The United States Congress, the Supreme Court, and state legislators are wrestling with important issues concerning water policy and legislation. At the heart of the arguments are key concepts that they must reach an agreement on.
The first issue that legislators must address is who owns the limited amount of water. In essence, water on earth is a closed system. It falls to the ground as rain or snow, and then nourishes the earth with some of it running into the nation’s streams and waters. Then, on hot days, that water evaporates back into the air, where conditions cause it to rain again. When communities upstream use more water, then communities at the bottom end up with less water to use. Therefore, legislators must decide how fairly to allocate water to all.
When people upstream demand more water, those in Texas, Arizona, and other southern states have less water to use. For example, when coupled with a drought, Texas has 240 billion gallons of water less than they did a year ago. This leaves many communities with the fear that they will run out of water. Couple this with more people moving to some of these areas than ever before, and cities have to start looking at alternative means to ensure that their residents have enough water. For example, El Paso, Texas, where the population has grown eight-fold in the last 40 years, is looking at building a desalination plant to decontaminate brackish water pumped from underground, and using waste water for irrigation.
Many of the nation’s water treatment facilities are older than ever before. Broken water pipes in the United States cost cities about $2.8 billion each year and release 1.7 trillion gallons of water annually. Some cities like San Antonio, Texas, and Delray Beach, Florida, have faced expensive cleanups as sewer pipes bust and cause massive damage. Failing pipes are causing enormous sinkholes in many locations around the country including in WashingtonD.C.
Water pollution is another problem that legislators must face in the near future. Part of the problem is nitrate run off that has caused dead zones in many of the United States’ drinking water reservoirs. The world’s second largest dead zone is located in the Gulf of Mexico, but these dead zones also exist in Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay and the Long Island Sounds. The nitrate in the water causes algae bloom and the water becomes unusable for any purpose.
Not only are nitrates causing problems in the earth’s water, but also the dumping of sewage into the nation’s water is causing problems. Sewer water released into the ocean or lakes often contains pharmaceutical substances. As new drugs are being released repeatedly, the long-term effect of these substances on the nation’s water supply cannot be effectively studied.
All the needed repairs to the nation’s water system come with a high price tag. Some communities cannot afford a price tag. In fact, one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in United States history occurred in Jefferson County, Alabama, partially because of the mismanagement and poor investments made in the county’s sewer system.