A recent report reveals that more than 2 million Americans live without access to clean water, Native Americans being the most likely to be impacted by this issue.
The report is the result of a collaboration by DigDeep and the U.S. Water Alliance. It examines six areas where the water access gap is most prevalent; California’s Central Valley, the Navajo Nation, the Texas colonias, rural areas in the South, Appalachia, and Puerto Rico.
Race is the strongest predictor of water and sanitation access, according to the report's findings. 58 out of every 1,000 Native American households lack plumbing, compared with three out of every 1,000 white people.
African-American and Latinx populations are also disproportionately affected by water access challenges.
Researchers spoke to a multitude of families living without water and local community leaders who distribute water. The data suggests that these areas saw recent increases in their populations without water access.
The U.S. does not currently have a central, reliable data source to track how many Americans lack water and sanitation access, according to the report.
"We knew the problem was much bigger, but when we went out to look at the data, it didn't exist," said George McGraw, founder of DigDeep, a nonprofit that has helped build water systems on the Navajo Nation. "No one could tell us, from federal to state agencies to other nonprofits, just how many Americans still don't have running water or a working toilet where they live."
Many people in the Navajo Nation around Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico have to drive more than 40 miles every few days just to bring back clean water, according to the report.
NPR interviewed Darlene Yazzie, a member of the Navajo nation, who explained that she needs to fill two 50 gal barrels with water and then drive to a windmill to obtain water for her sheep. The water from this windmill has unhealthy levels of arsenic and uranium, however.
"A lot of people died of cancer around here," Yazzie said to NPR. "I noticed that more are being diagnosed. I'm pretty sure it's because of the environment and the water."
The groundwater in some Navajo areas has been contaminated by the 521 abandoned uranium mines, according to the report. Gastric cancer rates also doubled in the 1990s where uranium mining occurred.
The report makes several recommendations to help close the water gap. Among these recommendations are efforts to re-introduce census questions about whether homes have working taps and toilets, as well as changes to how the federal government funds and regulates water systems for rural and unincorporated areas.
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Listen to an Interview with U.S. Water Alliance CEO Radhika Fox:
- Talking Under Water Episode 17: One Water
- Talking Under Water podcast hosts interviewed U.S. Water Alliance CEO Radhika Fox live at the WEFTEC19 show floor. Listen in.