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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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Sometimes those concentrations exceeded legal limits by as much as 1,000 percent. Those chemicals have been shown to contribute to cancer, organ failures and other diseases.

But those companies were never fined or punished for those illegal injections, according to state records. They were never even warned that their activities had been noticed.

5. Dirty Energy

The battle over our energy future is already in full swing. As fossil fuels become harder to get to, will we continue to use more and more outrageous practices to extract them, or will we make the switch to clean energy? So far, as the BP spill in the Gulf reveals, we are still trying to get to fossil fuels that are well out of reach. Oil companies are clamoring to drill in the Arctic; coal companies are using destructive mountaintop removal mining; gas companies are resorting to hydrofracturing (or fracking) shale; and Alberta is being plundered in the dirty pursuit of tar sands.

All of that will have huge implications for our water supply -- how much we have to use and how clean it is.

Mountaintop removal mining has buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in Appalachia. Communities have seen their wells polluted from mining waste and live in constant fear of floods and spills from waste -- like the sludge impoundment that breached its dam in 2000 in Martin County, Kentucky sending over 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into creeks and across people's lands, destroying the drinking water for 27,000 residents.

Tar sands production in Alberta, Canada uses 2.5 to 4 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced and has resulted in waste-filled lakes as big as 50 square kilometers that are so toxic they're deadly to any birds that land in them. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry more tar sands across the US -- all the way to the Gulf, where it will be mostly shipped overseas. The potential for a spill in US is big. TransCanada said its first Keystone pipeline which is already operational, would likely spill once in seven years but there have been 35 spills in two years.

And fracking, which has gained notoriety from the popular film Gasland is threatening water quality all across the US -- from Pennsylvania to Texas to Wyoming to California. Residents near fracking sites have complained of health problems, water contamination and even dangerous methane leaks. Companies looking to cash in on the natural gas gold rush are also steamrolling local governments. In Steven Rosenfeld's report on Pennsylvania's new Act 13 law, he writes:

Act 13 stripped local municipalities of zoning authority to block wells and any related operation--pads, pipelines and processing plants. It imposed a new tax on wells--but only shares those revenues with towns that delete anti-drilling provisions from local zoning codes. It empowers the state's Public Utilities Commission to invalidate zoning codes that might block drilling, and tells the PUC it must act on behalf of "aggrieved" landowners or gas companies. Similarly, Act 13 gives gas companies eminent domain power to take property for drilling operations. And it imposes confidentiality rules for physicians and health professionals who might treat anyone suffering from a drilling-related illness, and says those medical files are not public records.

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Much like the climate crisis staring us down right now, our water woes offer a chance to rethink business as usual. Water puts us at a crossroads of food, agriculture and energy. All are areas that need to be overhauled if we are to stave off crisis and get this country back on track. But to do that we'll need leaders capable of seeing further down the line than the next election cycle. And leaders who aren't in the pocket of corporations because the water crisis is also a crisis of politics, democracy and economics. And we'll also need not just elected officials, but people in their communities who are willing to fight back against polluters, against inequality in distribution, and for greener and more holistic solutions to water management.

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