We expect honesty from those in our government (we won’t get any more political than that here). However, when it comes to our safety, we expect both honesty and transparency. Never has there been a time when we need both of these when we look at our water supply.
As Pocahontas Spring’s natural flow slows at this time of year before returning to its more robust self in a few weeks , we reflect on how special this amazing resource is to us. When you taste the purity of our water, you will never want tap water … you will never want bottled water again! However, when it comes to tap water, it is more than just taste, it is about safety.
In Newark, NJ, the city conducted an engineering study and found that measures to prevent lead from leaching into drinking water were failing at a treatment plant. The New York Times described the problem as one approaching the level of Flint, MI. However, officials stated on the city’s website, in all caps, that “NEWARK’S WATER IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO DRINK.” Then mayor Ras Baraka clarified the statement saying “In fact, Newark has some of the best drinking water. The problem is that our infrastructure is not safe.” WHAT?
Problems with water stretch to rural areas as well. NPR reported in small Martin county Kentucky town on the West Virginia border, a place where you might think the water is so pure, but found contamination so bad that some teenagers have no memory of ever drinking water from the tap. Just like in Newark, the problem is not that treatment plants are putting out contaminated water (though some add chemicals to make sure the water is “clean”), the problem is the delivery system of pipes. According to a Gail Brion, a University of Kentucky professor who specializes in water infrastructure:
“The treatment plant operators can’t control the quality of the water in the pipes if they cannot keep the pipes intact. This is really not on the water quality coming out of the plant. It is on what happens to the water as it goes through this leaky straw.”
In Miami, the rising water associated with global warming (whether or not you think humans are to blame is not the point) is leading to a crisis in that major city. According to Bloomberg, Miami-Dade is built on the Biscayne Aquifer, 4,000 square miles of unusually shallow and porous limestone whose tiny air pockets are filled with rainwater and rivers running from the swamp to the ocean. The aquifer and the infrastructure that draws from it, cleans its water, and keeps it from overrunning the city combine to form a giant but fragile machine. Without this abundant source of fresh water, made cheap by its proximity to the surface, this hot, remote city could become uninhabitable.
So what is the fix? First, come to our spring and fill your glass containers. But we realize that not everyone can do that. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates it will cost the nearly $400 billion to repair the millions of miles of eroding pipe that is the main culprit of dirty tap water. The money for that will mostly come from those who are on the main water supply that is run by a municipality or private companies with oversight from government regulators. For places like Martin county, one of the poorest counties in the country, its residence may never be able to afford repairs and will be forced to purchase bottled water (also a big expense).
Locally, we have seen towns across New England that have encountered problems with tap water, including our own Lynnfield, MA. These crises are often viewed as temporary after some action taken … then assurances that the water is safe. This trend, sadly, is most likely going to continue because there are no easy answers.