Photo: [cipher] / Flickr

One of the top marks of a functioning civilization is the delivery of fresh, safe, clean reliable drinking water to the public. James Joyce celebrated Dublin’s public water in Ulysses for its “universality (and) democratic equality.” Much earlier societies in Greece, Jerusalem and Rome used aqueducts to transport and deliver water, allowing civilization to flourish. America has thousands of water agencies doing this for us with oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

Water, air, food and shelter have been the elements of human survival since our times living in caves and nothing has changed since, except the standards societies set for ourselves with laws, regulations, infrastructure and public funding. As hard as water providers and regulators work, they still need the support of the public to demand that our representatives protect our water bodies from pollution as is currently happening at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

Girls carry water in a rural area of South Sudan. (Photo: Arsenie Coseac / Flickr)

Girls carry water in a rural area of South Sudan. (Photo: Arsenie Coseac / Flickr)

Sadly, in the poorest places on our planet, people, usually girls, must invest the days of their lives searching for and transporting water back home, forgoing education and other opportunities.

We need to be grateful that in the United States, we do not have to spend hours a day getting water with manual labor, but instead we can simply turn on the faucet or press the button on a drinking fountain. It is the duty of humanity to continue to help those around the globe reach our standard of water security.

The years of 2005 to 2015 were declared by the United Nations to be The International Decade for Action focused on “Water for Life.” According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs:

“Half of humanity now lives within cities, and within two decades nearly 60 percent of the world’s people will be urban dwellers. Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of 5 million residents every month. The exploding urban population growth creates unprecedented challenges, among which provision of water and sanitation have been the most pressing and painfully felt when lacking. Those who suffer the most of these water–related challenges are the urban poor, often living in slums or informal settlements following rapid urban growth, in situations lacking many of life’s basic necessities: safe drinking water, adequate sanitation services and access to health services, durable housing and secure tenure.” 

In America, thanks to the EPA, we hold our drinking water to the highest standards.  There are approximately 155,000 public water systems in the U.S. (A water system provides water for human consumption through pipes or other constructed conveyances to at least 15 service connections or serves an average of at least 25 people for at least 60 days a year.) The Safe Drinking Water Act was established in 1974 to bring home safety standards from municipal water systems that employ hundreds of thousands of people across the nation.

“As the federal agency responsible for ensuring the safety of drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishes protective standards for our tap water and oversees testing and management programs which provide confidence that our drinking water is safe.” John Kemmerer, of Cal EPA, said in a Tap Water Day speech in 2015.

One of the top marks of a functioning civilization is the delivery of fresh, safe, clean reliable drinking water to the public. (Photo: / Flickr)

One of the top marks of a functioning civilization is the delivery of fresh, safe, clean reliable drinking water to the public. (Photo: / Flickr)

In Los Angeles, and most other American cities, municipal water systems work hard and diligently to protect the public by delivering safe water as reported in their public statements and water quality reports that are required by law to be mailed to homes annually and available online at all times. Transparency is a public service we should not take for granted because if we don’t respect and challenge our municipal services we could lose the benefits from a well-run government.

When water has failed us it has been under the most unusual circumstances, such as in Flint, which rightly has brought public outrage and overdue attention to the matter of drinking water.  City officials and water managers who were supposed to be responsible for public welfare put secrecy and profits above the public health and are now facing prison terms.  While this was a horrific and devastating situation which caused great harm, we must not abandon our national public water system.   Municipal water systems will continue to be regulated, and we must keep demanding the best and support public water at the ballots and with our taxes.

In 2014, California voters approved Proposition One, The Water Quality Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act, which dedicates $510 million in Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) funding to help meet the long-term water needs of the state and to deal with the first two pillars of water safety.

What does the future hold for safe drinking water in America?  The fight for clean water sources is currently led by Indigenous Americans at Standing Rock who want to protect sacred lands and aquifers from pipelines carrying dirty oil.  We have a newly inaugurated president, Donald Trump, who signed an executive order in his first days to permit the oil pipelines and to silence the EPA.

WeTap recommends the following to protect drinking water in America:

  1. Read your municipal water report and know the safety of your water supply (usually safer than bottled water because bottled water is less regulated and endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastic bottles leach into the water).
  2. If you want to make sure your water at home is as clean as it was when tested by your water agency, before it got to your house, filter at the tap.
  3. Buy a water canteen and use it – make sure your bottle is unlined stainless steel or glass.
  4. Follow WeTap on Facebook and Use the WeTap App to find and rate public water fountains.
  5. Make your voice heard for clean water through following and joining such groups as Food and Water WatchEnvironmental Working Group, WeTap and join the ongoing water protection movement at Standing Rock.  You can add to the public comments on the Dakota Access Pipeline before February 20th, 2107.
  6. Hold your local, state and federal officials accountable for using our tax dollars on water protection and water infrastructure. Contact them regularly with your concerns. Water is Life.
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