A Hard Swallow

Water shortages leave rural America high and dry

| May 11, 2006

Spring is here, a time when many American suburbanites pull out their sprinklers and douse their lawns with clean, potable water. But in much of the world, drinking water shortages are reaching critical proportions. Seed reports that one out of every five people live on less water per day than it takes to flush a toilet. Scientists are predicting that a worldwide water crisis will come very soon, but for some Americans, it's already here.

In East Texas, along County Road 329, residents were told back in 2003 that the water from their local wells was unsafe for consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been delivering water rations to the area since last year, but according to Lisa Sorg of The San Antonio Current, many believe this situation is unsustainable.

The African-American residential area of CR 329 exists in a veritable no-man's land for state water suppliers. 'CR 329 is in the middle of two public water suppliers,' says the Rev. David Hudson, 'but we can't get service from either.' Water wells were the primary source of water for the area, but studies detected unsafe levels of hazardous chemicals such as benzene, barium, and petroleum hydrocarbons making the water unsuitable to drink or even bathe in. 'When I take a bath in it, it burns,' says resident Earnestene Roberson.

Hudson and other local activists believe that neighboring oil facilities are polluting the water. Crude oil extraction creates a noxious saltwater by-product that oil companies often dispose of in special wells. In many states, such as Louisiana, there are regulations prohibiting having these saltwater-disposal wells within 500 feet of residential areas. Sorg reports that no such regulations exist in Texas. According to Hudson, 'They can't put this stuff in Louisiana so they bring it over here.'

Excessively polluted drinking water is becoming a problem for rural areas across the United States, but rather than going through the costly procedures of cleaning up the water, the EPA is now trying to change the regulations. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the EPA ignored its own expert panel's suggestions on how to clean up many of the toxins found in rural drinking water. Instead, under intense pressure from the Bush administration, the EPA has proposed a policy change to allow up to three times the current levels of acceptable toxins in the tap water flowing through rural areas and small towns. The NRDC believes this would create a 'two-tiered drinking water system in America,' robbing potable water from people who cannot pay for it. The NRDC is calling for help petitioning representatives to reject these measures, and a decision is expected by the end of May. In the meantime, the NRDC's sentiments have echoed the words of CR 329 resident David Hudson. 'Clean drinking water,' he says, 'should be a human right.'

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