The Continuous Struggle for Clean Water
By AMINA DUNN | June 7, 2017
Lakota man locks himself to construction equipment to stop progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
Clean water is a commodity in the United States. It is a good sold and packaged for the benefit of both private industries and public consumption. The American populace is able access water in stores and, even more conveniently, through their home faucets. Yet, access to clean, drinkable water is still an issue for a growing number of American citizens. The words spouted by Immortan Joe of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road come to mind: “Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence.” This situation is culturally expected in an impoverished and poorly infrastructure nation, yet is a growing problem here in one of the richest countries in the world.
Water is not a luxury item, although it is treated as such. Water is a necessity for the health and well-being of any living creature on Earth. Yet, the people of America continuously need to fight for their fundamental right to water. This is most evident in the cases of Standing Rock and Flint, Michigan; two high-profile cases that swept national news.
In 2016, the self-declared “water protectors” of the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Tribe began protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil line meant to connect oil resources from Illinois to North Dakota in hopes of establishing more American natural energy resources. But, this pipeline has been a source of controversy and protests after being rerouted to accommodate an Iowan coalition who feared oil spills. The new plan for the route of the pipeline failed to acknowledge the Sioux Treaty of 1868 treat which declared the land in which the pipeline is being built as property of the Sioux tribe, not the United States government. To combat the pipeline, the legal team for the Standing Rock nation submitted documents to courts, offering hard evidence, that the pipeline would pass through Native burial grounds and other sacred sites. Thousands of protestors converged on the site known as Standing Rock throughout the Fall and Winter of 2016 in an effort to end construction. The Sioux nation cried out victoriously after President Barack Obama issued an executive order halting the progress made on the pipeline. But, this celebration was not long-lasting. Following his inauguration, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reviving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
In May of 2017, there was an oil spill in Standing Rock. About 84 gallons of oil spilled onto the land, a minor incident as explained by experts in the industry, one that is to be expected while building a pipeline. This incident only reflected the initial fears of the Native American tribe. The Sioux tribe released a statement explaining the situation. “The Dakota Access pipeline has not yet started shipping the proposed half million barrels of oil per day and we are already seeing confirmed reports of oil spills from the pipeline. This is what we have said all along: oil pipelines leak and spill. Our lawsuit challenging this dangerous project is ongoing and it’s more important than ever for the court to step in and halt additional accidents before they happen – not just for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and our resources but for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk.”
The Flint Water Crisis sparked a national movement in 2014. City officials, in an act to save money, changed the source of its residents’ drinking water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River without taking the appropriate steps to ensure that health and safety regulations were properly followed. By doing so, millions of gallons of contaminated water were pumped into homes across the city. Officials denied that there were issues with the water for a year before working to correct the problem, only exacerbating the city’s water dilemma. Three years later, there is still too little change in the city of Flint, Michigan. Although, the city has made progress replacing old, lead-tainted pipes and has drastically reduced levels of lead in the water, finally complying with the EPA federal mandate, the water in Flint is still unsafe to drink for the time being. With the lack of media attention, public interest has also decreased. Donations have slowly petered out and the citizens of the town are being threatened that they may lose their homes over unpaid water bills. Many residents in the city owe more than two years in past balances. Collectively, the city has accumulated $5.8 million in unpaid water bills. If residents continue to not pay these bills, their debts are transferred onto tax bills which could cost the people of Flint to lose their houses. But, for a city already rocked by health struggles due to their water poisoning, the city’s price of water seems extraordinary.
A more complexing issue is the growing number of cities being affected by lead-poisoned water systems. Densely populated cities are affected by this growing crisis. More than 5,300 water systems are in violation of the EPA’s regulation on lead and copper levels. With little media attention, the American public has little knowledge of this predicament. The case in Flint only highlighted major problems that affect populations across the country. Unfortunately, the light has also gone out in this city.
The incidences in Flint and Standing Rock show a lack of respect for the people that share the American land. Often, these people are the poor and the most vulnerable. Water is an absolute necessity for human survival. There is a fear that if a necessity, such as clean water, is being taken away from people, more resources may be in jeopardy. What does this mean for resources that are arguably seen as privileges: access to affordable health care or a livable minimum wage? If the battles raging in Flint and Standing Rock tell us anything, we are in a battle for the long haul.