Water Shortages, Water Contaminants: The US May Be On The Threshold Of A Frighteningly Dry Era
Infrastructure. It is a word that gets tossed around a lot in election years. But it is an inherently boring word, and not a lot of people really even understand what it means.
Infrastructure certainly isn’t a “sexy” vote-getter in an election year, as politicos say. But the looming crisis of the water infrastructure in the US has lots of people talking behind the scenes about the possibility of a catastrophe that could dwarf what happened to Flint like Mount Everest towering over a kid’s game of king of the hill.
As the ongoing, man-made disaster that is the Flint water crisis continues to play out, the biggest lesson we should perhaps draw from it is that the pipes that carry the nation’s water are not perfect, they are not always perfectly safe, nor are they going to last forever.
What’s more, hundreds of US cities and towns are considered to be at risk of sudden and severe water shortages, either because their water is unsafe for human consumption, or because there just won’t be enough of it to go around.
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence has deemed the situation to be so grave that now water scarcity is ranked as a major threat to national security, right alongside terrorism.
Droughts like the ongoing one in the west certainly are a factor. But the aging water system could be an even greater threat. Some of the oldest pipes in use were installed in the 1880s, and are well past their expiration date of about 120 years. Then there’s the bulk of the water system, built in the post-war boom years, which is designed to last only about 75 years.
“It’s a huge problem nationwide,” said Erik Olson, director of the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in an interview with The Hill. “A lot of [the water infrastructure is] now 100 years old or more. Flint is just one example, but there are literally thousands of systems across the country that are having serious compliance problems, serious lead problems.”
In fact, the EPA estimates that over the next 20 years, the cost of revamping water pipes and aging treatment facilities could run as much $384 billion.
And then the question becomes, who’s going to pay for it? Well, the long and short of it is we all will, one way or another.
Take the Flint water crisis: manufactured by bungling unelected officials trying to save money on the backs of the poor, the entire debacle stemmed from an attempt to save around $5 million by switching the city’s water source.
Thus far the state has added $30 million to the state’s budget to deal with the crisis, but some estimates say the final cost could be in the billions.
We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way, which involves vastly more money, poisoned kids, and ruined lives.
Which path do you think our politicians will choose?