By Ruth Long

We, in the United States, generally feel safe when it comes to our water.  Most people turn on their faucets at home without so much as a thought to where the water comes from or whether it is safe to use (consume).  It would baffle us to no end if, for whatever reason, the water simply did not come out of the faucet when it was turned on. 

Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Kari Lydersen brought the topic of our water to the forefront.  It is a good article expressing concerns that we, even here in the United States, need to consider with the changes in our environment and how it will affect our health:

The consequences will be particularly severe in the 950 U.S. cities and towns — including New York, the District, Milwaukee and Philadelphia — that have “combined sewer systems,” archaic designs that carry storm water and sewage in the same pipes. During heavy rains, the systems often cannot handle the volume, and raw sewage spills into lakes or waterways, including drinking-water supplies.

On Sept. 13, during an unrelenting downpour, Chicago chose to prevent urban flooding by opening and releasing runoff containing raw sewage into Lake Michigan. About a month later, a University of Wisconsin study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine predicted an increase of 50 to 120 percent in such releases into the lake by the end of the century.

A number of universities around the country (e.g., Harvard University, Emory University, and The George Washington University) have already or are in the process of addressing the issues of climate change and public health.  We really don’t have much time to wait on this issue.  Action is needed now.

Ruth Long, MA, MPH is a research associate with the GWU School of Public Health & Health Services.