Imagine a place where more than two million people do not have access to safe running water and indoor plumbing, and many more live without wastewater sanitation.  It sounds like a developing country, but it’s not.  Here’s a hint – this country has one of the largest economies in the world.  If you guessed the US, you are correct.

I teach a class on global to local water issues, and each week we focus on a different geographical area, read about the water issues, and discuss.  This week’s topic was lack of access to water in the US – water gaps.  In my mind it’s a good follow-up to Monday’s blog on the Women and Water gender gap.  Water access gaps in the US, however, are not so much about gender but inadequate or infrastructure. 

It’s been in the news that residents of Mississippi are experiencing an emergency – they do not have access to safe water.  Quick synopsis – water treatment plants were not able to function adequately during extremely cold winter weather.  Beginning on February 16, there were water outages, low pressure, poor water quality, and advisories to boil water.  A March 9 headline summed it up as, “Mississippi’s capital city enters week 4 of a water crisis: Here’s how it got to this point.”  Multiple sources point to lack of ongoing investment in infrastructure as leading to an emergency water crisis. 

Besides emergency water crises, there is an underlying chronic crisis of water gaps.  About 16 months ago, the US Water Alliance, in partnership with DigDeep and Michigan State University published “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan.” The report is well-written, states the problem, explains why it exists, and poses some points of departure to move forward.  Six regions are described in more detail: California’s Central Valley, the Navajo Nation, Texas border colonias, the rural South, Appalachia, and Puerto Rico. 

From “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan” by the US Water Alliance, DigDeep, and Michigan State University.

Stories about lack of access to water emerge from the residents of these six regions.  Households can spend up to a third of their income to purchase trucked water.  These households ration water use to as low as 50 gallons per month per family member (the average American uses 88 gallons per day).  They use this water for bathing and cleaning, but not drinking.  They are afraid that it’s not safe.  Some households have experienced diseases like hookworm -thought to be eradicated- because they have open sewage pits around their house.  These are just a few examples. 

It’s time to end the water gaps.  What can you do?  Start by informing yourself about global water issues as well as those in the US.  Learn about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  Look at the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (Water) Act. And then choose to challenge.