It’s almost 2020, and 2 million Americans still don’t have running water, according to new report

December 16, 2019

SWEETWATER, Navajo Nation — On a good day, when the breeze is up and Apache County’s rutted red-clay roads are passable, Legena Wagner’s family drives 45 minutes to fill water containers at a windmill pump. In the days that follow, Wagner dispenses their contents sparingly: half a cup for her 5-year-old to brush his teeth; a couple of pints, well heated, to wash dishes in the decorative enamel bowl on her kitchen table; and about 10 gallons, measured out to last a week, for bathing.

“Running water, it would be such a luxury,” Wagner said, pausing to describe how different her life would be if she didn’t have to trek outside, past the empty plastic buckets and the rootling pigs, to the outhouse with its majestic views across northeast Arizona’s snow-skimmed plateaus.

Wagner is one of more than 2 million Americans who do not have running water and sanitation, according to “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States.” The report, released by two national nonprofit organizations last month, outlines stark, race-based inequalities: Native American households are 19 times as likely as white households to lack indoor plumbing; blacks and Latinos are twice as likely.

The disparities also reflect an urban-rural divide. While the lead-contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., highlighted the perils of aging infrastructure in the nation’s cities, rural communities face special challenges, often lacking the economies of scale to upgrade systems and the local expertise to operate them. The situation is so dire in parts of rural America that experts liken it to that in the developing world.

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