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Closing the Water Access Gap

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clean drinking water-sanitation-unsafe

Most people living in America have daily access to clean drinking water and sanitation. But this is not the norm for everyone in our country.

Mami Hara

CEO, US Water Alliance

In 2018, a groundbreaking study co-authored by the US Water Alliance and DigDeep found that an estimated 2 million people in America lack reliable, safe drinking water and sanitation services. The burden of inadequate and unsafe drinking water and sanitation services largely falls on low-income people and people of color.

For those who haven’t had to carry that burden, it can be hard to imagine how much time and money can be lost from looking for sanitation services or wasting precious money on expensive bottled water. The water access gap is a public health crisis that places people across urban and rural communities in all 50 states in a dire position, and that has been exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

What is being done to help

In 2021, the federal government took a critically important step to begin addressing this issue with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (often called the IIJA), which provided historic funding for water infrastructure. In addition to funding for urban areas, the bill allocated funding for rural communities that have historically been left behind.

The best path forward to closing the water access gap is to continue to push the federal government to commit to creating infrastructure for all. People who cannot afford water service or don’t have access to water, as well as utilities and municipalities that cannot afford to provide or maintain water systems, face profound burdens and consequences.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was a step in the right direction but there is still so much more to do. First, the country can commit to having the explicit ambition of universal water access.

To achieve that ambitious goal, it will take a multi-pronged approach and partnerships. Of course, the federal government will need to commit to funding significant water investment, as well as corporations who have caused some prohibitively expensive pollution to be more responsible for the cleanup.

In addition to funding, we need a national program to ensure financial assistance for those who need help paying water bills –much like the popular SNAP program for food or LIHEAP for heating. A country where everyone’s basic needs are meant is possible. We need the political will and commitment to build.

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