A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy

By Juliet Christian-Smith; Peter H. Gleick et al. | Go to book overview

5
WATER QUALITY

Lucy Allen


Introduction

The United States should be justifiably proud of the improvement over the past century in the safety of drinking water and the reduction in the types and amounts of pollution discharged untreated into rivers, lakes, and streams. Rivers are no longer catching fire, as they did in the 1960s, from huge quantities of industrial wastes. Thousands of people no longer die every year from water-related diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. Most Americans have access to highly reliable, safe, and remarkably inexpensive water from their taps for drinking, as well as for flushing toilets, providing safe and reliable sanitation.

Despite these improvements, the nation still faces serious threats to water quality. And the benefits of our efforts to improve water quality have not been equitably distributed. Communities in California’s Tulare County, for example, have gone decades without tap water that is safe to drink (Moore et al. 2011). Fertilizer application in this intensively farmed county, as well as manure from dairy farms and leaking septic tanks, have caused heavy nitrate pollution of the groundwater—the primary source of drinking water for most people in the county (Harter and Lund 2012). High levels of pesticides and other contaminants have also been found in local groundwater. As a result of this contamination, one-fifth of public water systems in Tulare County do not meet federal health-based drinking water standards (Firestone and DeAnda nd). Additionally, 40 percent of private wells that have been tested have nitrate concentrations exceeding health-based standards and 75 percent have at least one contaminant exceeding health-based standards (CWC Web site). Nitrates have numerous adverse health impacts and are particularly dangerous

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A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • List of Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction- the Soft Path for Water xv
  • 1 - The Water of the United States 3
  • 2 - Legal and Institutional Framework of Water Management 23
  • 3 - Water and Environmental Justice 52
  • 4 - Tribes and Water 90
  • 5 - Water Quality 109
  • 6 - Protecting Freshwater Ecosystems 142
  • 7 - Municipal Water Use 167
  • 8 - Water and Agriculture 195
  • 9 - Water and Energy 221
  • 10 - Water and Climate 244
  • 11 - United States International Water Policy 263
  • 12 - Conclusions and Recommendations 288
  • Appendix - Key Pieces of Federal Legislation 305
  • Notes 313
  • About the Authors 317
  • Index 319
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