Urban Water Contamination


          Indispensable for the survival of every living being, water is the most valuable natural resource on the Earth. The responsible use of this resource has nowadays become a challenge for everybody. Droughts and water-related emergencies occurred in recent years have shown that water is a scarce natural resource that needs to be protected and conserved. The varied, complex and cross-cutting challenges associated with the management of water resources require the adoption of a multidisciplinary approach. This means that we have to take science as well as social aspects into consideration when executing this project. One of these challenges is water pollution and contamination, defined as the alteration of ecosystems of which water is a key component. Water pollution is largely caused by waste from industry, agriculture, zootechnics and other human activities reaching rivers, lakes, oceans, aquifers and ground waters.

          “Federal authorities estimate that the headwaters of 40 percent of Western rivers are tainted with toxic discharge from abandoned mines.”  This has affected the lives of many Colorado residents:  In, 2015 the Animas River in Colorado faced a major mine spill that contaminated the water sources for many citizens, including a Navajo tribe in New Mexico who had no other available source of clean water.  Every day, huge amounts of pollutants are released into the environment: Industrial waste, fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture, animal waste, residential and commercial sewage and wastewater; causing harm to the entire water ecosystem, unless properly treated. However, when analyzing public health issues in poor and urban communities, it is apparent that the residents of those communities are taking the brute of the damage. Given that water pollution comes from multiple different sources and produces numerous effects, none of them can be left out when tackling this problem.

          There is a growing awareness of the fact that water is a natural resource to be safeguarded, as water of good quality is becoming increasingly scarce, temperatures are rising and precipitations are declining especially in the world regions most affected by climate changes.  Even the United States cannot escape this crisis; Flint, Michigan’s recent lead problem is a prime example of water contamination issues primarily targeting lower class, minority citizens.  Water quality reports indicate that 45% of U.S. streams, 47% of lakes, and 32% of bays are polluted; these same reports indicate that the bulk of the waste is concentrated in areas with large amounts of industrial waste, which tend to be in lower-income neighborhoods. Water is an environmental resource which is directly affected by the pressures and impacts related to development processes; this needs a prudent and careful management. Strongly anthropized water systems, where different users are present (industry, agriculture, residential users), show us an intensification of conflicts for resources exploitation and, consequently, an overall impairment of water supply in terms of resilience and adaptability. It is thus evident that we need to manage natural resources in a more sustainable way, either employing existing infrastructures or planning improvements.

          Many water pollution solutions in the United States are well known, and simply need to be passed into law and enforced.  Reducing sewage and industrial pollution, and preventing waste from being dumped into the ocean is key to promoting an equal quality of water. Upgrading our sewage treatment plants would not be all that expensive. Maryland instituted a mere $3 tax on citizens’ sewer bills to help fund the upgrade of the state’s aging treatment plants.  As far as federal assistance goes, “The Clean Water State Revolving Fund provides federal funding in the form of loans to cities that need to upgrade their systems.”  This would allow cities drastically affected by water pollution a temporary solution to the issue.







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2 responses to “Urban Water Contamination

  1. amyquandt

    How do you see issues of class and racial injustice fitting into urban water issues? How is social justice related to urban water issues?


  2. miltonlockett

    I believe the recent Lead crisis in Flint, Michigan exemplifies the correlation between class/racial injustice and urban water contamination. Flint has always been a predominately poor city with primarily black and brown citizens, and despite the lead crisis being widely covered recently, water pollution issues trace back to 1966. In 1966, a large automobile manufacturer, Buick City, was dumping an average of 2.2 Million gallons of waste into Flint River daily. Buick City continued dumping in the river (albeit illegally) until it closed in 1999. The year before that, 8 GM plants around Flint dumped an average of 26.5 Million gallons into Flint River each day. It’s hard not to see this as a race and class issue when this behavior would simply not happen in affluent communities. They wouldn’t tolerate it on their land.
    It seems that places like Flint are typically written off when it comes to receiving state and federal support, and that makes these cities targets for companies that want to use environmental regulation loopholes. The water and community of Flint didn’t just get really polluted one day. It has happened over the years despite outcries from the citizens, and was only responded to when the city’s water reached the EPA’s classification of ‘toxic waste’. When the people of Flint started saying, “This water is discolored, it doesn’t smell right, I’ve got a rash, my kid isn’t responding properly,” their voices were ignored. And quite frankly, that does have something to do with being poor and a minority.


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