The seven Democratic governors who ousted Republican incumbents in November 2018 have another challenge ahead: Each of them faces a freshwater emergency. We use billions of gallons of fresh water each day for drinking, washing, cleaning, mining, manufacturing, construction, farming, moving waste, making electricity and cooling power plants. Most of it comes from rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. The federal government has not moved fast enough to keep up with a cascade of new chemical threats to drinking water, dwindling volumes of fresh water in the Southwest, and the degradation to water quality caused by the droughts and deluges amplified by climate change. This did not start with Trump, but it has gotten worse with climate deniers in charge and appointees, like acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler, who have outright sabotaged regulations.
Blue states can take the lead on protecting water where it counts most: at the source. They can articulate an urgently needed national water vision.
Why start with the source? Because even the best, most technologically advanced water treatment technologies cannot address the volume and variety of chemical toxicants in America’s water. A full accounting of the quantity and kinds of chemicals used and discarded or leached from products is unknown. Trade secrets and ossified federal regulations are largely to blame for this. Concern about a class of manmade chemicals, PFAS, in drinking water was a factor in the Michigan gubernatorial race, where there’s public alarm. These toxicants, which are unregulated by the federal government, made by 3M and used in products like nonstick pans and stain-resistant upholstery, have recently been found in water supplies in Maine, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group estimates they may be in the drinking water of up to 110 million Americans. They cause serious health problems, including cancer and immune dysfunction.