5 Deadly Threats to Our Precious Drinking Water Supply
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Usually we think using less water is a good thing, but the city's water utility saw the loss of water use as a loss of revenue, so they hiked rates. A community already hit hard struggled even more to keep up. In 2006, the number of people who had their water shut off reached 45,000. Unpaid water bills were added to property taxes, meaning that people who couldn't pay risked losing not just access to clean water and sanitation, but their homes as well.
Elsewhere in the US there are similar issues. An estimated 13 percent of Native Americans lack access to safe water and/or wastewater disposal, compared to less than 1 percent of non-native American households.
The racial disparities abound elsewhere, too. In California's Central Valley, many Latino farmworker communities have unsafe drinking water, mostly from nitrate pollution from farms and feedlots. As Rebecca Plevin writes for New America Media:
In Tulare County -- where 60 percent of residents are Latino and 23 percent of people live below the poverty line -- about 20 percent of the small public water systems are unable to meet the nitrate maximum contaminant level on a regular basis, and another 20 percent of small systems are over half that maximum level, according to the report.
High levels of nitrate come from fertilizers, animal factory waste, and leaky septic systems, according to the Community Water Center. Nitrate levels above state and federal standards can cause death in infants less than six months old, stillbirths, and cancer in adults.
Valley communities inevitably shoulder the costs of this water pollution, de Albuquerque said. She describes how residents of Seville -- where the median household income is $14,000 -- devote about 20 percent of their income to water and sanitation costs.
We all know the water we drink comes at a price, but many of us may not think about who "owns" our water. Does it matter if our water comes from a public utility or a private company? Sometimes it may matter a great deal.
The former logging town of Felton, California, found this out when the small company running its system was sold to California American, a subsidiary of American Water, which was then acquired by the London-based Thames Water. In the first year, the company issued a 74 percent proposed rate increase over three years. The town fought back, but within a few years, services had gone down, rates had gone up and residents began to organize. They formed FLOW -- Friends of Locally Owned Water and came up with a plan to buy back their water system and have it run instead by a neighboring public utility. They had to convince their neighbors to pass a ballot initiative for $11 million -- which meant accepting a property-tax increase of $600 for 30 years. People were so unhappy with the company that they passed the ballot measure with 74 percent of the vote.
A similar story happend in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, when the town decided to sell off its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in 2001 and invest the money in a trust fund to be used for city services. Privatization didn't end up being the economic boon the city was promised. Tough economic times drained the city's trust quickly and residents saw their water and sewer rates jump 85 percent since American Water, the largest water corporation in the country, took over. Then in 2010, the company proposed a 229-percent rate hike for sewer services, forcing the city to have to spend more money legally fighting the increases.