Flint, Mich. residents are in crisis, placed in a situation no one in this country should have to face. Their water is contaminated with lead, putting their health at risk. But while the city’s situation is extreme, it is not alone in its challenges.
Other communities nationwide could face a similar public health emergency if elected officials don’t act to beef up U.S. water infrastructure. In recent years there have been reports of high levels of lead in the water supply in Washington, D.C. and Providence, R.I., among other places. However, public concern should also be focused on the state of the aging pipes that deliver water to the homes of millions of Americans.
This matter is a ticking time bomb that must be addressed by policymakers at all levels of government. That’s why the Teamsters last year rolled out our “Let’s Get America Working” platform that specifically addressed the need to invest in better water facilities.
And while much of the public focus might be on urban areas’ water systems, the larger challenge could lie in smaller jurisdictions.
The U.S. has more than 52,000 water systems, but 82 percent of Americans are served by just 8 percent of these systems.
These smaller utilities will face even larger economic challenges to upgrade their infrastructure because they serve fewer customers but require more pipe miles per customer due to their more rural locales.
Just because these infrastructure problems are widespread doesn’t mean Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should be let off the hook for what’s going on in Flint. The situation there is a tragedy that Michiganders have been aware of and city residents have been dealing with since April 2014. Decisions made by state officials over the last year-and-a-half have led to a community being forced to use water that has been found to contain unacceptable levels of lead.
What it does prove is America needs to invest in its water systems. Doing so will ensure public health and have the added benefit of putting people to work as well. Elected officials need to ask themselves what they would do if their own families faced such a health crisis. Certainly they would not be satisfied with a response that just delays the inevitable. The public’s needs can no longer be ignored.