Shortages and Contaminations Worsen Our Water Crisis
For nearly all our lives, we’ve taken it for granted. We’ve always assumed that when we turn on our faucets, we’ll get clean, healthy water.
In the past, that has not been the case in many parts of the world. And in the present, it’s no longer the case in many parts of America.
It seems ironic that 90 percent of natural disasters are linked to water, yet many people don’t have access to water clean enough to safely use for drinking, washing, bathing and cleaning.
There’s plenty of water in the world. The problem is the cost of purifying it and delivering it.
Alison Wedgwood helps design water and sanitation programs for nonprofits and aid agencies. She says, “Water is a human right. But transferring, delivering and making it safe to drink has a cost.”
40 Million People Affected
Just this past summer, for the first time ever, rationing of water from the Colorado River system was put into place. That’s water used by some 40 million people.
Why? Drought in the West has reduced reservoirs to their lowest levels ever. Which of course has also led to more deadly wildfires.
Farmers depend on groundwater in many areas. Including the drought-stricken West. And in the large crop belts. But there is now less of it than ever.
The water crisis – around the world and in the U.S. – is something scientists have warned about for decades. With temperatures warming and populations growing, the issue has disaster written all over it.
Taking Aim on Arizona
Among the states that could be hit hard by the Colorado River system rationing is Arizona. In 2022 the state is projected to lose 20 percent of its supply.
This 1,450-mile river starts in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It flows southwest through the Grand Canyon and eventually into Mexico.
The Colorado River and its tributaries feature a large system of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts.
A vast majority of the river is used for agricultural irrigation. And as a water supply for residents of seven American states. Other water from the system generates hydroelectric power.
Drought & Demand Squeeze Supply
The Central Arizona Project is a 336-mile network of pumps, tunnels and pipelines. They transport some 500 billion gallons of water annually from the Colorado River.
The water is moved through the desert and then 3,000 feet uphill to the area where 80 percent of Arizonans live.
But the 22-year drought and increased water demands along the river have reduced the amount of available water.
With Arizona about to lose one-fifth of its supply from the Colorado River, farmers in the central valley are concerned. They need to figure out how to use less water or go back to pumping groundwater.
Groundwater Is Disappearing
The first choice involves reducing agricultural sales. The second could lead to pumping the land dry. The only other option seems to be selling their land.
Right now there are very few laws regulating groundwater usage. With some corporate farms taking large amounts, household wells are running dry.
Kathleen Ferris is a researcher and former policymaker in Arizona. Here’s what she told Buzzfeednews.com.
“People really need to understand groundwater is a finite resource. If you keep depleting it, it will not be there when you need it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Benton Harbor Takes Center Stage
Another reason Americans are experiencing a lack of clean water is contamination. We don’t hear as much about the high-profile lead contamination cases in Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey as we used to.
But now we’re learning about a serious lead contamination situation in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Residents have been advised by city officials to use bottled water rather than tap water.
Reverend Edward Pinkney is president of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council. He said, “No city in this country should have to go through what Benton Harbor went through for the past three years.”
Decaying Infrastructure to Blame
Since 2018, Benton Harbor’s water system has exceeded EPA standards for lead contamination. That’s according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
A variety of tests has shown at least 10 percent of homes and businesses have lead contamination above 15 parts per billion in their tap water.
As was the case in Flint, Newark and elsewhere, the culprit is old, decaying infrastructure. Mainly, lead service pipes leading to homes and businesses.
Replacing Benton Harbor’s 6,000 lead service lines over the next year and a half is expected to cost about $30 million.
‘Underground Ticking Time Bombs’
Like Flint and Newark were, Benton Harbor is now the symbol for lead contamination in water. But it’s just a matter of time before the next Benton Harbor comes to light.
Eric Olsen is senior strategic director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He said, “Unfortunately, we’ve really been living off of the investments of our grandparents who built the water treatment plants and who put the pipes in.
“Many of them, unfortunately… they’re starting to fall apart. They are failing. Our water systems really are sort of underground ticking time bombs.
“Not only do we have lead pipes all over the country in all 50 states but we have these aging water mains that burst 250,000 times a year across the country.”
Is your city next? No one knows for sure. Keep your family safe by filtering your tap water.