Being Thankful for Clean Water - and the People and Laws That Protect It

One purpose of World Water Day is often – and rightly – to highlight the horrific consequences of inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world.  Indeed, over a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean water, and 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation.  

Today, however, is also an opportunity to be thankful for the clean water we do have – and for the people and laws that protect it. 

Water is a human right.  But without strong laws, dedicated resources and competent water and sanitation workers, so many of us in the U.S. would not have the relatively inexpensive and high quality water we do have. 

Yes, we pay for the water we get – but not much, especially when considering its importance.  For many people in the United States, the monthly water bill is far less than their cell phone or cable TV bill.  Yet, unlike text messages or TV sitcoms, water is something we quite literally cannot live without.

If you turn on the tap and clean water comes out, there is a reason for that.  If you live in a city, like I do, it is because someone, somewhere in your community spends his or her days making sure that you have clean water when you need it – for drinking, for toilets, for showers, for cooking, for recreation – or for whatever you might need.  These workers often are well trained and work in less than ideal conditions. (If you have ever been to a sewage treatment plant, you know that braving the incredible smell alone is enough to warrant praise.)  Workers also contend with emergency outages, pipe ruptures, floods and other challenges.  Quite simply, we wouldn’t have clean water without them.

We also wouldn’t have clean water without strong laws.  The Safe Drinking Water Act is designed to make sure the water from our tap is clean and safe to drink.  The Clean Water Act makes sure that when we dispose of wastewater, it is treated before it is discharged back to a river or other waterway – often the source of our drinking water or a place for swimming, boating or fishing. 

No doubt, we can always do better by making sure our laws are upheld and enforced – so that everyone has clean water when they need it. Certainly, there are a lot of water quality problems that still need to be corrected across the U.S. – and, quite pressingly, for billions of people around the world. 

Yet right now Republicans in Congress are fighting to weaken – not strengthen – our clean water laws through budget cuts and riders.  Among other things, House Republicans propose cutting $3 billion from EPA’s current budget.  This includes nearly $2 billion in cuts to funding for drinking water and wastewater projects in communities across the country.  The House budget also seeks $250 million in funding cuts to the Great Lakes, $30 million to Puget Sound, and $20 million in cuts to enforcement and compliance programs.  To add insult to injury, the budget also includes specific riders to block EPA’s efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, waterways in Florida, and small streams and wetlands all over the country.

Our laws need to be diligently protected from those who would undermine them.  But in the midst of all the ongoing budget madness here in Washington D.C., this World Water Day I simply want to take a moment to say “thank you” to all those people around the country who give us clean and adequate water – and for the laws that make certain we will continue to have it.