Free Interactive Report
Clean Water and Sanitation in the US
By 2030 SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation aim to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. This includes ensuring access to safe drinking water, improving water quality and water use efficiency, and protecting and restoring freshwater ecosystems.
Clean Water and Sanitation in Context
Water availability impacts all life on Earth, with significant connections to food production and human and environmental health in particular. The vast majority of freshwater used by people goes to irrigation (70%), and an estimated 80% of wastewater containing pollution from human activities ends up flowing back into water bodies. Water scarcity currently affects more than 40% of the world's population, and is only expected to worsen over time as a result of climate change and increasing population size.
It's estimated that currently 3 in 10 people lack access to safely managed drinking water and an estimated 3 billion people don't have access to basic hand-washing resources - one of the most effective methods for preventing disease.
In the US:
- More than 1 million people in the US lack consistent access to safe drinking water, a bathroom, and hot and cold running water.
- Over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness face challenges with consistently accessing water and sanitation resources.
- In 2020 there were over 30,000 health-related Safe Drinking Water Act violations reported across the US impacting 44 million people.
Water Sources In the US
On average, people use 82 gallons of water per person, per day in the US, which is supplied by public water systems. These systems can be broken down into three categories:
- Community water system: used by year-round residents, provides the water in homes, apartments, etc.
- Non-transient non-community water system: a non-community system that serves the same population on a regular basis, such as a school or an office building.
- Transient non-community water system: a non-community system that is also not used by the same population regularly, like a campground or a highway rest stop.
their water from
sources like lakes,
Community water systems are fed by groundwater (located below the ground surface in pores and spaces in the rock and accessed with wells) and surface water (streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or oceans). Nearly 39 billion gallons of water a day are withdrawn from these sources. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 91% of public water systems are supplied by groundwater, but 68% of the US population use systems supplied by surface water. Large, well-populated metropolitan areas tend to rely on surface water supplies, whereas small, rural areas tend to rely on groundwater.
The vast majority of US homes and businesses receive drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater services through a large infrastructure network. These networks are filled with aging, inefficient facilities.
Between 2012 and 2018, the rate of water main breaks in the US rose by 27%. These aging facilities are associated with both increasing water contamination and economic disruptions to communities.
In the US, the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulate the use, treatment, and monitoring of the water sources that provide tap water in our homes, schools, and communities.
- The Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates the discharge of pollutants into US waters, allowed only with the proper permits, and also regulates the quality standards for surface water.
- The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulates the nation’s public drinking water supply and requires many actions to protect drinking water and its sources. It also authorizes the US EPA to set national health-based standards for drinking water.
While the Federal government provides legislation regulating water quality, wastewater treatment, and source water protection and restoration, much of the oversight, monitoring, and reporting is left to the state and local officials. Federal water infrastructure funding has continued to decline, disproportionately affecting underserved communities that historically received little support, to begin with. In 1977, 63% of spending for water and wastewater systems came from federal agencies; today that number is less than 9%
Access to Clean Water & Sanitation
The drivers behind a person's lack of access to clean water and sanitation services are wide-ranging and include the monetary cost, water sources and facilities available based on geographic location, government regulations, and more.
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According to research conducted by Dig Deep and the US Water Alliance, Native Americans have the least access to sanitation and are 19 times more likely to lack indoor plumbing than their white counterparts. African American and Latinx households also lack indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white households. Lack of access also tends to impact whole communities, more often in rural areas than in urban settings, with strong correlations with race and income levels, as well as access to affordable and safe housing.
Access to sanitation facilities, especially hot water and soap, is especially important with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and affects some of the most vulnerable populations in the country. Exposure to specific contaminants in water, like lead, is a serious concern - as was the case in Flint Michigan.
The crisis in Flint, Michigan is one of the most well-known drinking water crises in recent years in the US, but it certainly isn't the only one. The City switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 (a surface water source) in a cost-saving move. Inadequate treatment and testing of the water resulted in a series of major water quality and health issues for Flint residents, particularly related to the concentration of lead in the water.
Studies found that the contaminated water contributed to a doubling—and in some cases, tripling—of the incidence of elevated blood lead levels in the city’s children. Almost 9,000 children were supplied with lead-contaminated water for 18 months. This event also highlighted the unequal distribution of clean water-related challenges and the need for environmental justice to play a part in solutions
Explore More Using Our Interactive Report
This interactive report is continuously updated and it is free thanks to X4Impact Founding Partners. The report highlights some selected water and sanitation indicators.
You can view trends on Safe Drinking Water Act violations and access to sanitation facilities like toilets statistics nationally, or by state. You can also understand the flow of money to fund nonprofits working on clean water and sanitation, as well as exploring by state the list of nonprofits that work on this issue.
toilets, sinks and clean water
and no access to toilets,
sinks and clean water
Violations in 2020
The Negative Effects
When people lack access to water and sanitation:
- they are more susceptible to disease, related to direct exposure to contaminants, and to dehydration
- have a harder time securing employment and receiving an education
- have a harder time breaking poverty cycles
The Economic Impact
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that closing the water infrastructure investment gap would create 800,000 new jobs and household disposable income would rise by more than $2,000 per household.
A new report by The US Water Alliance estimates that the US needs to invest a total of $109 billion per year in water infrastructure over the next 20 years in 2019 dollars to close the water infrastructure gap. The same report found that drinking water systems currently lose at least 6 billion gallons of treated water per day or 2.1 trillion gallons per year. In 2019, that resulted in an estimated loss of $7.6 billion of treated water due to leaks. The cumulative capital investment gap will total $2.2 trillion—nearly $6,000 for every adult and child expected to be living in the United States in 2039.
Key Indicators of Success Defined by the United Nations for UN SDG 6
The United Nations has defined 8 Targets and 11 Indicators to track progress towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of Clean Water and Sanitation by 2030 including:
- The proportion of the population using safely managed drinking water services.
- The proportion of wastewater safely treated.
- The proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality - by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials.
- Increase water-use efficiency across all sectors.
- Protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes.
* Health-based violations occur when the level of contaminant(s) in the water, or the type(s) of water treatment techniques being used do not comply with what’s allowed by law.
** Monitoring and reporting (MR) violations – Failure to conduct regular monitoring of drinking water quality, as required by SDWA, or to submit monitoring results in a timely fashion to the state environmental agency or EPA.
Interactive Chart Sources:
- Health and Monitoring Water Violations: United States Environmental Protection Agency – EPA: 2011 to 2020.
- Access to Clean Water, Sinks, Toilets: X4Impact analysis and classification of US Census Bureau 2020 data.
- Nonprofit-related data: X4Impact analysis of over one million forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service -IRS 2018-2021
- SWDA – Data Summary
- CDC – Water Sources
- EPA – Summary of the Clean Water Act (CWA)
- EPA – Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
- Global Citizen – Millions in the United States' Most Vulnerable Communities Lack Access to Water and Sanitation
- SDG Tracker – Water and Sanitation
- NRDC – Flint Water Crisis
- ASCE – Drinking Water
- US Water Alliance – Closing the Water Gap