Physical Discrimination And Inequalities In Access To Water


One underlying indicator of how water disparities are connected to physical discrimination cross-continentally is plumbing poverty. Depending on the type of house a person lives in (apartment, house, mobile homes, etc.), the lack of access to proper plumbing is connected to specific water access problems. Studies have found that certain types of housing can be determinant of the water quality for the residents of certain communities depending on the state (Meehan, K.). Households without clean water and proper plumbing facilities are often headed by people of color, immigrants, and/or people with a low annual income which makes this poor plumbing an indicator that minority communities will be negatively affected. 

People without a stable income and/or conventional sheltering options are often faced with hardships when accessing clean water or utilizing sanitation services. This kind of instability can lead people to utilize necessary services that are too expensive or unsafe overall (Meehan,K.). Urban areas are often the most heavily impacted by these plumbing problems as they are susceptible to problems in their water pipes. In their study, Meehan et al. found that, “Between 2013 and 2017, we show that 471,000 households lacked a piped water connection in the United States, with the majority (73%) located in metropolitan areas and nearly one-half (47%) in the 50 largest metropolitan areas, a figure that tracks closely with the national population distribution (87% urban; 13% rural).”  Plumbing poverty is prevalent in many major cities where there is a higher population of minorities present. This factor highlights a key issue between the trend of contaminated water and minority communities that pops up in urban areas. 

On the other hand, rural communities are faced with a water quality issue of their own: disease exposure from poorly regulated well water systems. In an issue brief by the Food and Water Watch, it is mentioned that, “Small community water systems are more likely to violate federal water quality standards, and they are associated with more disease outbreaks.”(page 3 line 45). To emphasize the urgency of these health problems, the study used the example of Alabama’s Black Belt, a region that includes more than 15 counties across the middle of Alabama, to note a trend in the perception of rural water sources. A survey was conducted to measure how the residents of these areas viewed the quality of their water. The results showed that 1 in 5 people reported problems with their water quality based on the color, smell, or taste. These people that noted their concern with their water quality also claimed that their water has caused a range of health problems(Food and Water Watch page 3 line 54). This example is one of many across rural communities that indicates how rural communities face multifaceted challenges that stem from the lack of reliable water sources.

Another aspect of plumbing poverty and housing geographies comes in the form of exclusion from municipal water and sewer services. The same study mentioned in the Food and Water Watch brief mentioned that, “Local governments sometimes decide not to annex low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, which can leave these excluded areas without municipal water and sewer services.” (Page 4 Subsection Exclusions from municipal service.). Cases like this have been documented across several low income communities across the nation and this exclusion could cause instability in the regions that have been affected. Without access to properly monitored and easily accessible water and plumbing services, these annexed communities are at a higher risk of septic system failure which could threaten to contaminate household water wells. The lack of proper infrastructure and maintenance checks could cause extreme health consequences for the people who rely on under regulated water systems. This practice of exclusion makes it more difficult for the affected communities to monitor their water supply to check for excessive levels of contaminants as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Looking over the data collected for this theme, I think the information that I’ve gathered could answer my third research question while also answering a little bit of my first research question. From my past two memos and information from my conceptual framework, I think I can distinguish different water sources and how susceptible they are to certain contaminants. I think my next step should be finding one or two more sources to help me better respond to my first research question within the next week. Other than that, I think I have most of my data ready for writing and analyzing.

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