Two national non-profit groups, DigDeep and the US Water Alliance, have released a new report, Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan. While most Americans take reliable access to clean, safe water for granted, this new nationwide study found that more than two million Americans are living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment.
On the Navajo Nation in the Southwest, families drive for hours to haul barrels of water to meet their basic needs. In West Virginia, they drink from polluted streams. In Alabama, parents warn their children not to play outside because their yards are flooded with sewage. Families living in Texas border towns worry because there is no running water to fight fires.
This report is the most comprehensive national study on the more than two million Americans who lack access to water service. The report fills an important knowledge gap: there is no one entity – whether a federal agency or research institution – that collects comprehensive data on the scope of the United States water access problem. The report’s authors, with researchers from Michigan State University, examine six areas where the water access gap is particularly acute: the Central Valley of California, border colonias in Texas, rural counties in Mississippi and Alabama, rural West Virginia, the ‘four corners’ area in the Southwest and Puerto Rico.
Researchers spoke to families living without water and captured their stories of poor health and economic hardship. The authors also spoke to local community leaders working to solve the water crisis by distributing water, building community-centered water projects where no infrastructure exists and advocating for policy change to bring more reliable services to rural and unincorporated communities. Despite these community efforts, data suggests that some communities may be backsliding; six states and Puerto Rico saw recent increases in their populations without water access.
The report makes several recommendations to help close the water gap in the United States. Recommendations include re-introducing census questions about whether homes have working taps and toilets, as well as changes to how the federal government funds and regulates water systems to support rural and unincorporated areas. There are also several recommendations for the philanthropic and global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sectors to drive community empowerment, deploy innovative technologies and apply successful WASH models from abroad here in the United States. Read the full report at closethewatergap.org.