drinking water is delivered via one million miles of pipes across the country. Many of those pipes were laid in the early to mid-20th century with a lifespan of 75 to 100 years. The quality of drinking water in the United States remains high, but legacy and emerging contaminants continue to require close attention. While water consumption is down, there are still an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States, wasting over two trillion gallons of treated drinking water. According to the American Water Works Association, an estimated $1 trillion is necessary to maintain and expand service to meet demands over the next 25 years.” So that’s $40 billion a year for the next quarter century.

So how’s that going now? “(The) EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the main sources of federal funding for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. However, “A key financing component for many drinking water and wastewater projects is state and local government funding such as:

  • Water rates and surcharges.
  • Municipal bonds.
  • Private capital.”

Since 1973, Congress has funded $98.2 billion for water infrastructure spending by the EPA, or about $2.1 billion a year. Assuming states and municipalities spend at the same level, current funding may be about 10% of what is recommended by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Water Works Association.

Our water supply is largely safe, except for very poor and very rural communities. Funding to recommended levels through the Green New Deal could remedy this. Michigan lost a governor over Flint–who would vote against this type of common sense expenditure?

Green New Deal Recommendation: The EPA spends a lot of its budget by giving it away to cities and states as grants to do specific things. This is one case where a significant budget increase could actually not be just throwing money away. If there are more ‘shovel ready’ projects waiting to be funded to reduce pollution and improve water quality, a larger budget of grant money could make this one of the easier GND commitments to fulfill.

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