It’s No Surprise Our Water Infrastructure Is So Bad


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Think of it this way: What we don’t know will hurt us. And water—yes, water—is an example of just that. Even at a time of such angry political disputes, you might imagine that, in a wealthy country like the United States, it would still be possible to agree that clean water should be not just a right, but a given. Well, welcome to America 2021.

When it comes to basic water supplies, that’s hardly an outlandish thought. After all, back in 2015, our government, along with other members of the United Nations, embraced the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the sixth of which is universal access to safe drinking water. Despite modest progress globally—71 percent of the world’s population lacked that simple necessity then, “only” 61 percent today—nearly 900 million people still don’t have it. Of course, the overwhelming majority of them live in the poorest countries on this planet.

The United States, however, has the world’s largest economy, the fifth-highest per-capita income, and is a technological powerhouse. How, then, could the American Society of Civil Engineers have given our water infrastructure (pipes, pumping stations, reservoirs, and purification and recycling facilities) a shocking C- grade in their 2021 “report card”? How to explain why Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index ranked the United States only 26th globally when it comes to the quality of its drinking water and sanitation?

Worse yet, 2 million Americans still have no running water and indoor plumbing. Native Americans are 19 times more likely to lack this rudimentary amenity than Whites; Latinos and African Americans, twice as likely. On average, Americans use 82 gallons of water daily; Navajos, seven—or the equivalent of about five flushes of a toilet. Moreover, many Native Americans must drive miles to fetch fresh water, making regular handwashing, a basic precaution during the Covid-19 pandemic, just one more hardship.





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