In the news

Enviornment Texas
Houston Chronicle
Luke Metzger and Sara Smith

For many of us, we expect that when we turn on our taps, we'll have access to abundant, safe and clean drinking water. In fact, many people think of contaminated drinking water as a problem that happens to other people in other parts of the world. The recent crisis in Flint, Mich., forced us as a nation to realize that these problems can also crop up close to home. Our drinking water right here in Texas is not immune from these threats, and we can do more to make sure all of us drink clean, safe water.

According to an analysis by USA Today last week, Texas leads the nation in systems exceeding drinking water standards for lead, with mostly smaller drinking water suppliers failing federal standards 183 times since 2012. 

Earlier this month, a new report released by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental group, found that drinking water systems that serve more than 51,000 people across 34 Texas communities had exceeded Safe Drinking Water standards for arsenic, a dangerous cancer-causing chemical. The report highlighted several areas within the Greater Houston Region, including the Village of Surfside Beach Water System, which has continuously exceeded national public health standards for the past decade. Houston-based environmental toxicologist Stephen King told the Texas Tribune that levels of arsenic that exceed Safe Drinking Water standards present a significant public health threat, noting that arsenic is linked to "cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory and other health issues."

Litter, toxins and pathogens not only damage our waterways and blight scenic areas, but are also dangerous to the health of humans and animals that rely on the waterways. We believe all Texans deserve safe and plentiful drinking water. And certainly Houston's drinking water is much safer than years past, thanks in part to the many agencies and elected officials in the region who prioritize clean water and the health and safety of residents. But the recent events in Flint remind us that we must remain vigilant to protect our drinking water supply. And there is always more than can be done.

First, we need to restore or repair the public infrastructure that brings water to our taps. The State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), approved by the Legislature and voters in 2013, is helping steer badly needed funds for water projects, including an increasing number of conservation projects. For example, the Fort Worth suburb of Keller just applied to the Texas Water Development Board for a $12 million low-interest loan through SWIFT to replace aging asbestos-cement piping that are more than four decades old. Not only do these pipes pose a public health threat, with the potential to contaminate the drinking water with asbestos to the 42,000 people who rely on the system, but also results in the loss of 514 acre-feet of water, enough to supply more than 500 families of five for an entire year. In addition, three Harris County water utilities have applied for a total of $3.5 million in low-interest loans through SWIFT to repair leaky pipes and support municipal water conservation efforts.

Second, we must protect the rivers, streams and aquifers from which we draw our water, both from pollution and unnecessary and wasteful withdraws. The state of Texas is currently setting new limits to pollution for the San Jacinto River and should make sure they are strong enough to protect public health, wildlife, and recreational opportunities. And as the Texas Water Development Board finalizes the 2017 State Water Plan, they should take care to reject projects that will cause significant environmental damage to our rivers and aquifers.

Third, we need to require cities to reduce stormwater pollution by implementing green infrastructure and common-sense, low-impact development. That's why we will be pushing for tougher pollution controls in new permits for regions across the state, including Houston and Dallas, and working to support a strong new EPA rule that would require increase stormwater pollution controls for cities with 100,000 residents or fewer.

And finally, the public must have the right to know about water pollution - with robust monitoring of our waterways, regular testing from our taps, and standards that truly protect public health.