News Feature | November 30, 2018

Small Town, Big Water Problems

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Community Exemplifies Small Town Water Challenges

In the Louisiana community of Enterprise, tap water is so unappealing that one woman drives 20 miles each way to do her laundry in another town, according to CNN.

The town exemplifies a major challenge for the drinking water sector: Funding for infrastructure repairs and upgrades in small communities is hard to come by.

“Years of water system neglect means that the 250-or-so residents there are left with pipes that leak more than 70 percent of their water into the ground — all because they can't afford to fix them,” CNN reported, citing John Tiser, resident and water board president.

But Enterprise is hardly alone.

“The EPA estimates $132.3B is needed to repair small water systems in America over the next 20 years. But, in 2017, only $805.7M was allocated to these systems — about 12 percent of the amount needed,” CNN reported.

Virginia Tech Engineering Professor and water expert Marc Edwards refers to it as America's "dirty little secret."

“He explains it this way: That oftentimes towns like Enterprise are stuck with aging infrastructure that they can't fix, leaving few options for them to deal with complaints about dirty or contaminated water,” the report stated.

Edwards received a nearly $2M grant to uncover water issues in towns like this, CNN previously reported.

“In 2017, Edwards and a team of scientific and academic researchers tested the water in Enterprise and found bacteria, lead and other contaminants that exceeded EPA limits,” according to CNN.

The focus of the grant money allocated to Edwards and others is to make it easier to identify high-risk water systems.

"The whole idea is, at the end of this, to come up with a model to predict which cities are likely to have problems," Edwards said. "Which cities are most likely to have lead pipes, and not be following the rules, and then work with communities there to figure out if they do have a problem, then build algorithms for individual homeowners to protect themselves, from sampling to filters."

Notably, over 92 percent of U.S. residents who receive water from community water systems are supplied by water that meets health-based standards at all times, the report stated.

The U.S. EPA estimates that over $743B is needed for water infrastructure improvements.