What the recent story about traces of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water makes very clear is that access to safe drinking water is an issue that affects everyone. All our water sources rivers and reservoirs, springs and aquifers may contain drugs flushed down our toilets and off factory farms somewhere up stream. But scaring people away from their taps into the bottled water isle at the grocery store will cost them thousands of dollars a year without making them any safer.
Nearly 40% of bottled water is simply repackaged tap water. What's more, there's no government agency testing bottled water contamination from known hazards such as bacteria, synthetic contaminants, or heavy metals. While the Associated Press did not test bottled water, earlier testers have found dangerous substances such as arsenic and bromate, both known carcinogens. And bottled water comes with its own list of unknown hazards from chemicals leached into the water from the plastic bottles. Tap water is still the best choice for most Americans.
Americans are right to be concerned by reports of prescription medications in their water. But this isn't a problem that can be fixed at each tap or each household. Contaminants in drinking water are a national problem worthy of a national solution.
Communities around the country are struggling to maintain and upgrade aging water systems that are groaning under the stain of a growing population. At the same time, the federal government contribution to total clean water spending has shrunk dramatically, from 78% in 1978 to just 3% today. States spend approximately $63 billion annually to compensate, but their efforts barely keep pace with current needs, let alone future ones. Based on Environmental Protection Agency estimates, there is a gap of nearly $22 billion per year between needed and available funds for water infrastructure.
EPA must set standards for potentially dangerous substances and Congress must provide the funding to help the more than 158,000 drinking water systems around the country to deal with them. According to a recent Luntz poll, nine out of ten Americans believe that clean and safe water is a national priority that deserves federal investment.
Food & Water Watch has been leading a campaign to establish a permanent funding stream for water infrastructure projects in the form of a trust fund. In Congress, Rep. James Oberstar (MN), Rep. Edie Bernice Johnson (TX), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR) have requested a GAO study to identify sustainable funding sources and announced their intention to pursue legislation for a trust fund once this funding source is identified. America's water is a public responsibility that should be given a steady and reliable source of funding to keep water clean and safe for all communities.
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch, which describes itself as "a nonprofit consumer rights organization that challenges the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources."
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