Water Conflicts from Coast to Coast

Water conflicts have been going on since the beginning of human life. Water is an essential component of health, a key component of industry, and a significant symbol of power and sovereignty. Debates over water are urgent, emotional, and sometimes violent. Issues of water have been a critical part of our nation’s history, most notably in the West, but more recently in the Southeast as well. Water scarcity, caused by mismanagement and global warming, is intensifying these issues nationwide. And as the climate warms, debates over water resources are heating up too.

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Australia’s Water Markets: Intended Benefits and Unintended Consequences

Water trading in Australia has developed progressively over the past three decades. Today, there are well-established, sophisticated open markets, where water is freely bought and sold. This structure is a key mechanism for simultaneously managing water scarcity, supporting economic efficiency, and ensuring sufficient water resources to sustain wetlands, rivers, and other parts of the environment. The markets function as a cap-and-trade system, where the volume of water that can be extracted or sold by an owner is capped on an annual basis and further reassessed on a monthly basis, depending on rainfall. Assigning value to water in this way allows it to move freely to more economically productive short- and long-term uses. It also provides an incentive for irrigators to be more efficient with their water use.

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Increasing Water Access Begins with Improving Representation

Across the United States, historically underserved communities, such as in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas or southern California, lack regular access to clean drinking water and sewage treatment. These groups, typically Hispanic labor populations or Native American tribes, face barriers to achieving the same access to water as nearby municipalities. Irrigation districts often control water in rural areas, with minimal oversight regarding expanding service areas to include low-income, unincorporated communities.

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PFAS – Here’s What You Need to Know

Humankind has a toxic, co-dependent relationship with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are synthetic compounds made up of several carbon-fluorine bonds that are indestructible, unreactive, highly stable, and the strongest chemical bonds in nature. These compounds have been nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ due to their resistance to water, oil, and natural degradation processes. PFAS are a class of over 6,000 compounds and counting, as new forever chemicals continue to be synthesized. PFOA and PFOS are the most commonly studied and tested contaminants in the class and have been “voluntarily phased out by industry” in the United States due to toxicity concerns and widespread contamination. PFAS are found in most Americans’ blood (99.9%) and drinking water (estimated 110 million+ Americans). Industry has created several replacements for PFOA and PFOS they deem as safe alternatives, including GenX and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). However, EPA toxicity assessments found a link between exposure to GenX and PFBS and several adverse health outcomes.

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The Relationship Between Water and Food Insecurity

In order to address the global issue of food insecurity, it is necessary to consider it in the context of water scarcity. According to the USGS, up to 70% of global freshwater resources are used for agricultural irrigation, highlighting the inextricable link between water resources and food production. The United Nations recognized both adequate food and access to clean water as human rights in 1948 and 2010 respectively. Still, this practical recognition has not been translated into a tangible reality.

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A Tale of Two Pandemics

It has been six months since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in the U.S. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has recorded almost 4 million cases and over 140,000 deaths; making the U.S. the worst affected country in the world. Further exacerbating the crisis is the widespread lack of accessibility to the number one prevention method against COVID-19—water.

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How Small-Scale Brownfields Affect Large-Scale Water Infrastructure

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA) estimates that upwards of 450,000 active brownfields have been identified in the United States. The definition of a brownfield is, “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” As noted by the EPA, the most common contaminants at these sites include lead, petroleum, and asbestos. Exposure to these chemicals presents significant health risks. Therefore, work is being done to appropriately clean up and redevelop these sites. However, the cost and potential liability associated with brownfields can be an impediment to cleanup, which often stifles the economies in low-income communities and urban centers where brownfields are seen at higher rates.

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Water for Communities

Water has always been a big part of my life. During my childhood in Texas, I spent my time fishing on lakes and eating seafood. I overheard rain forecasts but didn’t realize their importance in filling our lakes, protecting our ecosystems, and driving our agricultural economy. Growing up, basic drinking water access was a privilege, and it is a basic human right that over 785 million people do not have even to this day, especially within marginalized communities.

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From the Ground Up: Lessons in California’s Water Security

Growing up in California, water security has always been a front-page issue. The competing forces of drought and flooding were constant events oscillating between “normal” years. For me and my family, drought was an especially important concern because our house is not connected to the local water lines. Instead we rely on a well and aquifer for all of our water. Though we have been fortunate to never completely run out of water, our pressure has dropped during periods of low flow or drought. We don’t know how much water is in the aquifer at any given time, and because the pump is electric, we lose access when the power goes out during major storms or blackouts (another unique feature of California!).

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