Current Infrastructure Proposals in the USA

Current Infrastructure Proposals in the USA

Earlier this year, President Biden announced his American Jobs Plan – a historic investment that will rebuild our country’s aging infrastructure while also providing millions of good jobs.

The nearly 2.3 trillion-dollar investment will aid in reimagining a new economy and positioning America to be the leader in infrastructure and innovation once again.

Within the total investment, 40 percent will target climate issues and clean infrastructure. In terms of improving infrastructure alone, President Biden’s new plan will:

Fix 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main streets; rebuild bridges in despair; and upgrade airports, ports and transit centers in the areas that need them most.

  • $115 billion to repair roads and bridges
  • $85 billion for public transit
  • $80 billion for Amtrak
  • $25 billion for airports
  • $17 billion for ports and waterways
  • $44 billion for transformative projects
  • $20 billion for safety
  • $20 billion to redress historic inequity (such as reconnecting neighborhoods divided by major roadways)

Rebuild clean drinking water infrastructure by removing all lead pipes and service lines; renew electric grid and cap orphan oil and gas wells; and bring affordable high-speed broadband to all including the 35% of rural Americans who currently lack access.

  • $101 billion to upgrade drinking, wastewater, and stormwater systems
  • $10 billion for PFAS remediation
  • $100 billion for energy grid buildouts
  • $50 billion to improve infrastructure resilience
  • $100 billion to improve rural broadband coverage (includes subsidies to make rates more affordable)

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan will be funded by raising the corporate tax rate, part of his ‘Made in America Tax Plan’, which would hopefully pay for the American Jobs Plan within 15 years (if passed alongside each other).

In response to President Biden’s proposed plan, Senate Republicans offered a counterproposal in efforts to improve the country’s aging infrastructure. This plan is solely focused on infrastructure needs and endorses $568 billion for new spending over five years.

The funds will be allocated in the following ways:

 

  • $299 billion for repairing roads, highways, and bridges
  • $44 billion for airports
  • $61 billion for public transit
  • $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater systems
  • $14 billion for water storage
  • $20 billion for railways
  • $17 billion for ports and inland waterways
  • $13 billion for safety measures
  • $65 billion for broadband internet access

This infrastructure plan would be fully funded, potentially in part through user fees on electric vehicles as well as repurposing state and local relief passed as part of coronavirus aid bills.

President Biden will be meeting with six Republican senators to hopefully come to a mutual compromise later this week.

Imagine a Day Without Water 2019

Imagine a Day Without Water 2019

Today, Tata & Howard joined elected officials, water utilities, community leaders, educators, and businesses from across the country as part of the fifth annual Imagine a Day Without Water, a nationwide day of education and advocacy about the value of water. Led by the Value of Water Campaign, a thousand organizations across the country will raise awareness about not taking water for granted and the crucial need for investment in our nation’s water systems.

Turning on the tap for clean, safe drinking water, and flushing the toilet with no second thought about what happens to wastewater, are actions most Americans take for granted every day. But drought, flooding, and population changes are stressing our water and wastewater systems. While most Americans enjoy reliable water service, our nation’s water infrastructure is aging and in need of investment. A day without water service is a public health and an economic disaster: a single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion in economic activity at risk.

As water engineers, the Tata & Howard teams knows the importance of clean and reliable water — but how would our daily lives be affected if we even had one single day without out? To put this into perspective, we asked members of our team to answer three questions in reference to this.

  1. What does a day without water mean to you?
  2. What would you miss the most during a day without water?
  3. Why do you value water?

Check out the answers below!



Imagine a Day Without Water is an opportunity for diverse organizations, from environmental advocates to coffee shops, aquariums to car washes, city halls to water utilities, to talk about what water is important to them. Over the past five years, it has provided a platform for educating the public and advocating for leaders to prioritize investing in water today, so in the future no American will have to imagine a day without water. Learn more at imagineadaywithoutwater.org and follow the conversation on social media at #ValueWater.

Cut Down on Water Waste

Cut Down on Water Waste

The average American family uses approximately 300 gallons of water each day, but a lot of that goes to waste.

Learn what you can do at home to reduce the amount of water that is wasted.

Please feel free to print and share our Cut Down on Water Waste Infographic with attribution to Tata & Howard, Inc. A high-resolution pdf can be downloaded by clicking here.

Infrastructure Week 2019

Infrastructure Week 2019

From May 13-20, the seventh annual Infrastructure Week is taking place with the support of hundreds of affiliates across the country. Infrastructure Week was created to help raise awareness for our country’s growing infrastructure needs and stress the message that we must #BuildForTomorrow. Led by a coalition of businesses, labor organizations and policy organizations, this week will unite the public and private sector to send this important message to leaders in Washington and beyond.

No matter where you live, your age, your education, if you drive a car or a truck or take the bus or a bicycle, infrastructure has a profound impact on your daily life. We all have to get around. We all need lights to come on and water to come out of the tap.

Consequently, too much of our nation’s infrastructure is under-maintained, too old, and over capacity. When it comes to water infrastructure alone, we are dealing with a massive network of pipes that are well over 100 years old. In short, droughts in western states have caused wells and reservoirs to fall dangerously low; saltwater intrusion of Florida’s drinking water infrastructure, and dam and levee failures in California, South Carolina, and Louisiana have caused evacuations and put hundreds of thousands of people and homes at risk.

infrastructure week photo with stat stating that 'most Americans' wter systems have been in operation for 75-100 years - well past their lifespans.

The High Cost of Water Infrastructure

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A study conducted by the American Water Works Association revealed that the cost to replace our nation’s water infrastructures would cost more than one trillion dollars over the next 25 years.

No state, city, or county alone can tackle the growing backlog of projects of regional and national importance, and Americans get it: more than 79 percent of voters think it is extremely important for Congress and the White House to work together to invest in infrastructure.

For years, near-unanimous, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing. Leaders and voters have been rolling up their sleeves to spark efforts in the rebuilding and modernizing of transportation, water, and energy systems. Certainly, large strides have been made as a country, but there is still a lot to be done.

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which grades the current state of the nation’s infrastructure on a scale between A and F. The last survey from 2017 gave tremendous insight into the state of our infrastructure surrounding drinking water, dams, and wastewater.

Drinking Water Infrastructure

The drinking water that we get in our homes and businesses all comes from about one million miles of pipes across the country. While the majority of those pipes were laid in the early to mid-20th century, many are showing signs of deterioration. There are many reasons for a water main to break including localized influences such as aggressive soil and weather conditions, as well as poor design/construction. Approximately 240,000 occur each year, consequently resulting in the waste of two trillion gallons of treated drinking water. Drinking Water received a grade of D.

Dams

The average age of the 90,000+ dams in the United States is 56.  Nearly 16,000 (~17%) have been classified as high-hazard potential. Dam failures not only risk public safety, they also can cost our economy millions of dollars in damages as well as the impairment of many other infrastructure systems, such as roads, bridges, and water systems. As a result, emergency action plans (EAPs) for use in the event of a dam failure or other uncontrolled release of water are vital. As of 2015, 77% of dams have EAPs – up from 66% in the last 2013 Report Card. Dams received a grade of D.

Wastewater

There are approximately 15,000 wastewater treatment plants across the U.S that are critical for protecting public health and the environment. In the next 15 years, it is expected that there will be 56 million new users connected to the centralized treatment system. This need comes with an estimated $271 billion cost. Maintaining our nation’s wastewater infrastructure is imperative for the health and well being of the 76% of the country that rely on these plants for sanitary water. Wastewater received a grade of D+.

In the water sector alone, it’s clear how heavily we rely on solid infrastructure. If the issues in our nation’s water infrastructure are not addressed, millions of people as well as our environment will be at risk. Many communities around the country are working hard to deliver projects to solve these problems – but there is always more to be done. Reversing the trajectory after decades of under-investment requires transformative action from Congress, states, infrastructure owners, and the American people. Join us this week to help spotlight the continued advocacy and education of infrastructure needs. Afterall, this is the true foundation that connects our country’s communities, businesses, and people.

 

New Law Affects Small Community Water Systems

A New Connecticut Law to Affect the State’s Water Industry

Effective October 1, 2018, Connecticut’s Department of Public Health (DPH) is requiring all small community water systems to complete Fiscal and Asset Management Plans by January 1, 2021 and update them annually. This new law effects small water companies that regularly serve communities of at least 25 but not more than 1,000 year-round residents.

The Fiscal and Asset Management Plan must include:

  1. A list of all the system’s capital assets;
  2. The asset’s (a) useful life, based on their current condition, (b) maintenance and service history, and (c) manufacturer’s recommendation;
  3. The small community water system’s plan for reconditioning, refurbishing, or replacing the assets; and
  4. Information on (a) whether the small community water system has any unaccounted-for water loss (i.e., water supplied to its distribution system that never reached consumers), (b) the amount and cause of such unaccounted-for water loss, and (c) measures the system is taking to reduce it.

Under the new law, each small community water system must also complete an initial assessment review of its hydropneumatic pressure tanks by May 2, 2019 on a form developed by the DPH.

Failure to complete or update their fiscal and asset management plans on or before January 1, 2021 maybe subject to civil penalties by DPH.

Compliance Concerns?

Tata & Howard has extensive experience with all facets of asset management planning and programming. Our services focus on condition assessment and analyses of critical capital assets, as well as operational evaluations, water audits to reduce unaccounted-for water, and long-term capital planning.  Initial hydropneumatic pressure tank inspections can be also be performed in time to comply with the DPH deadline of May 2, 2019.

In addition, Tata & Howard can help secure financing through grants, such as those available through the USDA Rural Development Water and Environmental Program.

More Info?

Asset Management

Tata & Howard has assisted numerous Water Companies with their Asset Management Planning.  Please contact us for more information.

6 Facts About Lead In Drinking Water

6 Facts About Lead In Drinking Water

Drinking Water contaminated with lead can be a health hazard.

Whether water comes from a Public Water System or a private well, water contaminated with lead is most likely the result from corrosion of the plumbing materials, lead pipes, or the service lines from the water main in the street to the building.

Here are some facts about lead contamination and tips to avoid lead in drinking water.

6-Facts-About-Lead-in-Drinking-Water

Please feel free to print and share our 6 Lead Facts Infographic with attribution to Tata & Howard, Inc.

State Revolving Fund Loan Program

Financial Assistance through the State Revolving Fund

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), is now accepting Project Evaluation Forms (PEFs) for new drinking water and wastewater projects seeking financial assistance in 2019 through the State Revolving Fund (SRF).  The SRF offers low interest loan options to Massachusetts cities and towns to help fund their drinking water and clean water projects. PEFs are due to the MassDEP Division of Municipal Services by August 24, 2018, 12:00 PM.

Water Main ReplacementFinancing for The Clean Water SRF Program helps municipalities with federal and state compliance water-quality requirements, focusing on stormwater and watershed management priorities, and green infrastructure. The Drinking Water SRF Program, provides low-interest loans to communities to improve their drinking water safety and water supply infrastructure.

This year, the MassDEP Division of Municipal Services (DMS) announced the following priorities for SRF proposals.

  • Water main rehabilitation projects which include full lead service replacement (to the meter) – this is a high priority for eligibly enhanced subsidy under the Drinking Water SRF.
  • Reducing Per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contaminants in drinking water.
  • Asset Management Planning to subsidize Clean Water programs.
  • Stormwater Management Planning for MS4 permit compliance and implementation.

In addition, Housing Choice Communities will receive a discount on their SRF interest rate of not less than 1.5%.

Summaries of the Intended Use Plans (IUP), will be published in the fall, which will list the project name, proponents, and costs for the selected projects. After a 30-public hearing and comment period, Congress will decide which programs may receive funding from the finalized IUPs.

To Apply for SRF Financing

Tata & Howard is experienced with the SRF financing process and is available to help municipalities develop Project Evaluation Forms along with supporting documentation, for their local infrastructure needs.

Please contact us for more information.

The MassDEP Division of Municipal Services are accepting Project Evaluation Forms until August 24, 2018 by 12:00 PM.

 

We Can Help

For more information on the MassDEP State Revolving Fund and assistance preparing a PEF contact us.

An Indispensable Guide to Flushing

An Indispensable Guide to Flushing

Please do not flush

Here’s a problem that nobody wants to mess with, clogged toilets, backed up sewer systems, and the costly repairs to fix this stink.

ToiletWhile there are many obvious things not to flush down the toilet, an astonishing amount of non-flushable wipes, paper products, dental floss, and other dispensable hygiene products are flushed down toilets every day. This has contributed to cities and municipalities dealing with chronic clogged sewer systems and expensive wastewater treatment maintenance, not to mention homeowners who face the inconvenient problem of having a toilet back up in their home.

These raw sewage messes aren’t pretty and are not easy or inexpensive to fix.

Here’s the indispensable truth about what goes down the toilet.

manholeEven though many items can be flushed down the toilet, it’s misleading to believe that everything is ‘flushable’ and safe for our sewer systems and environment. The journey is just beginning when that swirling eddy of water makes everything in the toilet bowl disappear.

All the solids flushed down the toilet that don’t dissolve, eventually end up at a wastewater treatment facility. Traveling miles and miles through pipes underneath our streets and sidewalks, this raw sewage flows by gravity or with the help of pump stations towards a wastewater treatment facility. Most of this waste is taken care of, out of sight, by Municipalities who work every day to maintain this process.

However, the pump stations are periodically clogged by non-disposable waste that is flushed down the toilet. Products that are designated as ‘non-flushable’ are often made with plastic fibers and do not break down in wastewater systems. Even products that are labeled as ‘flushable’, do not easily disintegrate in water like toilet paper.

Wastewater Plant
Disposable wipes at a New York wastewater treatment plant. (New York City Department of Environment Protection)

For example, popular flushable personal care wipes (for both babies and adults) are marketed as a convenient, portable, and a hygienic way to keep clean. Manufacturers claim these flushable wipes are septic-safe or safe for sewer systems. The problem is these products take much longer to break down as compared to traditional toilet paper.

And, here’s the reason why.

A well-known manufacturer of flushable wipes claims their product passes what is called a ‘slosh’ distribution test. The wipes, which are made of ‘non-woven clothlike material’, must be strong enough to handle the manufacturing process, hold up while being used, and still be weak enough to break apart after being flushed down the toilet.

slosh test boxThe slosh test checks the potential for wipes to break down in water during agitating conditions. A box containing water and one or more wipes tips back and forth, slowly and repeatedly “sloshing” the wipes for three hours. All fibers from the test are strained from the slosh box and then poured through a 12½-millimeter sieve (consistent with industry guidelines) and rinsed for two minutes to measure the percentage of fiber material that passes through the sieve.

The problem is, unlike toilet paper that quickly disperses in circulating water, the tightly woven fabric of the wipes takes much longer to breakdown (as noted in the slosh test), and while these products may not clog pipes immediately, imagine everything flushed down the toilet snagging on it, expanding, and gathering together to clog pipes and sewage pumps.

Sewer workersPrivate and municipal sewer system operators end up sifting through what’s left in the wastewater to clear these obstructions—often costing millions of dollars to maintain and repair.

Sadly, many of these disposable products are regularly flushed down the toilet. In a recent study, more than 98 percent of what was found at a wastewater treatment plant was non-flushable personal care wipes, paper towels, dental floss, diapers, tampons, condoms, cleaning wipes and other ‘trash’ not intended to be flushed.

And there are many more flushing no-nos—seemingly harmless and not so harmless items regularly flushed down the toilet.

Here is a list of things never to flush:

Baby wipes and diapers (including types labeled ‘flushable’ or ‘disposable’): Diapers can take up to 500 years to degrade in a landfill. These highly absorbent synthetic materials are slow to breakdown and can block sewer systems.

Paper towels: Just like wipes, these common household items are designed to not breakdown when wet and absorb liquids.

Cotton balls, cosmetic pads and cotton swabs: These items tend to gather in pipe bends causing blockages.

Dental Floss:  This little string can cause havoc to plumbing and sewer systems.

Medications or Supplements: Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to breakdown pharmaceuticals. While drugs may dilute in the waste stream, studies have shown the presence of medicines such as steroid hormones and antidepressants in wastewater effluent. The EPA1 refers to this as “Personal Care Products as Pollutants,” which also includes residues from cosmetics, agribusiness, and veterinary use.

Medical Supplies: Razors, bandages and hypodermic needles are often flushed, but quite simply, they don’t degrade. The razor blades and needles also present a danger to employees who need to remove the items that clog the system.

Rubber:  Items such as latex gloves and condoms, are made of a material that is not intended to breakdown in liquid.

Cat litter (including types labeled ‘flushable’): The absorbent properties of litter (generally clay and sand) are designed to ‘clump’ and will clog sewer systems.

Feminine Hygiene Products (sanitary napkins, tampons and applicators): Like cat litter, these products are designed to absorb liquids and swell in the process, clogging pipes, get stuck in bends and block sewer lines.

Fats, oil, and grease: Known in the wastewater industry as ‘FOG,’ are liquids that solidify when cooled, and this creates significant problems for public wastewater systems, as well as drains in your home.

Hair: Like dental floss, flushed hair can cause tangled blockages ensnaring everything that passes by.

Food products: banana peels, apple core, leftovers.  While these may degrade over time, food products simply do not disintegrate fast enough and can cause blockages throughout the system.

Trash of any kind: All this litter does not easily biodegrade.

  • Candy and other food wrappers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Rags
  • Plastic Bags

Chemicals: paint, automotive fluids, solvents, and poisons, are just terrible pollutants to flush. Just as wastewater treatment plants are not designed to screen out pharmaceuticals, these facilities are not designed to eliminate toxic chemicals.

Heavy Metals: These pollutants include, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lithium (think batteries) and lead, etc. Please dispose of any of these toxins properly to prevent harm to the environment and the potential for serious health risks.

Flushable toilets and the wastewater facilities that treat our raw sewage are indispensable services in modern life.  It’s long time we take responsibility and think twice about what is flushed down the toilet—for the sake of our sewers systems and wastewater treatment processes, and our indispensable precious environment.

1 www.epa.gov

Download our Please Do Not Flush – Infographic.

The End of Plastic Pollution?

The End of Plastic Pollution?

Earth Day 2018 marked its 47th anniversary on April 22 and the organization has declared this year’s theme as ‘Help end plastic pollution’.

It’s unimaginable to think how our lives would be without plastic. Plastics are so ubiquitous that we completely rely on its convenience, comfort, safety, low cost, and the multiple uses in thousands of products in our daily lives.

Flexible, resilient, lightweight, and strong, approximately a third of plastic used today is in packaging. Roughly the same amount is used in building materials such as plumbing, piping, carpeting, and vinyl. Other uses of plastic include automobiles, furniture, toys, and lifesaving medical supplies and devices. The plastics used in bottles and wrappers allow us to take food and drinks with us anywhere.

In a nutshell, plastics are indispensable and are widely used in our homes, offices, and industry every day.

But where does all this plastic eventually end up?

Bottle trash in oceanSome of it can be recycled. Quite a bit ends up in the trash and landfills. And more than you can imagine ends up loose as plastic pollution, eventually making its way into our waterways. There are millions of tons of debris floating around in the water—and most of it is plastic. It is estimated that up to 80% of marine trash and plastic actually originates on land—either swept in from the coastline or carried to rivers from the streets during heavy rain via storm drains and sewer overflows.

Therein lies the Earth Day challenge to help end plastic pollution.

Plastic, because it’s nonbiodegradable, can be around for up to 1,000 years or possibly even indefinitely, as compared to other forms of trash. Different kinds of plastic degrade at different times, but the average time for a plastic bottle to completely biodegrade is at least 450 years.

Consider the lifespan of these typical plastic products before they naturally biodegrade:

  • Plastic water bottle – 450 years
  • Disposable diapers – 500 years
  • Six pack plastic rings – 600 years
  • Styrofoam cups – 50 years
  • Plastic grocery bags – 10 to 20 years
  • Extruded polystyrene foam – over 5,000 years!

Our lives without plastic use is not going away anytime soon.  But there are many small (although important) things we can do right now to protect our waterways and help end plastic pollution. The most obvious is to try to keep as much plastic as possible out of the waste stream in the first place.

These simple behavioral changes can have an impact:

Stop buying bottled water

Glass of waterDrink from reusable containers and fill with tap water. Consider that close to 50 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash each year and only 23% are recycled!1   If that isn’t’ enough to convince you to stop buying ‘disposable’ water bottles, a recent study by ORB Media, did testing of 259 plastic water bottles from nine counties that revealed microplastic particles in the water from 242 of the bottles.

Recycle more

Recycling seems obvious, but we can do so much better!  According to The National Geographic, an astounding 91% of plastic is not recycled.3

recycle

The benefits of recycling is equally astounding. Not only does recycling reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators, but it prevents (air and water) pollution, saves energy and money, creates jobs, and has a tremendous positive impact on the environment.1

To find our more on the specifics of recycling in your area, check out Earth911.org’s recycling directory.

Stop using disposable plastics

Ninety percent of disposable plastic in our daily lives are used once and then thrown out—grocery bags, food wrappers, plastic wrap, disposable cutlery, straws, coffee-cup lids, etc. In the United States alone, approximately 102.1 billion plastic bags are used every year.2   Start reducing waste by bringing your own bags to the store, silverware to the office, or travel mug to Starbucks.

Buy in bulk

Bulk produce

Single-serving yogurts, travel-size toiletries, packages of snack food—all these items of convenience not only cost more but produce more trash than purchasing larger containers. Consider buying in bulk and in larger packages, then portioning out into smaller reusable containers.

Switch from disposable diapers to cloth

The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. 1 Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.

Cook more and pack your lunch

VegatablesNot only healthier for you, cooking at home helps reduce the endless surplus of plastic packaging – take out containers, food wrappers, bottles, and eating utensils. Choose fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items with less packaging…and pack your leftovers or lunch in reusable containers and bags.

People around the world will celebrate Earth Day April 22.  However, the challenge to help end plastic pollution can’t be a one-day event.  Rather, we should strive to create a culture of environmental stewardship and make significant changes in our daily lives to reduce, recycle, and reuse our dependency on plastic.

We can start today!

 

1 www.epa.gov

2 www.thebalance

3 www.news.nationalgeographic.com

Water Crisis in the United States, Part 4: Colonias

colonias-in-texas-300x292Recently in the news, we have heard a lot about the nationwide lead in drinking water crisis and the need to update our aging infrastructure. In addition, the plight of the people living in Navajo Nation has been brought to the nation’s attention after being showcased in a video by CBS Sunday Morning News. However, there is yet another very serious water crisis in the United States that has garnered very little media attention, and this week, we will be concluding our four-part series on water crises in the United States by talking about colonias.

What Are Colonias?

Colonia translates to neighborhood in Spanish, and in the United States, colonias are primarily Hispanic neighborhoods found along the Mexican border in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. With over 2,200 colonias, Texas has by far the most colonias in the nation, as well as the largest colonia population with over 500,000 residents. The modern-day colonia population is about 96% Mexican-American, with about 74% of those — and 94% of colonia children — being American citizens.

colonias_texas_Proyecto-Azteca-300x189
A Texas colonia residence

Colonias originated in the 1950s. At this time, less than honorable developers bought up worthless land along the Mexican border — such as land that was agriculturally useless or located in flood plains — parceled it into tiny lots with little to no infrastructure and sold it off to low-income immigrants in search of affordable housing. To this day, colonias are often bought through a contract for deed, which is a questionable financing method by which developers offer low down and monthly payments with a very high interest rate and no title until the loan is paid in full. Prior to 1995, developers did not typically record the transactions with the county clerk, leaving the buyer with virtually no rights. If they fell behind on payments, the developer could repossess the property quickly, usually within just 45 days, without going through the foreclosure process.

colonias_lots_for_sale-300x201Fortunately, Texas passed the Colonias Fair Land Sales Act in 1995 to somewhat protect colonia residents who are forced to finance through a contract for deed. The Act requires developers to record the contract with the county clerk and to provide property owners with an annual statement that shows the amount paid towards the loan and taxes as well as the number of remaining payments. The Act also forces developers to itemize which services, such as water, wastewater, and electricity, are available, and whether the land is located in a flood plain.

While the Colonias Fair Land and Sales Act has improved contract for deed sales, there remain serious problems. Because property owners do not actually own the land or have a title, they cannot secure any type of financing that uses the property as collateral. Considering that colonia residents are typically well below the poverty level, any other types of financing are also unavailable to them, making it impossible to improve their property. Therefore, colonia residents typically construct their homes in drawn out phases as funds become available to them. Because of this, colonia homes often do not have electricity or even basic plumbing.

Challenges in Colonias

Arguably the most serious challenge facing colonias is the lack of improved water and sanitation services. Many colonias do not have public sewer systems and instead rely on rudimentary septic systems or outhouses that are often inadequate and overflow. And because the land is frequently in flood plains with poorly constructed roads that do not properly drain, sewage collects and pools, rife with bacteria and pathogens. Even colonias that do have sewer systems typically lack any type of wastewater treatment. Therefore, untreated wastewater is discharged into local streams that flow directly into the Rio Grande or the Gulf of Mexico.

Vending machine in Hidalgo, Image courtesy Wendy Jepson www.wendyjepson.net
Vending machine in Hidalgo, Image courtesy Wendy Jepson
www.wendyjepson.net

Potable water also presents a challenge to colonia residents. Very often, inhabitants must buy water in drums to meet their needs, or, even worse, they utilize untreated water from wells that are contaminated. Some private companies have installed water “vending machines” that provide bottled water at an astronomical cost to residents who can ill afford it. Even colonias that do have water lines have major problems, because residents are unable to tie-in due to their homes not meeting county building codes; to meet the building codes, they need to have adequate plumbing — a true Catch-22 situation. In fact, housing in colonias is typically considered dilapidated by local inspectors. Residents often start with just tents, cardboard, and lean-tos, and make improvements little by little as funds allow.

Due to the lack of improved water and sanitation, as well as lack of electrical services, it should come as little surprise that health conditions in colonias are often deplorable. Hepatitis A, dysentery, tuberculosis, cholera, salmonella, and other diseases occur at an astronomically higher rate in colonias than they do in the rest of Texas, according to Texas Department of Health data. To make matters worse, most colonias do not have local medical services and have a serious shortage of primary care providers, and most colonia residents lack health insurance. Therefore, the average age of colonia residents is only 27 — a full 10 years younger than the national average. And, just as is the case in Africa and other developing areas, quality of health is directly linked to quality of education. Therefore, many colonia residents remain undereducated — 55% of residents do not have a high school diploma — causing the cycle of poverty to continue generationally. The unemployment rate in colonias is anywhere from 20-60%, compared with 7% for the rest of Texas.

Assistance to Colonias

Thankfully, through a series of public outreach initiatives, more attention has been brought to the existence of colonias and the third-world conditions in them. In the last 20 years, the Texas Secretary of State has been recording the infrastructure, or lack thereof, within colonias and providing a significant amount of funding — tens of millions of dollars — to improve these areas. And it is working, albeit slowly. Since 2006, about 100 colonias have been moved out of the “red” category, indicating the worst conditions. However, with over 2,200 colonias along the Texas-Mexico border, there is still much work to be done.

On a federal level, USDA Rural Development has grants available through the Individual Water and Wastewater Program for households residing in an area recognized as a colonia before October 1, 1989. The colonia must be located in a rural area and determined to be a colonia on the basis of objective criteria including lack of potable water supply, lack of adequate sewage systems, lack of decent, safe and sanitary housing, and inadequate roads and drainage. Grant funds may be used to connect service lines to a residence, pay utility hook-up fees, install plumbing and related fixtures like a bathroom sink, bathtub or shower, commode, kitchen sink, water heater, outside spigot, or bathroom, if lacking. Qualifying applicants must own and occupy their home, show income from all individuals residing in the home below the most recent poverty income guidelines, and not be delinquent on any Federal debt. The maximum individual grant for water systems is $3,500 and for wastewater is $4,000 with a lifetime assistance maximum not to exceed $5,000 per individual. Further information can be found on USDA’s web site. In addition, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Texas, Arizona, California, and New Mexico has set aside up to 10 percent of their State Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) funds for improving living conditions for colonias residents.

leticia-jones-300x191
Leticia Jones has received several business loans from LiftFund and now the future of her catering business is bright. Image courtesy dallasfed.org

Fortunately, colonia residents are a very resourceful, tight knit group who are willing to work together and help each other, and some private and non-profit institutions have also become involved in the plight of colonia residents. For example, Texas A&M worked with residents on a water filtration project which involved making simple filters to make water potable. In addition, a non-profit lender called the LiftFund has provided loans to some colonia residents to assist them with starting a business. These loans have a very low interest rate and are given to people who cannot qualify for a traditional loan. Colonia residents are very often entrepreneurial in spirit, perhaps through necessity. After all, for years they have done what they need to do to get by, whether it be selling handmade crafts at flea markets or cutting up tires dumped along colonia roads and turning them into unique flower pots.

In Conclusion

Colonias are a little known part of America that have conditions oftentimes no better than those found in developing countries. One of the biggest causes of generational poverty in colonias is attributed to lack of basic water and sanitation services, causing health and education issues. Just like the plight of the people living in Navajo Nation, it is shameful that people living in the richest land in the world do not have access to these basic human rights. Add to this the lack of charitable organizations supporting water poverty in the United States, and colonias qualify as one of the most significant, and heartbreaking, water crises in the nation.Subscribe-to-our-newsletter1