Access to clean and safe drinking water shouldn’t be a #firstworldproblem…but it kinda is.

Posted on March 14, 2019 by

In the United States, many of us don’t have to go far to access a source of drinking water. We take for granted that just down the hall, there is a water fountain or sink faucet ready to spout out cold water to fill our glasses. In fact, most people reading this right now probably have a bottle sitting on their desk or bedside table, full of water that came right out of their very own taps, just a few steps away. We don’t think twice about the safety or quality of our water – but maybe we should.

According to a study by the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) 1 in 4 Americans drink water from a water distribution system that violates the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

27 million people are drinking water from systems with health-related violations.

And over 99% of the drinking water distribution sites in Purto Rico are out of compliance.

The top 5 states with reported SDWA violations are Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Georgia. I personally have friends or family in all but one of those states. Even if you don’t, chances are you or someone you know are one out of 77 million Americans whose drinking water is deemed unfit for human consumption and violate the Safe Drinking Water Act.  

The truly scary thing about this, the SDWA isn’t even that comprehensive. It’s legally enforceable primary standards are limited to a contaminate list that hasn’t been updated since 1996. For reference, about 46,000 new chemicals have been introduced since then and it would take the EPA decades to review just the ones they’ve identified as urgent. The EPA refuses to enact enforceable standards for PFAS, a toxin of serious environmental concern that has been named a likely carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization.   

The SDWA does not require school districts to test drinking water sources for lead, and it wasn’t until 2016 that states started to do so (currently only 15 states and D.C. require lead testing in schools). Not to mention, the law only applies to public water systems, so the 15 million Americans who rely on private wells are not protected under the Act.

Although the SDWA is a federal law, only 1 out of 10 violations received a formal review by the EPA, and those are just the violations cities self-reported. In 2016, 33 cities in 17 different states, including Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston were found to have manipulated water tests to hide lead contamination. Flint was lucky their water turned brown, or they might have never found out about the lead in it.

I believe every human has a right to access safe and clean drinking water, no matter where they live. Surely, clean drinking water for every American isn’t a partisan issue. The Safe Drinking Water Act is federal law and municipalities owe it to residents to at least be in compliance.  

Education is power! Are you concerned about whether your community is out of compliance with the SDWA?  

You can use this map to explore nationwide listing of cities in the United States that have been found in violation of the SDWA. If you receive your drinking water from a public water supply, you can request a water quality report every year – even if you rent. You can use this EPA tool to check the status of your local waterway and see things like fish or drinking water advisories for your area.

Need help understanding your recent water report? I’m happy to help! Send a copy of your water test to and I’d be happy to help you understand what it means.


© 2021 Freshwater Future. All Rights Reserved.

Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.