If you live in a major city, you probably do not experience the trouble of having to think about how many times you flush your toilet, or removing solids from your septic tank.
But for millions of people in rural America, it is a struggle.
In many unincorporated communities, water sanitization and availability is an issue. In Hayes Center, Nebraska,-- a community with a population of 214-- residents have an average water pressure of 34 psi, which is only half of the average water pressure of 70-80 psi most people in large cities enjoy.
“Ask the people who live here. Do laundry, take a shower, water your grass: you can’t do all those things right now,” said Chuck Pierce, the town’s operations manager.
Built in 1947, its water system is decaying, and it shows. The town’s water tower is rusting, its valves work when they want, and when something needs fixing, the entire town’s water supply needs to be shut off for an extended period of time.
“When you have a break or a problem somewhere in the system, you’ve got to shut off a massive area, if not the entire town, and that doesn’t make people happy,” said Pierce.
In unincorporated communities across the country, people rely on septic tanks, instead of septic systems, which are prone to backups.
In some places, water sanitation is so bad that people have to boil their water before drinking the tap.
“A week ago, I went to a home where a woman couldn’t use her shower because the shower was backing up because the sewage was backing up into her home,” said Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. “I think [the water crisis] hasn’t been addressed because it’s in rural communities, and most people don’t have to deal with it. I think if it was in urban centers, and they had sewage coming back into their homes, we would’ve heard about it a long time ago.”
To address the problem, the Biden Administration has proposed dedicating $111 billion to water infrastructure as part of the president’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
- $45 billion will go toward replacing lead pipes and sewer lines in our country
- $10 billion will go toward building water systems in rural America so families no longer need to rely on septic tanks
- $56 billion will go toward grants and loans for states and municipalities to use as they see fit
- $16 billion will go toward plugging oil and gas lines that contaminate water
Just recently, Hayes Center was approved for its own grant of $1.6 million that will help install a brand new water system in town. Not only will it increase the water pressure from 34 to 60, which is comparable to most big cities, it will help Pierce rest easy. After 16 years on the job, he is willfully delaying his retirement just to see it installed.
“I’m going to see it through,” he said laughing. “That’s what’s going to happen here, you know what I’m saying?”
The fixes will allow those in the town to flush their toilet and do laundry at the same time. It will also clean up the water which has higher than normal levels of chloroform, all things Pierce has had to deal with daily.