Definitely Don't Drink The Water

Laura Donnelly

May 18, 2005

While those of us living in the District of Columbia were worried about lead in our drinking water last year, there's now cause for concern about the safety of drinking water on a much larger scale. Probably this week, the House will vote on a new "Clean Water Act" which would relax the strict standards that keep sewage out of our drinking water. That's right. Let it sink in for a minute. Still thirsty?

The act, proposed by the EPA, would give sewage treatment plants greater leeway to discharge inadequately treated sewage into waterways during heavy rainstorms and other weather events. This mostly untreated sewage would mix with treated sewage coming from the plants and be discharged back into waterways. Because the process mixes sewage that's been treated to remove biological contaminants (read: viruses, bacteria, intestinal worms, antibiotics, industrial waste, etc.) with untreated sewage, it's given the euphemistic name "blending."

The original problem is that our sewage infrastructure—the pipes and drains and processing plants that clean our water and remove pathogens—is aging and falling into disrepair. In situations like rainstorms and flooding, all that extra water can't be processed. But rather than paying for upgrades to these important systems (Hey! Yet another domestic problem that could be easily solved with a few billion of that Iraq money!)  the sewage guys at the EPA have convinced the Bush administration that blending is a better, cheaper alternative. But more than 8 million Americans already are made ill each year from polluted water. When you consider the health care implications and economic implications that arise if blending becomes standard practice, paying for those sewer upgrades starts to look more affordable.

The good news is that a group of Congress members has introduced a bill, H.R. 1126, called the Save Our Waters from Sewage Act. Take action with the League of Conservation Voters and urge your representatives to support H.R. 1126.  Then go have a nice big glass of water while you're still confident that it's clean.