In most parts of the United States, regular access to water is an afterthought. We open our taps or turn on our faucets and out comes all the water we need for cooking, drinking, bathing and cleaning. But some communities, including many along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, lack access to the abundant, clean water that most of us enjoy every day. EPA, through its U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program, is working to address critical public health and environmental problems at the source by providing often first-time drinking and wastewater services to underserved communities.
Last month, I traveled to Laredo, Texas, and was able to see firsthand exactly how this program is helping provide communities there, known as colonias, with their first-ever access to drinking water and sewer systems. Many people in the colonias have not had regular access to water and modern sanitation systems because that type of infrastructure was not required to be installed at the time the properties were sold and their houses built.
We visited a small water treatment plant about 20 miles outside of downtown Laredo and less than one mile from the U.S.-Mexico border that provides about 3,700 people in the colonias with sewer systems access. Additionally, the treated wastewater from the plant also referred to as “resource” water, will be used to irrigate a nearby golf course.
Since its establishment in 1997, EPA’s U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program has provided 60,000 border homes with access to safe drinking water, and 544,000 homes with adequate wastewater collection and treatment services, reducing the risk of disease. The program has funded 80 projects that benefit more than 5 million border residents and has 24 projects additional underway today.
The border water infrastructure program also works with communities in Mexico, like Nuevo Laredo, to identify ways to modernize their drinking water and wastewater systems. These efforts not only improve public health conditions for citizens in Mexico, they address potential sources of water pollution that can impact water flowing into the United States.
While the U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program is one of EPA’s smaller programs, in many ways it’s one of our most vital. Providing access to clean water to people who have never had it before is one of the most important things we have the power and resources to do.
Nancy Stoner is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. Since February 1, 2010, Nancy Stoner has been serving as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water. Ms. Stoner’s extensive career in environmental policy and law began in 1987 as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently Ms. Stoner served as the Co-Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Water Program. Ms. Stoner is a 1986 graduate of Yale Law School and a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia.