More than two million Americans live without access to running water and basic plumbing, finds report
According to the new report, the crisis affects communities of color, lower-income people in rural areas and tribal communities among others
More than two million Americans live without running water and basic indoor plumbing, and many more without sanitation, according to a recent report. The report highlights America's hidden water crisis, which is affecting communities of color, lower-income people in rural areas and tribal communities among others.
"Most people in the US never give their water and wastewater systems a second thought, but people living in communities without safe and reliable infrastructure have to think about water and sanitation all the time," states the report.
The report — Closing the Water Access Gap in The United States — has been put together by the human rights nonprofit Dig Deep and the US Water Alliance, also a nonprofit dedicated to promoting investment in water infrastructure.
George McGraw, who co-wrote the report and is the chief executive of Dig Deep, worries that if proper investments and coordinated efforts are not made, more people could lose reasonable access to clean water in the next decade.
Widespread unsafe water is a "ticking time bomb in terms of public health", especially when residents use springs and streams as main water sources, Josefa Torres-Olivo, director of the nonprofit RCAP Solutions in Puerto Rico, which works with communities on water issues, tells NBC news.
The report finds that race is still the strongest determinant when it comes to access to safe potable water.
With 58 out of every 1,000 Native American households lacking complete plumbing, as opposed to three out of every 1,000 white households, they estimate that Native American households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing.
As for the rural population, researchers find that 17% report having experienced issues with safe drinking water and 12% report issues with their sewage system.
Further, Latino and African American households are twice as likely as white households to lack indoor plumbing. They also report that 23% of private wells tested by the US Geological Survey showed hazardous contaminants, including arsenic, uranium, nitrates, and E. coli.
These findings come on the heels of earlier reports of tainted water circulating in the US. A previous study found that in any given year from 1982 to 2015, somewhere between 9 million and 45 million Americans got their drinking water from a source that violated the standards set by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
One report that stands out is the water crisis in Flint, Michigan — a majority black city, where 40% of people live in poverty.
After city officials began drawing water from a nearby river, residents began noticing something unusual in the tap water: they appeared discolored and tasted foul. Later, it was revealed that these people were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead, from 2014 to 2017.
In the current report, researchers found that since 2013, water drawn from domestic wells and municipal systems in California's Central Valley was contaminated with nitrates and bacteria from farm and dairy runoff, as well as arsenic, uranium and other harmful industrial chemicals, putting the health of thousands of individuals in jeopardy.
Other areas along the Texas border as well as rural areas in Puerto Rico are also affected. The authors found that unsafe water supply in these regions can be traced back to the 1900s.
A century ago, the federal government subsidized drinking water and irrigation for settlers in the West — but at the cost of the tribal population.
Their predicament continues to this day: apart from the limited federal and local government budgets, most residents in these areas are too poor to afford updating systems. Making matters worse is the distrust between residents and government agencies coupled with complicated regulations around these systems.
However, there is still hope. The authors of the report believe that it is possible to close the water access gap through a combination of factors, from government funding, private investments and other flexible funding methods to provide families with the necessary infrastructure at the household level.