News Feature | March 25, 2015

Many U.S. Residents Lack Access To Clean Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Inaccessibility of clean water is usually a hardship associated with developing nations, but many U.S. residents are also cut off from their basic water needs.

"Along the Texas-Mexico border, nearly 90,000 people are believed to still live without running water. An untold number more — likely tens of thousands, but no one is sure — often have running water of such poor quality that they cannot know what poisons or diseases it might carry," the Texas Tribune recently reported.

In a special project that used crowdfunding to raise money for the investigation, the publication zeroed in on U.S. residents who are suffering in these conditions.

"They are mostly low-income Hispanics, some living in isolated pockets or low-grade developments on land nobody else wanted. Poor, powerless and out of sight, they continue to grapple with the illnesses and hardships that come from lacking such a basic necessity," the report said.

The fact that this is happening in the U.S. often stuns people. “Some people have no idea that there are still third-world conditions in the most powerful country in the world,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, who has residents in his district experiencing some of these conditions.

In the 1980s, when the border population surged, the government made efforts to fix the problem, building pipelines and treatment infrastructure. But many people still lack service.

For instance, the community of Las Pampas, TX, "is so remote that it has never been worth the cost to run pipes to just a few dozen homes. Residents are left to haul their water from miles away," the report said. And in the Texas village of Vintonhave, many residents "hoped for decades to give up contaminated groundwater wells and pipe in clean water from big-city neighbor El Paso. But local political infighting got in the way," the report continued.

In Rio Bravo and El Cenizo, "a brand-new water treatment plant was supposed to provide nearly 10,000 people with clean drinking water. But local leaders never mustered the political will or dollars necessary to run it properly, and last year eight workers were indicted for allegedly faking water quality reports," the report said.

The issue presents a grave public health threat, but in an era of intense cost-cutting, there is little hope government spending will address the entirety of the problem. What's more, a major water source feeding the region, the Rio Grande, is challenged with heavy pollution problems, the report said.

Texas is not the only state struggling against water contamination in poor regions.

"California’s San Joaquin Valley has the highest rates of drinking water contamination and the greatest number of public water systems with Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations in the state," according to the Community Water Center, a group dedicated to correcting these problems.