America’s Water Infrastructure is Failing
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
— African Proverb
We begin today’s yarn with a hard-won lesson from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa.
On a cloudy afternoon, late in the dry season, a plucky young mzungu (white man) arrived at the foot of Africa’s highest peak, ready for a leisurely afternoon hike with his wife.
To save the hapless fool from embarrassment, we’ll call him “John Bauman” (with apologies to anyone of that particular name).
Anyway, “John” was feeling fairly confident after having just spent a few weeks trekking around the Serengeti with the Maasai people. He met his guide with a firm handshake and what he now recalls as an “idiot’s unknowing grin.”
The guide was friendly enough. He had a lean, whippet-like frame and long, sinewy muscles. His skin was a magnificent reddish-black. His smile a gleaming white. On his feet he wore Chuck Taylor All Stars (no kidding). On his head, a floppy leather cap…with half the brim cut off.
Other than a battered old walking stick, half a pack of cigarettes and a Nokia phone from the dawn of the century, he appeared to carry with him no additional supplies.
“A leisurely hike for sure,” surmised John.
“Perhaps we ought to buy some water,” suggested John’s sensible wife. “A couple of bottles, just in case…”
“Just in case what? We’re only going for a quick stroll around the park. Look, the guide isn’t taking any with him.”
Not for the first (or last) time did John’s wife appeared unconvinced…
The journey started out easy enough. A soft incline. Plenty of fresh, richly oxygenated air. The guide whistled happily as he zipped up the path ahead, hopping from rock to rock and skipping over little streams along the way.
John and wife followed behind. A cool breeze blew through the jungle around them…
We’ll return to mzungu John in a moment, but first, let’s catch up on a developing story in the so-called “developed world.”
In the year 2016, in an era of drive-thru pharmacies, inflight WiFi and square bagels, something as comparably “low-tech” as clean drinking water ought to be a cinch for the world’s most powerful nation.
One might expect directions for procuring a glass of the ol’ H2O to read something like:
- Go to faucet.
- Turn on faucet.
- (Whoosh!) Watch as a torrent of potable goodness gushes forth.
At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
But the reality is rather different if you happen to live in, say, Flint, Michigan…or in potentially dozens of other cities across the United States…
No doubt you’ve heard about the ongoing water crisis in Flint.
In a nutshell, the cash strapped government decided in 2014 to switch from treated water sourced in Lake Huron and the Detroit River to water from the Flint River.
When public officials neglected to apply necessary treatment to the corrosive water from the new source, it caused lead from the aging pipes to leach into the water.
(In case anybody is wondering, lead in the water is not good.)
As usual, there’s plenty of blame to go around…but few hands shooting up to accept responsibility. Local officials point to the state appointed emergency manager…who shrugs and says that the damage was done before his arrival.
While bureaucrats squabble over the cause, the outcome remains the same: wide-scale, public-system failure… resulting in thousands of private, individual tragedies.
But for all that’s been written and said about the breakdown in Flint, little attention has been paid to the wider issue…
Governments—at the local, state, and federal levels—are broke…and their fragile infrastructure systems are crumbling as a result.
In its 2013 report card, the American Society for Civil Engineers awarded the nation’s “Drinking Water” a grade of “D”…the same grade it gave to “Wastewater,” “Dams,” and “Hazardous Waste.” “Inland Waterways” received a grade of “D-.”
From the report…
At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion…
As we never tire of reminding our Dear Readers, governments don’t have trillions of dollars simply lying around…at least not on the “credit” side of their books. (Many, many trillions sit on the “debit” side.)
And that makes the necessary—and in some cases critical—investment in water and other vital infrastructure unlikely…
…and the impetus for you to begin thinking about your own independence from these crumbling systems all the more important.
It’s a matter of basic responsibility…which brings us back to our little tale about hapless John…
An hour or so into the hike, and sweating like a guilty man, John could no longer ignore his parched tongue. The incline had steepened considerably over the last mile or two…but the guide seemed only to have quickened his nimble gait.
“We need hurry if we want to make the camp in time to rest before we turn around,” he informed his guests. “Park closes when sun goes down.”
As he struggled on, John began to notice how comparatively well equipped the descending hikers were. They had large packs, expensive-looking hiking poles and…hanging from their waste belts…
Bottles and bottles of water. Fresh…pure…potable…life-giving water.
At first he tried not to notice…but as the hike wore on and he began to grow dizzy, John decided he needed to say something.
“I don’t understand,” he began. “First, I thought this was just going to be a quick walk in the park.”
“Yes, exactly,” replied the guide, still yet to break a sweat. “Quick walk in park.”
“Right, OK. Well, it’s just that, you see, I didn’t know we were going to need water.”
“Oh yes,” said the guide. “You must have water. Very important. Water always very, very important.”
“But…but you don’t have any water…” John noticed, aloud.
“That’s true, yes,” came the reply. “But I have experience.”
A few hundred yards later, the gushing of a larger stream could be heard. John stood, exhausted, as he watched the guide dip his hat into the water and draw it to his mouth.
“Er…that’s not safe for us ‘mzungus’ to drink, is it?” enquired John…sensing already the answer was in the negative.
The guide shook his head with a frown.
“No, but these are,” said John’s wife, handing her grateful and gaping husband one of a few bottles she’d picked up before they set off.
P.S. Right now, tens of millions of Americans are reliant on systems that are either close to collapsing…or that have already begun falling apart.
From crumbling public infrastructure…to fragile banking and finance networks…to bloated and straining welfare systems…
Declaring your own independence from this system has perhaps never been so important.
To that end, we’ve been working on a “manifesto” that we plan to present to you sometime next week. In it, you’ll discover practical and easy-to-follow steps that allow you to break free from the “old system” and to reclaim control of your own life.
Public water is regulated on a federal level under the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), which, generally speaking, prohibits certain levels of harmful contaminants (like lead) in the public water supply. However, like all good pieces of government literature, certain elements are ignored because dealing with them would have been inconvenient.
There are many contaminants unlisted on the SWDA—including pharmaceutical substances, perchlorate (corrupts hormone production in the thyroid), Radon (causes cancer), and MTBE (just tastes plain awful)—which the EPA are not required to regulate or even comment on in their water-safety reports.
In fact, in a 2001 study of 18 EPA water-safety reports, the Natural Resources Defense Council failed two of the reports for “burying, obscuring and omitting findings about health effects of contaminants in city water supplies and printing misleading statements.”
Those who are concerned about their water supply should consider fitting their faucet with a filtration system. A good filter kit will remove harmful substances, improve the taste and odor of the water, and are generally inexpensive. The $25 Culligan Faucet Filter Kit is simple to install and removes many water contaminants, such as chlorine, lead, cysts, cryptosporidium, sediment, and giardia.-ED