The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource: Part 1- Source of the Problem

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter
and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column
Published on 4/30/16, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: As we take a look at the poor water quality issues that have hit major metro centers such as Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey, we examine the source of these issues and what some are doing to rush in protecting the most important natural resource vital to the existence of the human race.

As our world’s population grows and our available sources of clean drinkable freshwater dwindle, the race to find ways to preserve and protect our current water supplies have rapidly increased; while other alternatives on how to clean up used and polluted water supplies are explored. Schools of thought and tech companies are eager to find ways to filter recycled water for reuse; fresh water supplies continue to be maxed out.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey; only 2.5% of the Earth’s water supply is fresh water. The main sources of available drinkable freshwater supply mainly come from glaciers and ice caps; ground ice and permafrost, and lakes and ground water. It is so surprising that with this natural resource being so scarce, we as a society don’t do more to preserve and protect it. And so as a society, we continue to sabotage ourselves by contributing to actions and behaviors that increase pollution of our rivers and lakes. Only about half of the world’s population has access to clean drinking water, leaving the other 3 billion people to fight for a source of quality water. In addition to that, according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); 783 Million people have no access to any clean water sources. They must rely on “dirty” water or no water at all.

This seems like a problem that would only plague impoverished countries, countries without infrastructure and societies without developed economies; however that stereo-typical outlook has been crushed by the recent developments which now haunt cities of Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey. In one of the richest developed nations in the world, it seems it too, struggles in the area of getting quality fresh water to its citizens. Flint first announced its dilemma as early of May 2014; although it was only disclosed to a few circles in the political arena. Neighboring Detroit Residents showed up to rallies where political candidates would be speaking in the race for state governor, and would share their concerns for the tainted water that was now coming out of their faucets.

It was not until nearly a year later, which the truth would reveal the issue of water which was now contaminated by lead. The culprit was determined aged infrastructure was the source of this new problem. The City had switched where it was receiving its water supply, however it never added any anti-corrosive agents to the new water supply; since the switch from one water source to another. This misstep was the singular contributor which caused aging infrastructure to break down much faster, exposing lead from old lead pipes, which would then be carried to the point of distribution (the faucet) in people’s homes.

Not only does Flint (Detroit) must face finding quality water, free of chemical laden supply, it must also find a way to deliver this water to residents, without the impedance of additional poison entering the water supply at the source of delivery, its aging infrastructure. The City faces a huge uphill battle in financing the replacement of its now unfit pipes. Detroit and its neighboring suburbs, has lost half of its population over the last twenty years, which means fewer residents to spread the cost around to in tackling the price tag in replacing pipes and infrastructure.

Flint is not alone. Newark, New Jersey has now joined the ranks of cities that are now dealing with a contaminated water supply. This is no surprise that one of the largest metro areas in the Garden State is now having issues with their water supply. New Jersey is known as the state that has the most environmental issues, with the most superfunded sites listed with the US EPA than any other state.

New Jersey took measures to try to protect valuable clean drinking water supplies, when its governing body passed the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, in 2004. This law was ushered in with the hopes to slow urban sprawl and protects hundreds of thousands of acres responsible for contributing to supplying the majority of the state’s residents with fresh drinking water, including areas that surround some of the state’s largest reservoirs, natural preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries, so that areas of the state are not over developed to the point in which it chokes fresh water supplies.

Again in Newark, aging infrastructure was pointed to as the culprit; however there is a larger issue that no one dares to mention; one that is more of a risk than aging infrastructure that threatens the city’s water supply at the source. In the foot hills of the highlands are reservoirs which are responsible for collecting runoff water from neighboring regions of West Milford, Ringwood, and Wanaque. At the center of years of environmental controversy is the former site in which Ford decades ago once used as a dumping site for paint and other related chemicals in the heart of the Ramapough Mountains.

Located just miles from this site are New Jersey’s largest fresh water supply. It has taken years for the by-product of this site’s pollution to reach water supplies, however, traces of this site’s contaminates have been found as far away as Totowa, New Jersey. Deemed too costly to clean-up, both the New Jersey State Governor and the US EPA have shuffled this issue along, with little or no action in addressing this monumental issue. Residents in this area continue to fight for environmental justice, however it is deemed too little too late, as traces of these same chemical compounds are now making their way to faucets around the state which source this supply of water for its water use. I originally covered part of this issue in my former article, “Is the Garden State Really Green.”

So with little public money available to solve these issues now, and with the clock ticking, how do we solve these two cities problems? It is estimated by the Mayor of Flint Michigan, Mayor Karen Weaver, that it could cost as much as $1.5 billion dollars to correct the issue in Flint-Detroit. And until the issue is solved at the source, the original dumping grounds in the center of the Ramapough Mountains, New Jersey will be stuck with tainted water supply for generations to come. So how do we help fix this in the now?

It was suggested by Paul R. Puckorius, CEO of Puckorius & Associates Inc., at the World Green Energy Symposium 2016, held recently in Washington, DC, when asked about how to deal with the Flint water situation, answered, “That one of the best ways to tackle the situation in Flint and now in Newark is invest into filtration at the source of water coming into the home and at point of delivery/usage. This will cost much less and allow for the Cities to plan infrastructure upgrades and funding,” during his address on Water Solutions.

Currently, residents of Flint are receiving bottled water, which will only go so far. The faucets and taps at Newark Schools are turned off for now. However a remedy is needed to long term solutions to this epic issue. Stay tuned as we investigate into other issues regarding water supply concerns in the United States, and how we should begin to address this very sensitive issue.