Today is part two in our series on Great Lakes Priorities that both major party Presidential candidates must pledge to address in order to truly stand with Great Lakes communities. Last week we looked at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the wonderful work it continues to do for the Great Lakes and the 30 million Americans who call the region home. This week we’ll be looking at water infrastructure and the ways that communities are impacted by a lack of funding for basic infrastructure.

Safe, affordable drinking water is a basic human need, but too many Great Lakes communities suffer from a lack of access. Among the many cracks in our infrastructure that COVID-19 has revealed, the humanitarian crisis that afflicts millions of Americans – the lack of access to safe, affordable drinking water – must be addressed by the next President.

Our current water safety and affordability woes stem from decades of under-investment in the nation’s water infrastructure. Over the past forty years, federal investments in local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure have dropped precipitously. And the results are tragic. Upwards of 16 million Americans have experienced a water shutoff, and one study predicts that by 2022, more than one-third of people in the United States will have trouble paying their water bills.

As federal funding dropped off, local authorities have had to pick up the slack, and, too often, they cannot keep up. This has resulted in cracked pipes, lead and heavy metal exposure, along with soaring maintenance costs and skyrocketing water bills for local people. Great Lakes communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, feel the brunt of this disinvestment through higher costs and less safe water.

The EPA estimates that fixing, updating and modernizing the region’s crumbling water infrastructure will cost up to $188 billion over the next 20 years, and that backlog grows every year that we fail to invest in our nation’s water infrastructure.

The Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition is calling on the next president to create and fund an equitable plan that addresses our region’s $188 billion backlog in drinking water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure to ensure that all people have safe, clean and affordable drinking water.

America is at a crossroads, and together we can choose to bequeath to future generations a thriving water system where access to clean water is something that no one has to go without. That future can be ours with equitable investments that make sure that communities that have borne the brunt of decades of disinvestment are heard first and foremost.

But time is of the essence. Every year that passes without a solution is one more year of risk for thousands of water systems that are in need of maintenance. Sewage overflows, corroded pipes, and lead poisoning are just some of the consequences that communities are dealing with and will continue to deal with, so long as this infrastructure backlog is left unaddressed.

It’s time for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump to pledge to stand with Great Lakes communities and communities across America. It’s time for them to pledge to work with Congress on a realistic, actionable and equitable plan to deal with what America has put off for too long, including a tripling of federal investments, to start. America’s communities can’t wait.