US Water Crises, Hitting Black, Brown and Indigenous Communities the Hardest, the Result of Policymakers’ Decades-long Failure to Invest in Infrastructure

Statement by Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 9, 2022

Jackson, Mississippi, residents’ prolonged lack of access to safe drinking water has drawn the nation’s attention to the fact that the crisis is not an anomaly. In fact, today, millions of people in the United States cannot access safe and healthy water for drinking, cleaning and bathing. And violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act are most common in Black and Brown communities.

Below is statement by Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Preventable water crises are affecting cities and rural areas across the U.S.: from Honolulu, Hawaii, where leaked jet fuel from the U.S. Navy has contaminated drinking water, to Jackson, Mississippi, where climate change-worsened flooding damaged infrastructure that treats the community’s drinking water, to South Texas, where severe drought is drying up water supplies, to West Baltimore, Maryland, where the tap water has been discovered to contain the dangerous bacteria E. coli.

“These crises add onto existing water issues in the country, including in Flint, Michigan, and across many rural and Indigenous communities where one in ten people are estimated to lack access to safe tap water or basic sanitation. The lack of access to clean water causes instability in impacted communities, which can get exacerbated in housing and food insecurity. The lack of stability in accessing basic needs for survival results in upended communities where the most vulnerable in the community suffer.

“The water crises are the result of policymakers’ decades-long failure to invest in our infrastructures—along with the failure to prepare for the predictable effects of climate change that scientists have been warning about, also for decades.

“They’re also the result of environmental racism.

“It’s no coincidence that many of the people under boil orders or brushing their teeth with bottled water are Black, Latine and Indigenous. In this country, racist policies lead to underinvestment in critical infrastructure like water systems and polluting facilities located within Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income neighborhoods.

“This must end. Access to clean, safe drinking water is a human right.

“I’m hopeful that the investments in clean drinking water included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the largest such investments to date, will help address the long-overdue upgrades needed in our nation’s infrastructure. More funding will be needed in the years to come, especially as climate change further strains water supplies. Equally important will be ensuring that those dollars get to the communities that have historically been discriminated against and need it most.

“I’m grateful for all those fighting for equitable access to safe water. And I am deeply angry that in this country of abundance, anyone should fear that they or their children might become ill from drinking our tap water. Federal, state, county and city legislators must enact policies and make robust investments to ensure that access to clean water is protected as a human right. Everyone can help the people struggling to access clean water by contacting their elected officials and demanding those protections as well as supporting mutual aid work led by local organizers in Black, Latine, Indigenous and low-income communities.”