Water Crises the New Normal for Americans in the Decade Ahead

by Vins
Published: Updated:

On December 19, 2016, Reuters reported that nearly 3,000 cities across the United States have lead contaminated drinking water that was at least double the rates found in Flint, Michigan. President Obama declared a federal emergency when Flint, Michigan’s water contamination became known. With 3,000 cities facing rates at least double the contamination that Flint saw, many more cities could be faced with a federal emergency.

Lead contamination in water is to be expected, Farron Cousins reported for Desmog, because the United States has 1.2 million miles of lead pipes whose sole purpose is water delivery. Much of this aging infrastructure has reached the end of its working lifespan (roughly 75 years) and now needs replacement. However, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that renewal of the nation’s aging water systems would take approximately 25 years and $1 trillion. In order to fund replacement pipes, household water bills could triple in cost. This raises another key issue in the water crisis: Americans soon will be unable to afford one of the essentials of life. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that the US has already seen water prices rise by about 41 percent over the last six years. If the rate of rising costs continues, more than 40 million Americans may find themselves unable to afford water in the next five years—even without the added costs of replacing pipes that are no longer safe.

Every American has heard of lead contaminated water because of Flint, Michigan. However, the extent of the crisis—including its health- and economic impacts on community members across the country—has not been adequately covered in the press. In early 2016 lead-contaminated water received a lot of headline coverage due to the plight of Flint; however, this coverage quickly peaked, and it never emphasized the bigger issue: our clean water supply is running out, and soon almost half of America will not be able to afford water. ABC News, CNN, and CNBC covered this story multiple times, but maintained their focus primarily on Flint. While non-corporate media outlets, such as VICE in 2012 and SixWise.com in 2007, began predicting this water crisis, no one appeared to listen.


Farron Cousins, “America Is Suffering from a Very Real Water Crisis that Few are Acknowledging,” Desmog, January 24, 2017, https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/01/24/america-suffering-very-real-water-crisis-few-are-acknowledging.

M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer, “The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse

than in Flint,” Reuters, December 19, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-lead-testing/.

Student Researcher: Jessie Eastman (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)