Water Shortage: 6 Things to Know
We're facing a national crisis. Here's how some communities are solving the problem.
Recent EPA enforcement efforts have resulted in agreements by Cleveland and St. Louis to make extensive improvements to their sewer systems, which have long flooded waterways. Last spring the agency launched the Urban Waters Initiative, which combines the efforts of such federal agencies as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Commerce to help local leaders clean their water sources.
5. Bottled water isn't quite the solution you think it is.
A recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that black and Latino parents are three times more likely to buy bottled water for their children than white parents. A leading factor is the belief that bottled water is cleaner and safer than tap. Environmental advocates understand concerns about tap water contamination, but they argue that relying on privatized sources of water, rather than addressing the structural issues of our public system, further risks water safety and supplies.
"Bottled water costs 2,000 times more, although it's less regulated than our tap water in many ways," said Gordon, whose dubiousness about the cleanliness of some bottled water mirrors a National Resources Defense Council investigation, which found that 22 percent of bottled water was contaminated with chemicals, including arsenic. "As we see privatization becoming more and more of an issue, it's even more critical that everyone can have access to clean, healthy drinking water. But it's also got other environmental problems, like the plastic involved and all the water that goes into manufacturing water. It takes 1.8 gallons of water to produce a plastic bottle. So by drinking bottled water we're wasting more water than we're actually drinking."
6. You can make a difference.
The concept of water conservation has been drilled into us for decades, but it hasn't exactly caught on. Americans are the world's biggest consumers, using an average 150 gallons a day. By comparison, in the U.K. people use only 40 gallons a day. Actually doing all those little tips and tricks you've heard -- taking shorter showers, turning off the water after wetting your toothbrush in the morning -- can go a long way in protecting a limited resource.
"It's one of those things where if everyone changed just one small habit, we could have a significant impact," said Gordon.
In his work with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Haddock harnesses collective power to make a difference. In the late '90s, the community group and partners successfully organized against a sewage plant that would have sent raw sewage from other parts of the city to a largely African-American neighborhood for treatment. Today the organization focuses on empowering Atlanta communities so that they understand where their water comes from and how to protect it -- monitoring lakes and streams, attending civic meetings about zoning decisions and lobbying for green infrastructure.
"Direct action and advocacy does work," said Haddock. "People can affect the decision making that goes on in their neighborhoods. You don't have to accept a blind referendum just because a policymaker decides that they're going to change zoning in your community to benefit a polluter. Communities can have a real impact, but you have to be present at the table."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.