When you think about someone having difficulties accessing clean water, you typically think of people living in third world countries. However, water and sanitation challenges affect areas in the U.S. as well. These challenges include fecal contamination from individual wells, expensive water costs, lead service lines, outdated infrastructure, and the financial, technical and operational demands of making upgrades.
Challenges and Proposed Solutions
Unfortunately, many of the individuals dealing with these challenges are low-income and minority. The struggles in these communities are easily overlooked and deserve a more comprehensive solution. Fortunately, utilities and local governments are looking into ways to implement cost-effective solutions.
Fecal contamination from individual wells
The US Geological Survey (USGS) has estimated that 14% of Americans rely on self-supplied sources of drinking water, which typically refers to individually managed wells and pump systems located on private property. Unfortunately, some of these wells have water quality issues such as fecal contamination, chemical contamination or environmental pollution. According to USGS data in 2010, 23% of sampled domestic wells had at least one contaminant that surpassed the acceptable limit for human health.
The Water Well Trust is one initiative assisting low-income individuals with no access to wells. The University of New Mexico is also working to address this issue by conducting home well tests on Native American lands.
Expensive water costs
For various reasons, water and wastewater rates in certain areas of the country are rising rapidly, making it difficult for individuals living below the poverty line to pay their bills. These reasons range from drought, to infrastructure investment, and lost water resulting from outdated infrastructure. A few utility-level solutions available across the U.S. include low-income water assistance programs, hardship exemption programs, tiered assistance programs and low-income rate assistance.
Lead service lines
In Flint, Michigan, 30,000 residents have lead or galvanized steel service lines that need to be replaced — at a cost of $140 million. According to some experts, the harm done to children exposed to lead may result in $395 million in social costs.
Communities across the U.S. have large-scale community infrastructure challenges that connect to challenges inside individual residences. The question in these cases is, “Who is responsible for maintaining and replacing private plumbing assets linked to a public system?” Some communities have advanced legislation allowing city utility companies to replace lead service lines and require disclosure of lead pipes when a property is put up for sale.
Lack of investment into maintaining infrastructure can lead to huge costs down the line, as infrastructure starts to break down and degrade. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has estimated that 240,000 water main breaks occur every year, wasting over two trillion gallons of sanitized drinking water. Potential solutions include forming alliances and partnerships between organizations, expanding finance and governance models and providing financial assistance to households.
A Simple Step for Homeowners
Water challenges in the U.S. are complex and will require the participation of homeowners, utility companies and government organizations to propose and implement effective solutions. Though challenges such as lead service lines and expensive water costs don’t have a simple solution, all households will benefit from a high quality water filtration system. A water filtration system will remove many of the contaminants present in untreated water and support the health and wellbeing of individuals and families. We encourage local homeowners to reach out to 4 Eco Service for water filtration system recommendations and installation.