Most Americans take access to clean drinking water for granted. Most Americans — but not all.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 National Center for Environmental Assessment study, people living in poverty are exposed to more fine particulate matter — a known carcinogen — than those living above the poverty level. This likelihood is consistent throughout the country across all kinds of communities: urban, suburban or rural.

Research finds lower-income communities of color are disproportionately impacted by pollution. We also know that African Americans are twice as likely as white people to live without modern plumbing and Native Americans face more difficulty accessing clean water than any other group.

Because financing for most water infrastructure projects comes from local rate payers, an area’s low-income base can lead a water utility to defer investments in upgrades and forgo regular maintenance due to budget constraints. Regulations and inadequate municipal financing can also hamper or redirect project funding as well as the local allocation of water rights.

While the price tag for a nationwide upgrade is steep — $1 trillion over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Water Alliance — we do have the means to give every person living in America equitable access to clean drinking water. Here’s where we start:

  1. Build awareness of the issue and its severity 
  2. Create structures to ensure affordability 
  3. Promote conservation 
  4. Embrace regionalization

Read the full article about the water inequality crisis by Chris Shaffner at Smart Cities Dive.