by David A. Love | @davidalove
While the federal government was partially shutdown from an impasse over a $5.7 billion demand for a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Ras Baraka wrote a letter to President Trump.
“I am writing to express my deep concern that you are seriously thinking of declaring a national emergency to fund a proposed $5 billion border wall,” Baraka wrote in mid-January. “I want to bring your attention to a true emergency that puts millions of our citizens at risk: The decaying infrastructure of our water systems which has created a crisis in Newark, the State of New Jersey and across America.”
Pressed to get in front of it, Baraka didn’t want Newark becoming another public Flint – even though the NRDC said it already was. Yet, the mayor went national in a desperate move to spark conversation about who was suffering more and how much a concerted response would cost. “This crisis, mainly, affects older black and brown cities with limited resources and serious health issues that are systemically overlooked by every level of government,” argued Baraka. “It will cost an estimated $70 million to replace the lead service lines in Newark, hundreds of millions more to replace them in New Jersey, and an estimated $35 billion to replace all of the lead service lines in America.”
Baraka, however, could be on to something. America’s aging water infrastructure isn’t just old, it’s crumbling and dangerous. The American Society of Civil Engineers even gives national drinking water quality an overall grade of “D” in its annual Infrastructure report card. And with water systems under growing strains from population overuse, governments on the local, state and federal level have not prioritized how they’ll fix it. What’s worse is that underserved communities using toxic water supply are unwittingly exposed to poisons and an imperiled situation in which there is little recourse and few answers.