Safe, clean water is essential for human and environmental health. However, our supply of clean water is at risk from pollution and droughts, like the current one in California. And, even when clean water is available at the source, aging infrastructure may affect water quality or supply. On the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, the WatchBlog directs attention to some of our work on water issues. Freshwater Shortages and Availability The nation's water bodies have long supplied Americans with abundant freshwater. However, in May 2014, we found that water managers and experts are concerned about issues like:
- how population growth could strain water supplies;
- the lack of information on water availability and use; and
- the effects of climate change and extreme weather events, including droughts and floods.
(Excerpted from GAO-14-430)Pollution and the Clean Water Act Our lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water may be at risk for pollution from a variety of sources. The figure below shows how water bodies may become polluted, including
- “point sources,” single, identifiable factors that introduce pollutants to specific areas; and
- “nonpoint sources,” more variable factors that introduce pollutants over larger areas.
(Excerpted from GAO-14-80)Under the Clean Water Act:
- States must establish water quality standards.
- States must develop pollutant budgets, known as “total maximum daily loads” (TMDL)—the maximum amount of each pollutant that a body of water can contain and still comply with water quality standards.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states must issue permits for point sources of pollution and provide incentives to reduce nonpoint source pollution.
- $384 billion (in 2011 dollars) for drinking water systems, and
- $298 billion (in 2008 dollars) for wastewater systems.