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5 Deadly Threats to Our Precious Drinking Water Supply

World Water Day is a chance to stop and realize that humanity is facing a frightening water crisis.

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Actually, the economic problems of cities is one of things that often draws interest from multinational water companies looking to buy or lease public water systems. Much like Naomi Klein's explanation of "disaster capitalism" in The Shock Doctrine, companies use a crisis to cash in. But often things don't work out for the best interest of the city or town. According to a 2002 Century Foundation survey of 245 municipalities, 73 percent of them ended private water contracts because of poor service. And a 2009 report from Food and Water Watch found that out of nearly 5,000 water utilities and 1,900 sewer utilities, private companies--which are beholden to shareholders--charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services.

For some the idea of private versus public water systems may come down to a matter of economics and efficiency -- who provides the best service and best prices. Of course, people don't get to shop around to determine which water company they want: there is one set of pipes in town.

For others, is it a matter of principle and the belief that water, which is essential for life, should be publicly controlled and not run by a company that has its shareholders as its top priority.

3. Aging Infrastructure

One of the reasons municipalities are faced with difficult choices when it comes to their water systems is because a whole lot of our infrastructure is old -- 100-plus-years old in some places -- and the cost of repairing or rebuilding that infrastructure has become expensive at the same time communities are struggling economically in other ways. The federal government used to pay for most new water projects. Prior to the 1980s, 78 percent of funding for new water infrastructure came from the federal government, but that's down to only a few percent now. And money once doled out through the Sate Revolving Fund has been drastically cut as well.

It's all part of a larger privatization push in the last 40 years that has resulted in a fire sale of things that were once part of the commons and belonged to the people.

Currently our infrastructure leaks about 7 billions gallons of water a day -- enough to supply 70 million people a day. In 2009 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a grade of D- and the current EPA estimate of how much it may cost to fix it is around $335 billion more a year for 20 years, according to Elizabeth Royte in the anthology  Water Matters.

There are a number of scenarios on how to get the money needed for upgrades. For one, we can raise rates across the board -- usually not the most popular option, but some communities have raised rates on a tiered basis, with those with the highest usage (like the folks who fill swimming pools and water large lawns) paying a higher rate then families who use water for just the basics. The second idea is a federal trust fund (similar to what we have for highways and harbors), where taxes on industries that draw on or dispose waste into the water would help support grants that would be distributed to communities through the State Revolving Fund. This is a favorite of enviro groups, but not so for big industry, which prefers a water infrastructure bank, backed by the Treasury, that would make low interest loans to communities.

Of course the other idea would be to drastically rethink our infrastructure with more water recycling, efficiency, green design, green roofs, permeable pavement, rainwater harvesting and a whole lot of solutions that are being implemented little by little.

 
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