Four years ago today (April 25), the Michigan town of Flint switched the source of its water, resulting in dangerous levels of lead and a public health catastrophe whose affects continue. Now, on the anniversary of the start of the crisis, two members of Congress have introduced legislation to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
Representatives Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Ro Khanna (D- Calif.) introduced The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act in Congress today. It seeks to make water service safer, more affordable and more accessible for urban and rural communities across the nation. If passed, the legislation would provide $35 billion a year in federal funding to improve community drinking water and wastewater services. The law would also provide grants to replace lead service lines going into homes, remove lead pipes and plumbing in schools and upgrade household drinking water wells and home septic systems.
“The WATER Act is the path our elected officials need to take in order to fix our inexcusable and long-standing water issues in the United States,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.
Ellison acknowledged that if the legislation becomes a law, it will help communities like Flint. Says Ellison, “We are one of the richest nations in the world, and we have an abundance of natural resources, including water. [Flint] is unacceptable and I’m proud to introduce the WATER Act to guarantee clean, safe water for all.”
Flint and its residents continue to suffer from its unsafe water. In an article on ongoing health consequences in the majority-Black city, The Guardian reports on a rise in miscarriages, fetal deaths, Legionnaire’s disease and other illnesses, all connected to the 2014 water source change. In addition, per the Guardian:
“The biggest thing that people are not talking about is the psychological damage,” said [activist LeeAnn] Walters. “I’ve seen people go into full-on panic attacks, hyperventilating, trying to take a sip of water at a restaurant, and they just can’t do it. I know of a 17-year-old who is terrified to take a bath.” She added: “These things have not gotten better.”
The WATER Act has been endorsed by 90 groups, including American Federation of Teachers, Earthjustice, Hip Hop Caucus and National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association.
"Fourteen million U.S. households are struggling to pay for water that too often isn’t even safe to drink," said Khanna in a statement about the bill, which was not yet available online at press time. "Decades of federal underinvestment has left many communities, particularly low-income and minority neighborhoods, with leaky and contaminated water systems. It’s past time that we ensure everyone in this country has access to the most basic human need: clean drinking water."