Our view: Water improvements in infrastructure bill important to all of us
Our most precious commodity has always been clean water. In some parts of the world, it's so scarce that it threatens people's very existence.
We tend to take water for granted here. After all, we've been blessed in our part of the globe by our proximity to the Great Lakes, the largest network of fresh water in the world -- one that provides drinking water to about 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada.
Since the 1980s, the suburbs have been tapping into Lake Michigan as the primary source of water.
But Lake Michigan is not immune to the ravages of climate change.
And we've been ignorant in the past to the dangers posed by lead water pipes. We're far behind in ameliorating that issue.
Enter the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan spending plan that includes funding for clean water, upgrades to the electric grid, road projects and broadband access. The $1.2 trillion plan -- the largest such plan in a century -- will provide Illinois with $3.1 billion in funding for improving our water supply and getting it to those who need it.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition of more than 130 American and Canadian mayors and local officials working to restore and protect the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior in Minnesota.
"For decades, water infrastructure in Illinois has suffered from a systemic lack of investment," the initiative quotes Zion Mayor Billy McKinney. "The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Illinois a C- grade on its infrastructure report card, and this historic infrastructure package will make life better for millions of Illinois residents ..."
In July The New York Times published an exhaustive piece on Chicago's perilous relationship with Lake Michigan, which has been showing wild swings in water levels -- from too high to too low. The threat of sewage commingling with lake water headed to the suburbs is real.
The spending plan calls for $1.7 billion over five years to remove lead service lines, which disproportionately affect older inner-city housing.
Five years ago, on the heels of the revelation that Flint, Michigan, had toxic levels of lead in its drinking water, our Jake Griffin analyzed test results on 172 public drinking water systems in 89 suburbs here, which revealed measurable lead levels in samples in 60 towns.
None, fortunately, had readings that triggered an immediate remediation plan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Still, the safety of our water supply is more important than literally anything. And it affects all of us.
The importance of the inclusion of this issue in the infrastructure legislation cannot be overstated.