TUWaterWays Water News and More from the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy 16 August 2019

In deciding what items to highlight in this week’s TUWW we did what we always do.  We culled obvious and obscure news sources, we checked with our network of water mavens, and listened to lots of music to put us in the mood.  What we found were stories about troubles with Newark NJs public water supply, efforts to roll back the City of Toledo’s (OH) Lake Erie Bill of Rights,the hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf Mexico, and growing water woes of cities in the “Global South”.  Important and interesting stories, but, to be truthful, there is a repetitive quality to many of these that made us think maybe the story was not just the headline but what might lie behind it.

Way, way too often the tragedy of this stories is not that bad things happened but that they were preordained by laws, policies and years of intentional disinvestment in research, enforcement and infrastructure.

Take Newark as an example.  Like Flint, Michigan, the spike in lead in its water supply was triggered by changes in water management that caused lead to leach from pipes into drinking water.  Of course, if those pipes had not been made of lead there would be no lead to leach.  So why were lead pipes used?  Because someone wanted to use them.  Laws and building codes required them since lead is durable, flexible and something builders and plumbers knew how to work with.  Oh and because the lead industry advocated for them.

Example two, the Gulf Dead Zone.  It is fueled by nutrients that are in the in rivers and streams because we let them be.  In 2009 EPA’s Inspector General pointed out the need for enforceable nutrient standards regulation which prompted an outpouring of nothing.

In short, many of our water problems exist because collectively we have not made our business to avoid or solve them.  Since many of those problems have their roots in laws and policies, no one should expect them to be solved by science and engineering alone.  Laws and policies change when people care enough to make it happen.  We thought you might like to know.