As our nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, sky high unemployment and police brutality against Black people, America must recognize that these crises are interconnected and have devastating effects on communities of color.
People of color face unique obstacles when accessing necessities that many take for granted — things such as health care, jobs, good schools and healthy food. And especially clean water.
Safe water is a human right. Yet, in 2020, the United States remains divided between those with the privilege of having clean, running tap water and those who don’t. As we reckon with systemic racism, our fight for safe and affordable water cannot be disentangled from the fight for justice.
The statistics are shocking. At least 2 million people lack reliable running water and sanitation. Many more are impacted by unsafe water. A recent report found that between 2016 and 2019, nearly 130 million people got their tap water from systems in violation of federal safety laws.
In our home state, about 1 million Californians — disproportionately farmworker and frontline communities — currently do not have safe drinking water.
The safe-water crisis is compounded by a water-affordability crisis. Since 2010, household water rates have increased by 41%, leaving 48 million people to choose between paying their water bill or paying for rent or food.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America’s water emergency while impacting communities of color the hardest. Record unemployment means millions more families are struggling to make ends meet, including paying already expensive water bills. And while some states’ water utilities recently have halted water shutoffs, many such protections are set to expire soon, if they haven’t already.
Just as racial injustices have driven disparities in COVID-19, racism fuels disparities in access to safe water. In fact, race is the primary indicator of whether someone in the United States has basic plumbing. Systemic barriers, including redlining, disinvestment, unregulated pollution and neglect of Tribal water rights stand in the way of safe and affordable water for millions of people, particularly Black, Indigenous and communities of color.
It is past time that Congress stand with these groups and fulfill the right to clean water. To do that, we must integrate water justice into the nation’s COVID-19 emergency response and economic recovery.
First, we must institute a national moratorium on water shutoffs and implement a water affordability program so that no one must choose between water and other necessities.
Second, we must leverage the opportunity for safe water to be an engine of equitable economic growth. The United States needs a $1 trillion investment to meet our collective water infrastructure needs over the next 25 years, which would create millions of family-sustaining jobs. We should guarantee that front-line communities receive their fair share of investment, including…