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Flint Isn't Alone. The Water Crisis is a Nationwide Problem.

Today marks a national campaign to “Imagine a Day Without Water.” This important effort comes on the heels of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where children were poisoned by their own drinking water. Unfortunately, communities across the country are unknowingly at risk for similar crises.

Approximately 94 percent of the nation’s drinking water systems serve fewer than 3,300 people and are challenged by limited budgets to pay for upgrades. In a 2014 report, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) inspector general noted that as of October 2011, 2,252 small systems had serious drinking water violations. The inspector general went on to state that only 22 percent of those systems achieved compliance three years later.

Our nation’s water and wastewater systems are aging, and many are in  a dangerous state of disrepair. Tragedies like the one that transpired in Flint highlight the complexity of maintaining reliable water quality in an era of diminished resources.

EPA found that 2,252 small water systems had serious drinking water violations as of October 2011.

According to EPA, water is considered affordable if it accounts for 2.5 percent or less of spending on a median household income. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that between 10 and 20 percent of households may be spending more than 4 percent of their income on water by 2019. However, the true value of water is not captured in the rates paid by the majority of consumers and thus one of our great challenges is how to balance those conflicting needs.

Further compounding the problem is the uncertainty regarding precipitation and water supply created by extreme weather. In the past 50 years, rain falling during the most intense 1 percent of storms has increased by 20 percent. As municipalities struggle to address stormwater runoff that is polluting the nation’s waterways, this increase in rain events and storms complicates the challenge.

Read more about America’s aging water infrastructure in BPC’s new issue brief.

Key Facts

  • Communities spent $1 trillion on drinking water and wastewater treatment and disposal from 1982-2002. However, this has proven insufficient to keep up with the public health and safety concerns that arise as these facilities age.
  • Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next twenty years.
  • There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States.

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