Addressing a Growing Water Crisis in the U.S.

In the United States, many people take for granted that water is accessible with a simple turn of a faucet, but today an estimated 2.2 million Americans live in homes without running water or basic plumbing. Because of aging water infrastructure and failing septic systems, tens of millions more lack adequate sanitation facilities for the safe disposal of human waste and wastewater treatment.

Clean water and sanitation are critical for maintaining good health and preventing the spread of disease. Water insecurity, in the form of scarcity or contamination, can cause short-term health effects like headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. It can also contribute to debilitating, long-term health issues, including kidney failure, hepatitis, diabetes and cancer. Although water insecurity threatens the health of all communities, research shows that Latino, Black and Indigenous communities are much more likely to experience poor water and sanitation systems. Immigrants and people living in low income and rural areas are also disproportionately affected.

In addition to health impacts, inadequate water access also poses an enormous financial burden on individuals and families as they experience higher rates of illness and lose work time as a result of hauling water. Many are forced to rely on bottled water at an estimated personal cost of $1,350 every year. According to recent analysis, water insecurity also costs the U.S. economy approximately $8.58 billion annually in lost labor and productivity, reduced household earnings and higher healthcare costs.

To help address this urgent and growing health problem, the CDC Foundation is supporting five organizations working to increase public awareness of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues and improve these conditions in communities experiencing limited access or unsafe water systems.

The CDC Foundation funding will support organizations working in California, the Appalachia region, the Navajo Nation and urban and rural communities in the south. The water challenges in these regions are varied and complex—from drought in California to mining contamination in rural Appalachia. In the Navajo Nation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates more than 15% of the population does not have piped water in their homes. And in August 2022, the failure of a water treatment facility in Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson left 150,000 residents without drinkable water for weeks. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to WASH issues; these challenges require local, community-focused solutions.

Each organization will identify the water and sanitation needs in their respective regions and connect community members with available services. They will address poor WASH conditions on the household level by increasing access to water testing, distributing water filters, installing home water systems, and establishing water delivery programs and free pantries to provide soap and other personal hygiene supplies. They will also conduct outreach in multiple languages to increase awareness of the importance of safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

To improve regional WASH systems and services, the organizations will build on existing partnerships and create new collaborations across the private and public sectors, including with local government agencies, health departments and the EPA. They will also ensure that community members have the information and resources they need to advocate for the local water and sanitation policies and decisions that affect their lives.

The organizations chosen to receive funding are: Community Resource Center, The DigDeep Right to Water Project (The Navajo Water Project and The Appalachia Water Project), El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center, People’s Advocacy Institute and the West Central Alabama Community Health Improvement League, Inc.

Clean water is essential for human health, dignity and survival. The CDC Foundation will continue to work with its partners in the U.S. and around the globe to find solutions to the water crisis and ensure access to clean, safe water for everyone.

Photo credit: Courtesy of DigDeep and Community Resource Center

Ruth O'Neill headshot
Ruth O’Neill is a senior communications officer for the CDC Foundation’s department of infectious disease programs.