Federalism's Blind Spots: The Crisis of Small Drinking Water Systems

April 2020
ELR 10310
Madeline Kane

Drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan, has garnered much-needed nationwide attention, but such contamination is neither isolated, nor a primarily urban problem. A hidden water crisis is straining thousands of smaller communities that share Flint’s risk factors—shrinking populations, social marginalization, and deficient funds. This Article posits that the Safe Drinking Water Act’s increasingly decentralized monitoring and funding scheme has drained communities of the capacity to deliver safe water. It examines the federal government's deliberate and inadvertent blindness to small systems' needs, which has left them in disrepair and unable to access assistance. Finally, it proposes a series of solutions to restore small systems’ viability and visibility, including (1) smart pricing, (2) renewed federal investment, (3) capacity development, (4) consolidation, (5) community engagement, and (6) enforcement.

Madeline Kane is a J.D. candidate, Harvard Law School, 2021; M.P.A., New York University, 2011.

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