Regulating water quality locally

| 19th September 2019
It's imperative that we understand what's in our water and how we can avoid ingesting harmful pollutants.

It's up to local governments to engage with businesses and promote sustainable initiatives. Legislation should encourage transparent and efficient water use. 

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has regulated public water sources in America for 40 years. But due to underfunding and bureaucracy, the agency has failed to enforce water testing and treatment standards.

Municipalities have been forced to police themselves, with nearly 100 million cities across America drinking potentially unsafe water.

Take the Flint, Michigan crisis, for example, which came to light in 2014. To save money, city officials switched the water supply from the Detroit River to the Flint River. Lead levels skyrocketed, but the city assured citizens the water was safe to drink.

Under pressure

How was the city able to get away with serving citizens unsafe drinking water for years? The biggest reason was the use of water testing and treatment practices that violated EPA guidelines. One such method is running tap water for several minutes before gathering a sample, a technique called "pre-flushing."

Municipalities are under more pressure than ever to improve water quality. It's imperative to invest in updating lead pipe water systems. Cities must find a purification system that meets their safety and budgetary needs — all while removing contaminants like lead, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate). Plus, it's imperative to invest in upgrading lead pipe water systems.

It's up to local governments to engage with businesses and promote sustainable initiatives. Legislation should encourage transparent and efficient water use. It's also crucial to raise awareness with citizens about their water consumption and footprint.

Governments can ensure the long-term sustainability of freshwater resources by setting maximum sustainable limits for pollution levels. They should establish water footprint goals based on best available research, practices and technology.

Many people are arguing the government must take more responsibility for the safety of the environment, including freshwater sources. When an individual makes a mindful decision to conserve water, they do a little good. However, when a government gets involved and enacts new regulations, it can jumpstart a successful sustainability movement.

A lack of freshwater resources in one city has an impact on the whole country. When a government analyzes water use in only their area, they overlook true sustainability. To see the big picture, local governments must look at both the internal and national water footprint.

Radical action

Some local governments have already stepped up to make radical efforts towards sustainability. In Philadelphia, the water authority has recommended "pre-flushing" for more than 20 years. It's been revealed the city's children have unusually high lead levels in their blood, four times the national average.

Three municipalities in the suburbs decided to take matters into their own hands after further contamination from the use of firefighting foam on nearby military bases. Both the cities and citizens believe the military cleanup didn't ensure the water was safe.

Their water project includes the installation of six water filtration systems that will remove all traces of PFAS, contaminants linked to health problems like cancer. The project is almost complete and will remove pollutants in Horsham, Warrington and Warminster Townships.

In California, the water regulator recently voted to spend $1.3 billion to provide safe drinking water to communities throughout California. Water systems are failing, with an estimated 500,000 residents lacking clean water. The Central Joaquin Valley, for example, is home to 10 percent of the state's population — and more than half the state's unsafe public water systems.

The new budget, which uses revenue from California's cap-and-trade program, guarantees safe drinking water through 2030. The goal is to update water treatment systems while also linking smaller local water systems to larger ones. Consolidation is designed to increase efficiencies while lowering costs. As a result, clean drinking water can reach rural parts of the state.

This Author 

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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